8 Lactose-Free Food Swaps Anyone with an Intolerance Needs to Know

Being lactose intolerant isn't fun, but it's not impossible. There are a variety of lactose-free foods out there to spice up your dairy-free diet.

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When you’re lactose intolerant, you need to be particular when it comes to food. Sure, lactose is found in milk and other dairy products, but did you know it’s hiding in more surprising foods, too? Steer clear of breads and other baked goods (they often contain butter or milk), processed foods (including instant potatoes, breakfast cereals and margarine) and meal replacement items (like smoothies, protein bars and protein powders), among other foods.

If you’re unsure, just check the label. If an item’s ingredient label contains the words milk, lactose, whey, curds, dry milk solids, nonfat dry milk powder, or milk by-products, that means it’s not a lactose-free food.

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Coconut Milk for Cow’s Milk

Coconut milk contains filtered water and coconut cream, which is made from the coconut’s flesh. Fortunately, coconut isn’t actually a nut, so people who suffer from nut allergies should be able to consume coconut milk safely, too. If you just can’t get your taste buds around the flavor, check out our other favorite non-dairy milk alternatives.

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Serving of Yogurt with Whole Fresh Blueberries and Oatmeal on Old Rustic Wooden Table. Closeup Detail.; Shutterstock ID 298272557 Vegetarian Almonds Yogurt with Almonds Milk; Shutterstock ID 1111715231; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH almond; almonds; alternative; background; beverage; breakfast; calcium; closeup; cream; dairy; dessert; diet; drink; eating; food; fresh; glass; gourmet; health; healthy; ingredient; liquid; meal; medicine; milk; morning; natural; nut; nutrition; nuts; organic; product; protein; shake; smooth; smoothie; snack; soy; sweet; vegan; vegetarian; white; wooden; yogurt
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Almond Milk Yogurt for Traditional Yogurt

Although yogurt contains less lactose than milk, there’s still a chance it could upset your stomach. Thankfully, there are a variety of dairy-free yogurts to choose from. Good Plants yogurt, for example, is a low-calorie, almond milk-based yogurt. The best part? It’s only 100 calories per serving and it comes in four flavors: vanilla, coconut, strawberry and lemon meringue. Whatever type of yogurt you choose, the probiotics will do you good.

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homemade organic coconut greek yogurt in wooden bowl; Shutterstock ID 791083180; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Whipped cream with peppermint leafs in ceramic cup ; Shutterstock ID 633226634; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
SewCream/Shutterstock, Naviya/Shutterstock

Whipped Coconut Cream for Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is an iconic dessert topping. It’s the perfect addition to a slice of angel food cake, brownies, strawberries—you name it! Having a dairy or nut allergy, however, can ruin the fun. Coconut milk provides a healthy (and delicious) alternative. Bonus: It’s super easy to make! All you’ll need to make homemade whipped coconut cream is a chilled mixing bowl, chilled beaters, a can of coconut cream, ½ cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Just beat all of the ingredients together until light and fluffy.

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Homemade Salad Dressing for Store-Bought

Sure, there are plenty of lactose-free salad dressings out there, but if you have the time, making your own dressing has delicious rewards. Take this citrus vinaigrette, for example. Grab the five ingredients and a mason jar, and you’ve got yourself a quick and easy salad dressing that’s lactose free.

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Plant-Based Butter for Traditional Butter

Adopting a lactose-free or plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to give up your butter-drenched waffles. There are plenty of vegan alternatives and some taste even better than the real thing! Earth Balance (the OG of vegan butter), Pure Blends and Miyoko’s, among others, make a margarine-like spread that’s ridiculously close to traditional butter. Many margarines contain dairy products, however, so keep an eye on labels if you go that route.

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Cut round cheese wheels on a cutting board; Shutterstock ID 1082535398; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Vegan variety of cheeses; no dairy products; Shutterstock ID 443055682; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH
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Plant-Based Cheese for Traditional Cheese

According to Steve Carper, lactose intolerance expert and the author of Milk Is Not for Every Body: Living With Lactose Intolerance, there are at least nine cheeses (Muenster, Camembert, brie and cheddar, just to name a few) that contain just 2 to 3% lactose. This means, if eaten in small increments, you can probably get away from dinner without feeling uncomfortable. You could also opt for a lactose-free cheese, like Rougette Bonfire Grilling Cheese. It adds melty goodness to an appetizer platter or panini.

For those of you who’d rather not risk it, GoVeggie makes an amazing cheese alternative. (I can attest to this!) GoVeggie has singles, shreds, cream cheese and blocks. Need a little inspiration to try something new? Check out this tasty vegan eggplant Parmesan recipe.

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Lactose-Free Sour Cream for Traditional Sour Cream

Sour cream is the perfect finishing touch on nachos, tacos or a baked potato. It can also be used in baking. If you’re lactose-intolerant, sour cream hasn’t always an ideal topping option. Enter dairy-free brands like Tofutti and Green Valley, which offer options that are worth a try.

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Soy Milk & Olive Oil for Heavy Cream

If you’re looking for a vegan alternative to heavy cream, blend soy milk with olive oil. It sounds kind of weird, but it works! The oil whips fat into the soy milk creating a pseudo heavy cream. Just combine 2/3 cup soy milk with 1/3 cup of olive oil—and voila! This swap is perfect for adding to mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes and other savory dishes.

Tabitha Britt
Tabitha earned her master's degree in Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism from the The New School. She enjoys writing about food, fashion, and other lifestyle topics (especially potato-related news). In her spare time, she likes to check out hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Brooklyn, try out weird new foods, and drink a ridiculous amount of coffee.