Eating out with milk allergy/intolerance
March 27, 2010 9:19 PM   Subscribe

I want to know how have people with milk allergies and/or lactose intolerance changed their lifestyle in terms of eating out. It seems it should be simple- all you need to know if there is milk in it- but then again, not so much, esp if its not consistent (different brands etc). I am not interested in answers of the kind, "ask the waiter" but I am more interested in knowing how it affected this part of your life. Is it a drain to eat out with people at the new office when they ask you out? Do you turn a date down just because..? How did you accept that you may never be able to enjoy that ice-cream or cheesecake again?? (sigh)
posted by xm to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm moderately lactose-intolerant. I've had many, many lacto friends with varying degrees of trouble. Most of us take Lactaid before the meal or take Digestive Advantage on a daily basis -- or even both, in more intense cases. DA's daily supplements work very well for me, but I'll still sometimes turn down ice cream or pizza, especially if I'm not close to home that evening. If you are lactose-intolerant and not allergic, there's probably some combination of supplements that will work for you, so no, you don't have to accept giving up cheesecake forever.

Why would you have to turn a date down?
posted by tantivy at 9:45 PM on March 27, 2010

I'm lactose-intolerant, and cannot eat ice cream, milk, yogurt or any soft cheeses without first taking a Lactaid supplement, sometimes two. Hard cheeses, i.e., mozzarella on pizza, do not seem to affect me adversely.

I've been lactose-intolerant for roughly 10 years now. Lactose intolerance has been such fixture for me in terms of dietary restrictions, that I honestly don't remember what it was like before. I still eat my favorite dairy products, it's just a matter of taking the right amount of Lactaid (i.e., for a venti Frappucino, I have to take three, each spaced apart). Because of the convenience of Lactaid supplements, I don't consider it to be a drain. Sure, there are times on a hot, sunny day when I could kill for a Frappucino and can't have one, because I've forgotten to refill my purse with Lactaid pills, but those are rare.

However, I've always been a picky eater in general, so perhaps I've become desensitized to any kind of food-related burden. To me, lactose intolerance is just that. Pickiness on a different level. Instead of my taste buds, it's my stomach. Big deal. I'll just take a Lactaid and enjoy my Frappucino.

In short, Lactaid: I never leave home without it. When in doubt about food containing dairy, I just take it anyway as a preventative measure. Moo:-)
posted by invisible ink at 9:48 PM on March 27, 2010

Is it a drain to eat out with people at the new office when they ask you out?
Nope. Not a big deal. I order the thing that seems least likely to have lactose in it, take some lactaid to be on the safe side, and don't worry about it. The absolute worst thing that happens is that I get an upset stomach.

If you have any say over picking the restaurant, you can pick a kind of food that comes from a place where most people are lactose intolerant. There's not a lot of lactose in Chinese food, because most Chinese people can't tolerate it. Middle Eastern can also be a good choice.
Do you turn a date down just because..?
God no. This is not that big a deal!
How did you accept that you may never be able to enjoy that ice-cream or cheesecake again?? (sigh)
Well, at first it was a bit of a bummer. But the longer you go without it, the less you miss it. Also, you'll figure out what you can tolerate with the help of lactaid. It may be that you can take a couple of lactaids and have some ice cream without getting sick. If not, you'll find other yummy desserts to eat instead.

Really: this is not the end of the world. Billions of people all over the world live with lactose intolerance. It's not a national tragedy!
posted by craichead at 9:57 PM on March 27, 2010

First off: You can enjoy ice cream and cheesecake! The wonders of dairy substitutes (or lactose-free milk). I like to bake, so I make a lot of my own cookies/cakes/muffins without any dairy, but there are a lot of brands of pre-made stuff. Whole Foods is a good place to check, or your local vegan bakery. And Soy Delicious ice cream sandwiches are amazing.

