A lactose-free diet is one that contains no milk or milk products. Lactose is a type of sugar found in these types of foods, but in some cases, the body is unable to digest the lactose, and instead converts it into lactic acid. The lactic acid can then cause diarrhea, bloating, gas, and abdominal cramping. Some people are simply slightly lactose intolerant, and can handle small amounts of milk or products made with milk in their diet, but others with certain medical conditions or extreme intolerances cannot handle lactose at all, and must follow a lactose-free diet.
People who are slightly lactose intolerant can generally just avoid milk in their diets and feel fine. Some are able to eat yogurt, and may be able to build up their tolerance levels by regularly consuming small amounts of dairy products. Another option is to drink lactose-free milk or soy milk, or take digestive aids to help with the lactose digestion process.
People who need to consume a lactose-free diet may also drink lactose-free milk or soy milk. In addition, it is necessary to carefully read labels of all packaged food products to be sure it was not made with milk, cheese, cream, or any other milk products. Unfortunately, many prepared foods including a number of breads, soups, sauces, desserts, and even packaged vegetables are made with milk products.
In addition to reading labels, it may be helpful to print a guide to lactose-free foods, and carry it while grocery shopping. There are many printable guides found online. Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible, and only purchase canned or frozen when they do not come with any type of pre-made sauce. Many vegetables are a good source of calcium, but it is also important for those following a lactose-free diet to take a calcium and vitamin D supplement to ensure they are getting the correct amount. Meat is also lactose-free; again, avoid meats in prepackaged meals or in breaded forms.
Before long, following a lactose-free diet will become easier. It may be possible to slowly introduce foods back into the diet to see which ones cause a reaction; in that way, one may be able to eat a predominantly lactose-free diet while still enjoying some favorite foods. Some people also find success with digestive aids. Lactose intolerance does not cause any damage to the intestines; however, it is important to be sure it is a true lactose intolerance, and not a milk allergy, which is a fundamentally different condition, so it may be a good idea to check with a doctor.