Lactose intolerance is not an uncommon digestive condition and refers to an inability to digest lactose, a sugar naturally occurring in milk and milk products. Individuals with lactose intolerance lack certain enzymes in their small intestine to sufficiently break down this sugar for digestion, causing cramping, bloating, and gas. The only solution for lactose intolerant individuals to avoid these and other symptoms of lactose intolerance is to eat lactose-free meals.
Lactose-free meals are not difficult to contrive and prepare, but it may take some practice to get acquainted with adequate substitutions for common dairy ingredients. The most obvious lactose culprit is milk. Substituting soy milk, almond milk and rice milk for regular milk is the easiest thing to do. While slightly more expensive than dairy milk, these non-dairy milk products are readily available in supermarkets and can be substituted anywhere milk is called for.
When preparing lactose-free meals, it is important to identify lactose-containing ingredients so they are omitted. Milk and cheese are the leading dairy products that contain lactose. While substituting milk is simple, cheese is a bit more complicated. Some prepared cheese products are lactose-free, even though they aren’t labeled as such, it is because they aren’t dairy products.
An example of non-dairy cheese is imitation cheese slices. These might suffice for a sandwich, but in recipes calling for cheese, imitation or non-dairy cheeses don’t always melt nicely. Finding a substitute for cheese in certain recipes may be a challenge, but can be done with a bit of research of different cheese sauce recipes. Many yogurts, especially ones with active cultures, do not contain lactose. Lactose-free plain yogurt makes a nice substitute for sour cream and vanilla flavored yogurt can replace cream cheese dips for fruits.
Preparing lactose-free meals from scratch ingredients is sometimes easier than trying to prepare meals with prepared food products. When using prepared food products, such as salad dressings, box mixes and sauces, read the ingredient labels carefully. Most labels will indicate if the product contains milk, but also be conscious of whey as an ingredient. Products that are labeled “creamy” often have milk ingredients that may not be obvious. Also look for products that are labeled kosher.
For hard to find products and dairy-free ingredients to use in the preparation of lactose-free meals, look in the health food section of local supermarkets or shop at local health food stores or specialty grocer retailers. Search for diary- or lactose-free recipes online or in cookbooks to widen the variety of meal choices.