I was officially diagnosed lactose intolerant...I want to say ten years ago? I've managed to introduce more dairy back into my diet over the past year or so, and have gradually stopped taking supplements as much as I used to. They work really well for me most of the time, BTW, although I really think it varies person to person. I can eat most cheeses, cream cheese and butter in small amounts, and stuff with tiny hidden bits of milk like some rolls. Also, it's often easier for me to eat dairy when it's mixed with something else. It's basically stuff like heavy cream and soft cheese and straight up liquid milk that is dangerous for me. Hard cheeses (and goat cheese), as well as yogurt, are okay for a lot of lactose intolerant people. And much of it depends on the amount, for me, more than the product itself.

When I go to restaurants, I tend to just order stuff that seems low-dairy, and if I am very unsure about something, like a sauce, I will in fact ask the waiter. However, I don't eat dairy at all in certain situations, like when I am traveling, or on a date (I would certainly not turn down a date for this reason!), or having a particularly stressful time which I suspect will effect my body in other ways, and I don't feel like risking another thing.

If you're just intolerant and you don't have an allergy, you may be able to have things with a lot of dairy in them occasionally, if you really want to. That sort of thing is really hit-or-miss for me...sometimes I just gotta have some chocolate cream pie, even if I'll regret it immensely later. Overall, it's not really a big deal in the scheme of my life - I have a bunch of friends who have food allergies and intolerances, and again, my particular case isn't that severe.
posted by Pochemuchka at 10:00 PM on March 27, 2010

I'm lactose intolerant and eat out on a pretty regular basis. It's not really a big deal--you need to have a general idea of what you can eat before you get sick, and you need to know if it'll help you to have Lactaid or something similar, but other than that, it's not big. There's a lot of food without lactose, and even some cheeses have very little lactose.

Also, it's worth considering that different things trigger different people. For example, I can quite easily eat a six-ounce container of yoghurt for breakfast, no Lactaid needed. For a small ice cream from the local ice cream place, though, I need to take two Lactaids before I start eating and another one afterward...and even that might not totally spare me the stomach cramping, etc.

I've never turned down an offer of a meal out because of this allergy. I have other food allergies (seafood, nuts) that are far, far more difficult to manage and potentially harmful than this is. You're not going to die from lactose intolerance--like craichead said, the worst thing that'll happen is an uncomfortable night in the bathroom. It's really not that big a deal.
posted by MeghanC at 10:04 PM on March 27, 2010

I'm both vegetarian and lactose intolerant. It's not a big deal.

First off, being lactose intolerant is not nearly as inconvenient as having a milk allergy. A person who is severely allergic could have a life-threatening reaction to trace amounts of milk. Lactose intolerance is more dose-dependent, so while I'm careful to avoid most dairy, I don't panic if a dish turns out to contain a dash of milk or butter.

Some milk products (parmesan, cultured yoghurt, butter) naturally have very low levels of lactose, so I don't bother avoiding them. I do miss some foods, like feta and cheescake, but I'm willing to forgo them because I know they'll only make me ill. Occasionally, when eating out, I'll 'cheat' a bit, maybe with a small piece of feta or a bite of someone else's cheesecake - just enough to get the taste, but not enough to make me sick.

I use lactose-free milk at home, and parmesan in place of other cheeses. I completely avoid ice-cream, soft cheeses and low-fat dairy products, because they're usually loaded with milk solids. I check the labels of processed foods to ensure 'milk solids' isn't too high up the ingredient list.

When I eat out, I try to avoid Italian and Mexican restaurants, because the vegetarian meals of those cuisines are usually heavy on cheese. Asian restaurants offer lots of options, although Indian food often has hidden dairy. When I order coffee, I sometimes get attitude from baristas who assume I'm ordering a soy mocha just to be pretentious. I enjoy no-cheese pizzas, but I don't go to traditional Italian pizza shops any more because my order offends the staff.

I do sometimes wish that food manufacturers listed the precise lactose content (rather than just 'contains milk') on nutritional labels. That would take the guesswork out of eating dairy for me. I'd be able to figure out exactly how many grams of lactose I can safely eat per day, and then ensure Ikept within the limit The regulators will never make this mandatory, of course, but since most adults worldwide are lactose intolerant, I hope market forces will eventually push manufacturers to consider it.

Why do you ask? Are you concerned that you might be lactose intolerant yourself?
posted by embrangled at 10:17 PM on March 27, 2010

Huh, it wouldn't even occur to me that I'd have trouble going out to eat, or worse, that I'd turn down invitations.

