When you learn that you are lactose intolerant, it may seem easiest to just avoid milk products altogether. However, this is neither necessary nor automatically helpful, because lactose is in milk products at varying levels, with some being more bothersome than others. Lactose is also added into various other foods for a variety of reasons, especially breads and salad dressings. It is even estimated to be in about 20% of medications, including oral contraceptives.
It is generally assumed that pure dairy milk has one of the highest concentrations of lactose, ranging between 3.7% and 5.7% depending on the type of milk. It might surprise you to find out that skim milk has a higher concentration of lactose (generally over 5%, whereas full-fat milk is usually under 5% lactose). When managing your lactose intolerance symptoms as well as your weight, it is more beneficial to veer towards smaller amounts of full-fat milk, rather than larger amounts of skim milk.
Aside from regular milk, the following products contain higher levels of lactose than regular milk and should be avoided when managing your symptoms:
- Sweetened condensed milk – Up to 16.3% lactose
- Evaporated milk (from a can) – Up to 11% lactose
- Whey powder – Up to 75% lactose
- Dry buttermilk products – Up to 55% lactose
- Pasteurized processed American cheese – Up to 14.2% lactose
- Velveeta cheese product – Around 9.3% lactose
- Whey protein powder – Up to 55% lactose
- Dairy product solids – Up to 85% lactose
- Ice cream – Up to 8.4% lactose
- Commercial low-fat yogurt – Up to 6% lactose, although many studies suggest that the bacteria found in yogurt helps to break down the lactose and make it easier to digest.
The most important thing to remember is that only you know what causes your symptoms, and can rule out what a safe level is for you. Each individual is different, and what is tolerable to some may be excruciating to others. It may be helpful for you to keep a food journal while you are finding out what works best in managing your own dietary needs.