Help me with my lactose intolerance.
August 14, 2010 2:00 PM   Subscribe

[DairyFilter] Which processed/pre-made foods have lactose in them? Which do not?

There comes a time in a man's life when he realizes that even the smallest amounts of milk make him horrifically and disgustingly ill for days on end. At this point, not even Lactaid is helping, so I'm on a 100% abstinence plan. The problem is that I eat a lot of processed/premade food (NB: I am aware that cooking everything for myself would solve this problem. Not gonna happen.) And a lot of said food either doesn't come in packages with clearly denoted ingredients or I just get fed up and anxious trying to do shopping while looking on the back of every goddamn thing to see if there is milk in there and leave and end up having to eat sandwiches for dinner. Again.

So, what is it that one would not obviously suspect to contain lactose actually contains lactose ? Inversely, what am I avoiding that I would generally be fine with because I think it has lactose but it doesn't?

Extra bonus question: Which pre-packaged, popular candies don't have milk in them? I have kind of a sweet tooth but everything with milk chocolate is right out and I'm having trouble picking something that isn't Sour Patch Kids/Gummi Bears.

Double extra bonus question: Which brand of dairy-free sour cream comes the closest to the real deal's texture and taste?
posted by griphus to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd suggest looking for lists of foods that are vegan, like I Can't Believe It's Vegan!. Lots and lots of processed foods, with no milk to be found.

Also, I personally like the Tofutti sour cream, but I haven't had real sour cream in years and years, so my recollection of the texture and taste of real sour cream may be off.
posted by Madame Psychosis at 2:09 PM on August 14, 2010

PDF Guide to Lactose in Food Products, from U of Wisconsin Health Center
[Many foods contain lactose - not only the obvious foods like cheese, yogurt, chocolate milk.. but also sherbet, margarine, shortening - ]

[but frequently such foods as:]
Hot dogs, cold cuts, bologna, sausages, pancakes, creamy salad dressings, creamed soups, breaded meats, French fries (if pre-blanched in whey), commercial pie crust and pie fillings, caramels, fudge and other chocolate candies, prepared cakes and sweet rolls, powdered coffee creamers, imitation dairy products, party dips, cream cordials and liquors, certain breads, sauces and gravies, frosting, certain prepared or processed foods, prescription and over the counter medications.
[Be sure to read ingredient lists.]

[...] For your guide, the food additives listed below are lactose free and safe to use.
• lactate • lactalbumin • caseinate
• lactic acid • casein • lactylate
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:17 PM on August 14, 2010

NIH's page on foods with lactose
Milk and milk products are often added to processed foods—foods that have been altered to prolong their shelf life. People with lactose intolerance should be aware of the many food products that may contain even small amounts of lactose, such as:

bread and other baked goods
waffles, pancakes, biscuits, cookies, and mixes to make them
processed breakfast foods such as doughnuts, frozen waffles and pancakes, toaster pastries, and sweet rolls
processed breakfast cereals
instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks
potato chips, corn chips, and other processed snacks
processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats
salad dressings
liquid and powdered milk-based meal replacements
protein powders and bars
non-dairy liquid and powdered coffee creamers
non-dairy whipped toppings

Checking the ingredients on food labels is helpful in finding possible sources of lactose in food products. If any of the following words are listed on a food label, the product contains lactose:

milk by-products
dry milk solids
non-fat dry milk powder

Lactose is also used in some prescription medicines, including birth control pills, and over-the-counter medicines like products to treat stomach acid and gas. These medicines most often cause symptoms in people with severe lactose intolerance.

PDF "cheat sheet" about hidden dairy ingredients, from Kelly Mom parents' bulletin board
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:25 PM on August 14, 2010

Response by poster: "Avoid deli meats, because the slicers frequently are used to cut both meat and cheese products. Also some deli meats contain dairy products."

Oh god dammit. 75% of my food intake comes in the form of deli meat.
posted by griphus at 2:33 PM on August 14, 2010

Possibly helpful protip: If an item isn't advertised as vegan per se, but it has the parve/pareve symbol on it, it is guaranteed to not contain any dairy or meat (barring fish or eggs, I think).
posted by hegemone at 2:35 PM on August 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's sounding like sandwiches (bread + deli meat) are not your best bet.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:47 PM on August 14, 2010

My dad is savagely lactose intolerant. It was mentioned above but I want to point out again that lactose is used as a binder in many, many drugs, both prescription and OTC. If you're taking anything that you absolutely depend on, be aware that you may be able to get a different formulation through a compounding pharmacy.

