Lactose Intolerance: What is it?

Jaclyn Schermer, RDN, LD

Setting the Scene: Birthday Cakes and Lactose Intolerance

It’s a hot summer day and everyone was at the beach celebrating my niece’s birthday. Then someone pulled out an ice cream cake.

I realized I forgot my lactase pills, which was a big deal considering I’m lactose intolerant.

The cake looked so good with a chocolate topping, vanilla ice cream, peanuts, and an Oreo crust…

I chose to go for it and quickly grabbed a slice. Thirty minutes later, the usual feelings of gut discomfort hadn’t yet appeared. I then realized that the homemade cake was lactose-free!

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is when the body doesn’t produce enough of the lactase enzyme. Lactase is like a pair of scissors in the small intestine that cuts lactose (the natural dairy sugar) in half. Without lactase, the dairy sugar remains intact and travels to the large intestine (the colon) where it’s feasted on by bacteria. Symptoms of this feast may include bloating, diarrhea, gas, and abdominal pain.

Lactose intolerance is different than a dairy allergy. Learn more about the differences between lactose intolerance and dairy allergies in this blog post.

What dairy foods are low in lactose or lactose-free?

You don’t have to give up ice cream cake, yogurt, smoothies, or macaroni and cheese. Lactose intolerance is manageable and it’s important to not miss out on the essential nutrients found in milk, cheese, and yogurt. And remember, plant-based beverages do not contain the same nutrient package as real milk.

  • Choose lactose-free milk and dairy products. They are real milk products, just without the lactose, and provide the same great nutrients as regular dairy foods.
  • Eat easy-to-digest yogurt with “live, active cultures” to help digest lactose.
  • Mix milk with other foods such as cereal or soups. This helps give your body more time to digest lactose.
  • Enjoy naturally-aged cheese like Cheddar, Colby or Swiss — which are low in lactose.

Note: Research has shown that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12 grams of lactose without symptoms (the amount in about 1 cup of milk).

The University of Virginia Health System’s lists out levels via this helpful chart:

Recipe hack: reduce the lactose, enjoy the ice cream cake

Serves: 15-20

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp. lactose-free milk
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ½ cup lactose-free chocolate chips
  • ¼ tsp. vanilla
  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1 ½ cups Oreos, crushed
  • ½ gallon lactose-free ice cream
  • 1 cup peanuts

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the powdered sugar, milk, oil, and chocolate chips. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Allow the mixture to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir to combine the melted butter and crushed Oreos.
  4. To form the cake’s crust, press the Oreo mixture into either a 9X13-inch pan or two 8-inch round pans. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes or until the crust sets. While setting, remove the ice cream from the freezer to thaw.
  5. Once set, remove the crust from the freezer and sprinkle the peanuts evenly over the crust Layer with ice cream. The top layer will be the cooled chocolate mixture. Use a spatula to smooth out the mixture.
  6. Freeze for 4 hours or until completely frozen.

This post was written by our former intern Jaclyn Schermer. At the time, she was a dietetic intern from Keene State College in New Hampshire. She is now a Registered Dietitian. 

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