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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

RDN, CGN, CLT
(602) 422-9800

Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist
Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist

No, You Don’t Have to Give up Dairy on the Low FODMAP Diet. Here’s Why.

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Woman standing by a table of dairy products looking perplexed about whether or not she can have dairy products on the low FODMAP diet.

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Dairy has lactose.

Lactose is a FODMAP.

So if you’re on the low FODMAP diet, you can’t have dairy. Right?

Well, just like your Facebook relationship status in 2010, it’s complicated. You can have dairy on the low FODMAP diet. You just have to be strategic about it.

Lactose and the Low FODMAP Diet

Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk and foods made from milk. And yes, it’s a FODMAP. It falls under the “D”, which stands for disaccharide.

When you eat or drink dairy products, your body produces an enzyme called lactase that separates the sugar molecule into two so that your body can digest and absorb it. But some people have trouble properly digesting lactose because they have an insufficient amount of lactase. If this is you, you might be lactose intolerant. And if you’re lactose intolerant, consuming high lactose dairy products can cause symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance and IBS are not the same thing, or even technically related. But many people who suffer from IBS have difficulties digesting lactose. So reducing lactose is part of the low FODMAP diet — which helps those suffering with IBS reduce their symptoms.

Why You Don’t Have to Give up Dairy on the Low FODMAP Diet

Yes, dairy has lactose. And lactose is a FODMAP. But you don’t have to eliminate dairy completely from your diet for a couple of reasons.

Lactose Isn’t All or Nothing on the Low FODMAP Diet

Even if you are lactose intolerant, you can probably handle some lactose. Check with your practitioner for help figuring out how much. But studies show that people diagnosed with lactose intolerance can have up to two cups of milk each day.

I’m not saying you should run to your fridge and chug 16 ounces of milk. If you’re lactose intolerant or working through the low FODMAP diet, that probably wouldn’t go well. Portions and timing matter.

If you do consume lactose, it helps to have a little bit at a time and spread it out over the course of the day. So grabbing a milkshake or venti latte? Probably not a good idea.

But getting some lactose isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is some evidence that suggests that having a little bit of lactose on a regular basis may help your body adapt and better tolerate it. But again, check with your practitioner for guidance on how (and how much) lactose to include in your diet.

When it Comes to Lactose — All Dairy Products Are Not Created Equal

There are some dairy products that are naturally high in lactose. These include cow’s milk, heavy cream, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, and ice cream? But there are lots of milk products that are lower in lactose that you can safely eat on the low FODMAP diet.

Low FODMAP dairy foods include lots of different cheeses?:

Brie

Camembert

Cheddar

Colby

Goat cheese

Havarti

Mozzarella

Pecorino

Swiss

Parmesan cheeses

Feta cheese

Cheese is lower in lactose than dairy products like milk and ice cream because of how it’s made. When cheese is made, at least some of the whey is drained off. And when the whey drains away, so does the lactose. Soft cheeses still retain more liquid — and in turn, more lactose.

But harder cheeses are pressed and drained until they are much drier, so they tend to be much lower in lactose, and are therefore considered low FODMAP!

There are soft cheeses that land in the low FODMAP category. Low FODMAP soft cheese becomes low FODMAP because it loses more of its lactose during the aging process.

Can’t live without milk and ice cream?

Then consider giving lactose-free dairy products a try.

Lactose is naturally occurring in cow’s milk. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be removed. Companies that produce lactose-free products add the enzyme lactase directly to the dairy products so the lactose is broken down for you.

Lactose-free products will give you a similar experience to standard dairy products — other than the price anyway. They do tend to be more expensive. But you can use lactose-free milk anywhere — on your cereal, in your coffee, in recipes, etc. It has the same texture and nutrient profile as regular milk. That means you’re still getting all the protein and calcium, without the troublesome lactose.

You may notice that lactose-free milk tastes a bit sweeter than standard milk. That’s because the lactase breaks the lactose down into two simple sugars (glucose and galactose), rather than leaving it as one complex sugar. Your taste buds tend to perceive these simple sugars as sweeter, so the milk will taste a little sweeter.

But lactose-free products extend far beyond milk. You may be able to find lactose-free yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream — and yes, even ice cream?

How to KNOW if a Dairy Product is Low FODMAP

You can memorize the list above. I’m betting you won’t forget your favorite low FODMAP dairy products. But you do have a couple options outside of memorization.

You can download a low FODMAP app. This way you have a low FODMAP guide with you all the time. You can find my favorites in the IBS Resource Guide. You can grab that for free by clicking the link.

But there is also some label-reading magic to help you find low FODMAP dairy.

No, FODMAPs are not listed explicitly on labels — maybe someday… But there is a way to use the information provided on the label to figure out if your dairy product is low FODMAP or not.

Next time you’re looking at a dairy product in the store (or in your fridge), flip it over and look at the label. You’ll want to check the Total Carbohydrates and the Total Sugars. If the Total Carbohydrates is either 0 or < 1 and the sugars are 0, then you’re good to go! You’ve found a low FODMAP dairy product.

When You Decide Enough is Enough

IBS is miserable. I can see it on the faces of my new clients every day. They’re sick and tired of the digestive symptoms, of having to miss out on fun with their families, of always knowing where the bathroom is.

Sound familiar?

If so, I can help. I offer personalized help for your IBS symptoms. Yes, we utilize tools like the low FODMAP diet to curb your symptoms. But my superpower is figuring out what’s actually causing your symptoms.

I do this with the magic of lab testing and symptoms analysis. Yes, I actually listen to you. If you’ve been to doctors who didn’t, I understand. It happens more often than it should. But when we work together, I dig into what you’re experiencing so I can get to the bottom of why. You can book a free consultation here.

If you’re already working with a practitioner and are using the low FODMAP diet on your IBS journey, I’ve got something for you too.

After working with literally hundreds of people who suffer with IBS and other digestive symptoms, I’ve figured out how to make the low FODMAP diet easy to understand and follow. And I’ve broken it all down for you in the IBS Relief Blueprint course.

IBS Relief Blueprint contains resources, food lists, specific reintroduction plans, symptom check-ins, and more. This course is designed to help you not only navigate the low FODMAP diet, but to use it to figure out which foods are causing you the most problems.

Don’t make the low FODMAP diet any harder than it has to be.

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