If you have a kosher deli in your area, check with them to see if they use the same machine for cutting meat and cheese; they probably don't.

As for candy: dark chocolate, including chocolate chips, does not contain lactose. Chick-O-Sticks, York Peppermint Patties, Pay Days, Mary Janes, and Junior Mints have all worked for my dad in the past, but check the labels on everything before you put it in your mouth. My dad has been unpleasantly surprised to find that products he could reliably eat sometimes change their ingredients without warning.

Oh, and pasta! Avoid anything with ferrous lactate as an ingredient, but lactose-free pasta isn't hard to find.

Good luck. Shopping for lactose-free products can be a huge drag, but it's not as much of a drag as being horribly ill from eating dairy.
posted by corey flood at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2010

Twizzlers are delicious! (So are Cherry Nips!)

Try for vegan (and therefore lactose-free) chocolates and baked goods. Even if you don't order from them, you can write down the brands and look in your local grocer.
posted by shamash at 3:05 PM on August 14, 2010

Er, cherry nibs, that is.
posted by shamash at 3:06 PM on August 14, 2010

Kosher cold cuts will not have any lactose or whey fillers. For ham, most Boar's Head hams are also dairy by-product free. Also, all Finlandia cheeses are lactose free.

I think Lactaid maybe makes sour cream. I know they make cottage cheese.

There are a fuckton of medications that use lactose as their inert filler. Any time a doctor writes you a prescription for ANYTHING, make them double and triple check for lactose, especially if it's the kind of medication that might have stomach upset as a side effect. Plenty of vitamins are also guilty of this horrible crime.

As for desserty stuffs, I have had awesome results with a number of vegan bakeries on Etsy.
posted by elizardbits at 3:27 PM on August 14, 2010

Just to make this more complicated, you might eventually want to check to see whether removing lactose is sufficient. If removing lactose doesn't give you relief, then perhaps the next step is to remove casein (milk protein) entirely.

The dairy lobby has made it so that foods containing casein (eg caseinate etc.) can still be labeled "non-dairy" (bastards!), meaning that "non dairy" DOES mean "no lactose" but does not mean "no casein". This includes a range of "vegan" products, and other "non dairy" products like the powder they put in many smoothies etc.. Many vegan "cheeses" in fact use casein (milk protein) in them. Basically this means that you need to read the labels (even if the person behind a counter swears it's "non dairy").

Tofutti cream cheese is great. Nutriwhip does a fine job for whipped cream (and it's casein free, not just lactose free).
posted by kch at 3:50 PM on August 14, 2010

Just wanted to put this out there in case it's not only *lactose* intolerance that is your issue.

I was born lactose intolerant, my whole family is lactose intolerant, and despite strict avoidance of all dairy products, I spent the first 30-odd years of my life getting sick from just about everything I ate. In my early thirties I was diagnosed with fructose intolerance, in addition to the lactose intolerance.

Long story short, it meant the end of packaged/processed food for me, because in the United States, fructose - in other words, High Fructose Corn Syrup - is in just about *everything* that comes in a package. In my mid-thirties, I learned how to cook for myself, and the problem was solved. In short, fructose intolerance means (for me, as mine is severe): no fruit, no sugar, no processed food. Some folks can be more lenient; I am not one of them.

Doctors absolutely *suck* at diagnosing this stuff. Unless you luck out like I did (it took a doctor educated in another country to actually go beyond the usual IBS/lactose intolerance writeoff) your chances of getting diagnosed are pretty slim.

IANAD. Now that that's out of the way, if you want to test for fructose intolerance, here is a pretty good elimination diet to try. If your symptoms improve - voila! - it's the fructose, not (or in addition to) the lactose.