I've been drinking soy milk for so long now I think I've forgotten the taste of the real stuff (Lactaid does not work for me). Try Lactaid, try small portions, try cheese, yogurt etc before concluding that everything is always off limits. And frankly, sometimes a bowl of ice cream is worth the ensuing stomach cramps. I don't know about an allergy, but simple lactose intolerance won't actually kill you.
posted by desjardins at 10:18 PM on March 27, 2010

I cut down on the amount of dairy but when I want to have it, I take lactose supplements and rarely have a problem.
posted by Raichle at 10:26 PM on March 27, 2010

I'm allergic to milk (caesin). When I go out, I order the thing that seems the least likely to have milk, and I always check with the waiter before ordering. Also, I usually go out for things like Indian and Japanese food, which usually have a lot of non-dairy items on the menu. And if I go for stuff like Mexican or Italian, it's very easy to ask for something without cheese or sour cream; it doesn't really change the taste. It does suck to not be able to eat things like cheese and icecream, but the pain (in my case, vomiting, weakness, and hours of intense stomach cramps) isn't worth it.
posted by canadia at 10:29 PM on March 27, 2010

When I was little, I was severely lactose intolerant. At the time, Lactaid was a prescription, not an over the counter medicine. As long as I took it at meals/snacks before I even had a bite of dairy (or actually anything else), I was fine. If I didn't, well, an incredible amount of pain and other stomach problems followed. I managed to be vigilant about this even at 6 years old, and was able to eat normally.

At some point, probably in adolescence, I got lazy about it, and just stopped taking it, but still ate all those delicious lactose-rich foods that I was so allergic to and caused me so much discomfort. Now I'm in my early 30s, and for the most part, don't seem to have much of an issue. My theory is I "out-grew" my allergy, but really who even knows if that's even biologically possible. Every once in a while I go back to taking a Lactaid like product from Puritan's Pride, and yeah, I think it helps with digestion, but I slip back into indifference at some point and don't bother.

As many have already said, really it's not as much of an issue as you think, and it in no way should stop you from sharing a meal or going out on a date with someone. If you take some sort of Lactase Enzyme/milk digestant/Lactaid product before you take a bite of anything, you should be fine. Occasionally, you might experience painful and unpleasant smelling gas, which could be embarrassing, or have to spend some time in the bathroom, but if you're on a first date say, and you're concerned, I would just skip anything that's obviously dairy, take the pill, and enjoy yourself. You should still be able to enjoy ice cream, cheesecake, cheese, and anything else you might be afraid you'll have to give up. It may take a little trial and error to see how much you can tolerate in your system, how strong of a dose of lactase you may need to take and so on, but this is not the drastic change you seem to be envisioning. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 10:37 PM on March 27, 2010

My lactose intolerance has altered my dining out and non-existant dating habits in only one way: I always keep lactose supplements in my handbag and take 1-2 when needed. I still eat delicious ice cream and cheesecake - using supplements, of course - with no ill effect save for an expanding waistline.
posted by vespertine at 12:29 AM on March 28, 2010

My milk allergy is quite mild, but I have other more serious ones, and I have done the no dairy diet in the past. You don't specify your condition, but part of it will be trial and error (unless you have an allergy so severe that the slightest trace of milk will be dangerous for you). As time goes on, you'll learn what you really need to avoid at all costs (is cheese better than cream? Will a trace of butter set you off?), and what will just be an inconvenience. You'll learn what dishes you can safely order at restaurants you visit often, and what dishes you need to ask questions about at new places. Because of the increased uncertainty about new foods, you may end up going to more of the same places or cutting some types of restaurants out of your routine, but it shouldn't have any overall impact on your social life. As people get to know you, they'll get to know your dietary restrictions and adapt to them. I've never had any trouble, when for example going out to lunch with coworkers, saying "hey, I have bad allergies, I can't go to X kind of restaurant, but how about this place?" Or sometimes it's someone else's party, and I just go along to the place they choose and order the one thing on the menu that seems safe, even if it's not my favorite. No one has ever made more of a big deal of it than I did myself (except my mother).

