Fun fact: While 65% of the population is officially diagnosed with lactose intolerance, some experts believe that we’re all at least a little bit lactose intolerant—we just brush off the bloating and gas as no big deal.
I remember reading a story about an American family with two boys who were intolerant to lactose. They had moved to New Zealand, and were told by a local farmer that, “the dairy here is different.” And just like magic, the boys were not only able to tolerate the locally produced cheese, cream, butter, etc. they had absolutely zero symptoms when it was consumed.
How is this possible, you ask?
It all came down to what the cows were being fed. Imagine that! While the milk products the boys’ were consuming in America, were certified organic, they were products of grain-fed cow’s. The milk products in New Zealand however, were sourced from pasture-raised/grass-fed animals.
Something as simple as the diet of the animals, made all the difference in the boys’ reaction to the milk.
For those with milder cases of lactose intolerance, there are several dairy products that might be a-ok…thanks to their naturally lower lactose content.
The more the cheese is aged, the less lactose sugar + casein protein. The same goes for a higher dairy fat content e.g. cream vs. skim or 2% milk. The cream has higher fat and therefore less milk sugar + protein (i.e. lactose + casein).
Lactose, or milk sugar, is digested by an enzyme in the body known as lactase. Lactase is produced in the bodies of babies, so that they can digest breast milk. Some children and adults don’t produce enough lactase, which can lead to a condition known as lactose intolerance, where milk sugar is not properly digested.
Cheese with trace levels (less than 0.5 gram) of lactose include: organic aged cheese (such as Cheddar, Parmesan + Swiss) can be digested by many people with lactose intolerance. During the cheese making process, most of the lactose is drained off with the whey. The small amount that remains in the curd is changed to lactic acid during ripening (aging) of cheese.
Here are some other easier-to-digest dairy favourites:
Yogurt + Kefir
Fabulously fermented foods are easier on the digestive system. They contain beneficial bacteria, and help repopulate the gut with good probiotic life.
Since butter is made from mostly milk fat, it contains very little lactose, and is often very well tolerated.
This one’s a maybe. Unlike the other foods on this list, goat’s milk does still have significant amounts of lactose. But anyone who is just mildly intolerant—meaning, cow’s milk bothers you, but cheese doesn’t—can give it a try. Goat’s milk is lower in lactose than cow’s milk, and has been shown to be easier to digest for kids and adults with sensitive stomachs.
Nut + Seed Milk
Then, there’s always the tried and true non-dairy options like: almond milk. My other personal favourites are coconut and hemp. I always buy unsweetened. Or love to *make my own* and add a date, or touch of maple syrup to sweeten it up a bit. Yum.