If you try this out and want more info, feel free to MeMail me. Best of luck to you!
posted by chez shoes at 3:56 PM on August 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

For the deli meat, you could try buying from a Kosher deli. They should be keeping cheese and meat separate, and depending on the rules they follow, may also not be using the same knives, plates, utensils, etc for both. Ask around and see.
posted by bluefly at 4:40 PM on August 14, 2010

Reading labels obsessively is really the only way to go - lactose/milk/whey/etc. is used in so many processed foods that there are no hard-and-fast rules that will help you avoid it. But once you've spent a little time doing this, you'll know exactly what to buy and shopping will be much easier, so don't think you're sentenced to it for life.

Natural food stores make things a lot easier, in my experience. Whole Foods/Trader Joe's to some extent, but particularly smaller local places - they carry a much better selection of vegan/kosher friendly foods, and the labels are clearer.

(If nothing else, many labels will list allergens in bold caps at the end of the ingredient list - e.g. "CONTAINS MILK AND WHEAT" - so look there first to save yourself some time.)
posted by ella wren at 5:44 PM on August 14, 2010

As a former vegan: it's kind of a crapshoot. The rules of thumb aren't very reliable. I'd get used to reading labels. You'll develop expertise quickly.

But, here are things I happily found to be vegan: some bacon bits, some cheap cool whip, almost all chocolate syrup (not hot fudge, though), krusteez pancake mix.
posted by slidell at 6:15 PM on August 14, 2010

I am both lactose intolerant and gluten intolerant. I'm sorry that I don't have a single processed food suggestion but I DO have an awesome candy suggestion: Yummy Earth Lollipops. I know what you're saying but I'm serious. They are very intensely flavored with natural flavorings and move them from the category of "Lollipop? Sure--if i was TWELVE" to "Lollipop? YES PLEASE!" They have really helped me sooth my sweet tooth.
Also, I really like Larabars. Anything with chocolate is awesome!
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:46 PM on August 14, 2010

The dairy-free candy we use: Dum dum pops, a few of the Trader Joe's branded Dark and Bittersweet chocolate bars (read the labels carefully), Trader Joe's "UFOs" chocolate mint candies, Jelly Bellies (most jelly beans are dairy free, but Jelly Belly makes a point of it with their suppliers), Panda licorice (from TJ's again), Dots, Smarties, Jolly Ranchers, Mike & Ike, Hot Tamales.

Check this list, but always read the labels. And read the labels every time you buy. Yes, you have to be obsessive.
posted by girlhacker at 10:38 PM on August 14, 2010

Finally made an account just to post this.

I am quite lactose intolerant, although maybe not as bad as you but pretty bad. I was consuming a big bottle of lactaid every week and it didn't even completely get rid of the symptoms.

Then I discovered this stuff. The short is that it has bacteria that eat lactose. You take it once a day and after a few days you have a nice little colony of lactose-munching bacteria in your gut. This works better than pills ever could because it is completely distributed throughout your gut.

It worked 100% for me. I am no longer lactose intolerant. I can eat a whole pint of ice cream. I spend about $15 a month on it. I don't think about it anymore so every once in a while I forget to take it for a two days (one day is fine) and I get a very rude awakening.

Of course this won't work if you're actually allergic to milk or something else in your diet. What are your symptoms? If it's anything more than gas and diarrhea (although possibly ridiculously violent) and the cramps that go along with that then you've probably got more going on. Also if you're only lactose intolerant hard cheeses will be easier on you. When they separate the curds and whey, lactose stays with the whey. Whey has a lot of lactose in it. This was true in my experience. I could handle real parmesan cheese (as in if I took lactaid pills I didn't get any symptoms). Things with a lot of whey (cottage cheese, ricotta, processed cheese, lots of packaged food) would just kill me.
posted by DerKommissar at 6:16 AM on August 15, 2010

I'm lactose intolerant too, and those lactaid pills have never helped me, no matter how many I take. I can have a few tablespoons of skim milk in my coffee (as long as it's not on an empty stomach and i haven't had other dairy), but anything more than that makes me quite sick.

The Digestive Advantage pills that DerKommissar above me mentioned also worked for me, where lactaid pills were just useless. If I take them I too could eat ice cream without symptoms, but sometimes they seem to cause, uh, the opposite problem, so I don't take them regularly.

Also, tofutti cuties ice cream sandwiches are pretty great, and good dark chocolate is fantastic. Trader Joe's carries a lot of good chocolate bars--just make sure you don't get the sugar free kind if sugar alcohols upset your stomach.
posted by inertia at 12:13 PM on August 15, 2010

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