In terms of diet, yes, it is sometimes sad to not be able to eat something delicious. But there are lots of other yummy things we can eat! It sometimes helps to remind myself that in the grand scheme of problems that people have, not being able to eat a particular thing is pretty damn minor. And sometimes there are things that I love too much to give up, and eat anyway - at least until the resulting reactions rewire my brain such that the particular dish is no longer associated with tastiness but with pain and suffering, and it stops seeming appealing.

One other bit of anecdata: once, on a first date, I inadvertently ordered a meal I was quite allergic to. I didn't want to send food back or order a whole other plate on a first date, so I picked at it a bit and didn't complain. I subsequently threw up while we walked back to my car after dinner. I felt horribly embarrassed. My date was very nice, and even kissed me when I dropped him off (he later told me he was so nervous about the first kiss he completely forgot about the recent vomiting). We stayed together for years, and he never complained about only getting to eat at Thai restaurants when I wasn't around (nor did my other BFs). Basically, anyone worth dating isn't going to be put off by you suggesting an alternate restaurant or having an upset stomach.
posted by unsub at 12:58 AM on March 28, 2010

I read something useful about lactose intolerance a while ago: in some people with lactose intolerance, you can actually increase your tolerance of dairy products by eating small amounts of them. For a while there, I was avoiding dairy almost completely, and it meant that when I did have some pizza or something, I had a really nasty reaction. Lately, I've found it helpful to eat a little dairy every day and I tolerate it pretty well. When I have more than an ounce or so of cheese, I take some Lactaid, and I usually do okay. I have found, though, that if I eat a lot of dairy (say, something with cream sauce for lunch, pizza for dinner with a latte), I can take all the Lactaid in the world and I'll still have a reaction. So I just try not to overdo it and I take my Lactaid. The best deal I've found on Lactaid, by the way, is to buy the Puritan's Price brand of it (search their site for "lactase") when they're having a two-for-one sale.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:50 AM on March 28, 2010

Not sure if this has already been stated, but having (both my wife and I) a fairly strong lactose intolerance for about 10 years now, we've found that we can eat all the cream (half & half, heavy, whipped, etc) we want, as it is mostly milk fat. Also, goat's milk (and sheep's for that matter) doesn't have an adverse effect on us. So goat's yogurt, cheese, milk are all fine.

We've also gotten used to, and now really enjoy, a good soy latte or cappuccino. The trick is that not all cafe's use the same quality of soy milk, but when it's a good one you'll think they forgot to switch to soy. At home we make our coffee with cream.

Another trick for using soy milk in things like cereal is to add a dash of half & half or cream and it'll taste like whole milk. Seriously.

We take milk pills when we go out to dinner parties, for pizza with friends, and to have a treat of something milky. They work OK, but not perfect, so you still have to be a bit careful. We've found that ice-cream made with a high percent of fat (like Ben & Jerry's) can be eaten without much problem and without first taking a pill, so good to go there.

The things I miss most are having as much pizza as I want, Vietnamese coffee and Thai iced tea (condensed milk), a nice mango lassi, and a glass of whole milk with a chocolate cookie.
posted by qwip at 4:03 AM on March 28, 2010

Response by poster: Ok, so I am still not sure whether I have intolerance or allergy. And its always inconsistent, sometimes even with the same sample of milk/yogurt (driving me nuts really). I sort of know someone who has milk allergy but I dont know them enough to know the details I would love to find out. I know they are not very social and I was wondering if the allergy was the cause. Also, I have no idea about how severe the allergy can be so not sure if it allergy or intolerance. I was reading that you can have milk allergy to components other than caesin in milk, which you wont really be able to rule out if not mentioned on the label. I would love to hear more about allergies as well! Clearly there is no lactaid that can help there- so what do you do if you have allergy?
posted by xm at 5:13 AM on March 28, 2010

There's non-dairy cheese (may contain trace amounts, etc.) if you want to make pizza at home. Pizza being the one sticking point for all my lactose intolerant friends. It's around in the vegan section by the tofu and non-meat meats.

