Friday, August 21, 2009

Living Lactose Free

Originally published at

Awhile ago, I blogged about our discovery that Jake is lactose intolerant. Since then, we've learned a LOT about what someone like Jake can and can't eat, how to cook and substitute things for someone with lactose intolerance, and what products are out there. As Jake would tell you, some things are delicious, while others are not even worth your time.

How do you live lactose reduced/free relatively painlessly? Read on.

1. Find out what foods have high amounts of lactose

This takes a little bit of detective work, because sometimes lactose will be in places you least expect. For example, once Jake tried a Starbucks fudge bar and got really sick after. We later discovered that it contained sweetened condensed milk, which is really high in lactose. When I found this table, it helped me figure out what Jake could tolerate vs what was too high (check out the non fat dry milk powder-whoa!). With the use of that table, I could see what recipes would be a problem for Jake. For instance, pancakes with buttermilk are a bit of an issue. Still, you have to read a lot of labels.

2. What can you eat instead?

There are lots of lactose free products out on the market these days. In the beginning it took a lot of trial and error to find things that Jake liked and wouldn't make him sick. We had a deal that I would eat the products too, just so that he didn't feel quite so alone. I also stopped buying cheese and ice cream altogether so that he wouldn't be tempted.

At first, I tried various soy or rice products, but we didn't like any of them. After some investigation I finally found some lactose free products, which were much better. What does he eat now?

-Beatrice Lactose free milk: tastes just like regular milk, although a bit sweeter. In the USA, Jake tried Lactaid milk and we agreed that it was even better. (note: the Lactaid products in the USA look great-I have yet to find lactose reduced evaporated milk or cottage cheese here)

-for chocolate milk/hot chocolate, we do THIS

-Lactose-free cheese: we use it sparingly because it's freaking expensive. (around $10 for 300 grams) I couldn't find a link to the brand we buy, but I have noticed that if you look in the organic cheese section, you'll find the lactose free ones.

-lactose free margarine: This isn't really necessary, because there's only a trace of lactose in margarine anyway. We just thought we'd try it. Basically it tastes exactly the same as the regular stuff

-Orange juice with added calcium: Jake particularly loves the President's Choice brand. He says it tastes like a creamsicle. Others, he says, have a bit of a "medicine" taste to them.

-Chapman's frozen yogurt or lactose free ice cream: Jake has found that frozen yogurt is okay, in moderation.

-Jake has not eaten yogurt for a few years because we couldn't find a lactose free one, but with a little poking around we discovered Astro Biobest Lactose reduced yogurt. I will definitely look for it at the grocery store.

3. What about cooking???

At first that was a challenge, as our family LOVES cheese. Pizza, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, cream soups, milk based anything was pretty much out. Ack!

Over time, I just found new things to cook. For some things, I can make substitutions or just leave out the dairy (ie-instead of topping black bean soup with sour cream, I use lactose free cheese). Asian style foods don't usually contain dairy products. I fry things in olive oil instead of butter, and we avoid things like puddings, sour cream, and whipped cream.

Thick, plain, unsweetened yogurt makes a great substitution for sour cream in things like creamy cold pasta salads or potato salad because mayonnaise is okay. I also use yogurt in my tuna casserole with some cream of mushroom soup to reduce the amount of lactose. In fact it makes the finished product more creamy and delicious!

Dips and sauces are a particular minefield. You have to read a lot of labels, because I find that many are loaded with sour cream. I particularly love SummerFresh dips because they say right on the container if they are lactose free. Their hummus is a favorite in our house because it isn't just tasty, but lactose free too.

Anne Lindsay is a fantastic cookbook author who has lots of great recipes and ideas for lactose reduced/free cooking.

Maybe once or twice a month, I do make some loaded-with-dairy item and Jake pops a few Lactaid pills before he indulges. He is aware of how much he can eat before it begins to give him a stomach ache, and fills the rest of his plate with dairy free items. He can still occasionally eat some loaded with dairy items, but he just watches how MUCH he eats.

3. What about eating out?

This is a challenge. When we go on a road trip through the USA, sometimes it's ridiculously hard to find that Jake can eat. Everything, it seems, is slathered with cream sauces, cheese, or fried in butter. Some places, such as Applebees, Olive Garden, or Red Lobster, were virtually impossible to find anything to eat. What's a boy to do?

-read the menu carefully and avoid anything that says "cream, creamy, au gratin, cheese, etc"
-ask what things are fried in-butter isn't a good idea
-always bring Lactaid pills just in case
-request sauces/dressing be on the side
-ask for NO cheese and state that you are lactose intolerant and it will make you SICK
-if you aren't sure, always ASK
-go for Asian style food (TGI Friday's Dragonfire Chicken is good, for instance)
-often the SIDE will have cheese in it-ask for a substitution, and explain why

Mimi's Cafe has some really great lunch options, and the Peace Tree Cafe in Moab, Utah actually has a selection of dairy free smoothies.

School poses a particular challenge. Not only is almost every menu option full of dairy products, but juice is seen as 'full of sugar' and drinking milk is encouraged. Often Jake has had to remind people that he can't eat most of what is available at school. I make a special effort to ensure he has a large lunch with lots of dairy free options. He takes juice to school, but drinks mostly water and his lactose free milk at home. This year he is taking a cooking class, so it will be interesting to see how he handles that.

4. What about calcium, and other vitamins?

Once we made the commitment to take Jake off of dairy products, we made an appointment with our doctor. I wanted to make sure that Jake was getting enough calcium, especially since he is a growing teenager. The conclusion?

The lactose free milk has lots of calcium and combined with bits from other sources (fortified oj, almonds, salmon, etc) and a daily supplement, he's fine.

So what is it like living lactose/dairy free? We've come a long way in the past couple of years, but every now and then Jake watches Food Network Canada and sighs.

"Oh Mom, I just LOVE cheese," he gestures towards the screen, where a chef is wrapping a wheel of brie in pastry and baking it. "Look at that creamy deliciousness. This really, really sucks."

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