If a bunch of people want to get ice cream and you're unprepared, look for sorbet on the menu.
posted by anaelith at 5:16 AM on March 28, 2010

Oh, can I say something else?

You sound bummed about this. But finding out that I was lactose intolerant was seriously one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had just come to take for granted that I would feel like crap all the time. I had a stomach ache and gas and cramps and all sorts of icky digestive problems all the time. And now I don't. Giving up cheesecake is a teeny, tiny price to pay for having a cooperative digestive system!
posted by craichead at 5:24 AM on March 28, 2010

My brother is very, very severely allergic to all things milk. This has meant the entire family memorizing the three or four names that all of the various components in milk can go by to read labels. Thankfully he's done quite well in avoiding milk in a very difficulty environment in which to do so and only had a couple of real emergencies, but it's trying nonetheless. He carries an Epipen with him at all times, and has had to educate friends/teachers/etc. about how to stick him with it, in case.

Depending on what your allergy/intolerance actually is, it can be really important to recognize how obscenely prevalent milk is in places you don't expect it. It's just shy of impossible for him to go out to eat, not only because it's hard to find foods completely devoid of any of the components of milk, but also because it's incredibly difficult to be able to trust a kitchen not to cross-contaminate in the least. The same goes for many grocery foods - "This product manufactured on equipment that processes dairy" is a big letdown even on things that should be safe. Thankfully, labeling has improved greatly as time goes on, but there are still a lot of "gotchas" out there (Non-dairy creamer? Often still made of milk. In fact, many, many soy products actually have milk proteins in them.)

So, long story short, there's a really tough end of this spectrum to be on, too. My brother's friends and girlfriend are really, really good about the whole thing (some even going so far as to give up all the things he can't have for a while to see what it's like) but it's definitely a trial for him, even if he won't admit it much. Learn as much as you can about the severity of your own allergy/intolerance/whatever it is, and here's hoping for the lighter side.
posted by Rallon at 5:30 AM on March 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chiming in with a different food intolerance - my son has celiac, which was diagnosed when he was 13. Wheat is a hidden ingredient in all sorts of things so eating out is complicated - we try to check in advance about menus and try to not eat at places not geared to be careful about cross contamination. He is certainly still grieving not being able to eat certain favorites although we're getting better at finding and making alternate versions. It's tough to be a teen-aged boy unable to go out casually for pizza or a burger but it's so much better than how sick he was before being diagnosed!
posted by leslies at 6:21 AM on March 28, 2010

If you switch to soy milk, brace yourself for people being very, very vocal about how much they pity you for not drinking "the real thing." Doesn't matter whether you're lactose-intolerant, allergic, or just choose soy; people can get incredibly defensive about their dairy consumption. Or maybe my friends are exceptionally rude. Never got attitude from baristas, though.
posted by tantivy at 11:00 AM on March 28, 2010

Well, the first thing you need to do is find out if it's an allergy or lactose intolerance (or something else), because they are different things with different coping strategies.

I have lactose intolerance and can say from experience that the symptoms can be quite inconsistent, especially in the beginning. The strength of my symptoms can vary quite a bit depending what else am I eating at the time (some foods seem to "mask" the lactose), the fat content (more fat, less symptoms) and other things.

I've had lactose intolerance for over ten years now and I wouldn't say it has changed my behaviour much at all. Only things I've given up completely, are drinking milk and eating ice cream from ice cream stands at summer. It's likely that I could do both with the aid of lactose supplements, but frankly I've lost the inclination to do so. Eating out in a restaurant or at a friends house is pretty easy with lactose supplements. People are nowadays also quite well-informed about lactose intolerance and most of my friends tend to just default to low-lactose products anyway, just to be on safe side. I'm also not shy about asking about the ingredients and no-one has ever been offended when I asked. I don't use lactose supplements often, but I do always keep some with me just to make life easier.

I live in Finland and we have a wide variety of low/non-lactose dairy products available for us. I don't know if that's the case where you live, but it might be a good idea to check your grocery store. It's also a good idea to check the ingredients of everything you buy, at least in the beginning. Milk powder and pure lactose are sometimes added to things that you might not expect. My worst experience was with some cheap sausages (I guess now I know why they were so cheap...).

It's a learning process. For example, for me, ice cream is big no-no, but almost all cheeses and yoghurts are fine. For you, it might be the opposite. It took a while to figure it all out and sometimes I still mess it up (mostly because I've learned to manage so well that I sometimes forget that I need to be observant with my food). My lactose intorance is fairly strong and I can get quite sick if I really mess up with my food, but I haven't had a really bad experience in years and I don't think I've even had milder symptoms in months. It doesn't limit my life in any significant way and most of time I don't even remember I have it.
posted by severiina at 11:30 AM on March 28, 2010

Clearly the first thing for you to do is figure out if you have an allergy or an intolerance (or, for special bonus points, both!). As everyone has been telling you, Lactaid supplements really help tremendously with the intolerance. So go out, buy some, use as directed, and see if that improves or eliminates your symptoms. If so, you have an intolerance, and your life probably won't change much if you keep a good supply of Lactaid on hand. If it does not help so much, you should probably go to an allergist and get tested. Also, the different symptoms can help you figure it out. Digestive problems are common to both allergies and intolerance (though my lactose intolerant friends never throw up after eating dairy, while vomiting can be a symptom of allergies). Allergies come in a huge spectrum of intensities, from the almost unnoticeable to the incredibly deadly. They also change over time. Other potential allergy symptoms are skin irritation, swollen lips, sore, itchy throat, and wheezing/shortness of breath. If you're experiencing this kind of reaction, a visit to an allergist might be in order. Also, you can have anything from one to all of these different symptoms depending on your exposure and the strength of your allergy. I assume you would have noticed by now if you suddenly started choking after taking a sip of milk, so you probably don't need to worry about the really extreme kind of allergies.

If you do in fact have an allergy, you will probably have to reduce your dairy consumption considerably, because there is no magic pill for it. There may be some forms of dairy you can still eat relatively happily, others you can have once in a while, and others you need to avoid at all costs. While allergy medications can help control symptoms, they don't eliminate them, and the more potent ones have nasty side effects for many people. You will in either case need to take a kind of experimental approach over time to keeping tabs on your reactions to different types of dairy and food combinations. But despite the impact on your eating habits, there is, as mentioned previously, no need for it to significantly impact your social life. If you know one anti-social person with a dairy allergy, that is not a sample size that means anything, especially as you have no idea about the relative intensity of his/her vs. your allergies (if you even have them).
posted by unsub at 1:23 PM on March 28, 2010

Milk allergy here - typical histamine reactions (running nose, sneezing, skin irritation, itching, flaking). Symptoms last from between a day or two up to a week. I've found that if I anticipate some milk intake, taking anti-histamines at leat one hour BEFORE exposure as a prophylactic helps a lot. Zyrtec or its generic equivalents are good for 8 hours protection I believe. Taking anti-histamines after the symptoms break out doesn't seem to help as much. At this point I deal with the skin irritation with hydro-cortisone / other steroidal creams.

In general, it's surprisingly easy to avoid food with milk in them. People just don't notice, even if you're somehow the only person in a room of people eating ice cream or someone's birthday cake - it naturally comes to me to pass the cake / be busy elsewhere. I've had friends who've known me for years express their surprise when they find out I'm allergic - then I'll challenge them to remember a time I've eaten anything dairy.

On the rare occasion there are places which 90% of the menu seems to contain dairy, in which case I'll just order a fruit juice for lunch / dinner and get teased about being on a diet. Because most of the high-fat / energy foods have milk in them and hence are completely avoided, I have somewhat of the opposite problem of having to keep my weight from dropping too low. I consciously have to eat more than I want to sometimes, which I imagine is just as unpleasant as having to eat less than you want to.

I'm able to tell immediately whether something has any dairy in it or not. So tasting an unfamiliar food for the first time, if it's creamy / tastes like it has dairy immediately sets off alarm bells in my head and the "omg don't eat that" reaction. It's feels all too much like deliberately drinking poison but having some antidote nearby to counteract it. So no, I don't get much craving for cheese cake / ice cream at all because of that.
posted by xdvesper at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2010

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