If you have lactose sensitivity or intolerance, you probably know to stay away from things like cheese, milk, and butter. However, if you’ve ever felt a mild reaction after a seemingly dairy-free meal, it could be that you accidentally ingested lactose in an unsuspected food source.
Lactose is present in many packaged foods because it’s an inexpensive byproduct that dissolves easily and adds a creamy texture to foods. Lactose is also useful in making pharmaceuticals, even some which are used to treat gastrointestinal disorders.
Here are some common items in which you may find hidden lactose, and tips on how to avoid it.
Lactose is used to make certain drugs because it’s easily compressible and acts as a filler in tablets and powders. It also improves bioavailability for certain drugs and adds that sweet taste you may have noticed in quick dissolve tablets.
Lactose may be found in a number of prescription and OTC medications, including but not limited to: gas relievers, antacids, birth control, ibuprofen, and Xanax.Talk to your doctor about the drugs you’re taking if you suspect one may have hidden lactose.
Processed Grains and Meats
If you order a deli sandwich without cheese and still end up with an upset stomach, the culprit could be the meat, the bread, or both.
Non-Kosher hot dogs, bacon, sausage and lunch meat may all contain hidden lactose that’s added during processing. Additionally, a large variety of bread contains whey that acts as a preservative. You should also read the labels on waffle and pancake mixes, cookies, chips, crackers, granola bars and cereal to make sure they don’t have dairy ingredients.
Artificial Sweetener and Margarine
You'll find that going for the real deal over the "healthy" alternative is actually better for you in many instances. Research increasingly shows that artificial sweeteners may be a bane to your health, especially if you have lactose intolerance. Some sweeteners are derived from dairy, and others have dairy added to help it dissolve.
Avoiding butter is a given, but it turns out that not even margarine is safe. Check the label on butter substitutes before you add them to your cart.
Good things are worth waiting for, and that goes double for coffee, soup, and mashed potatoes if you’re avoiding lactose. These instant products commonly contain some kind of dairy product to help them dissolve quickly and smoothly, as well as give them a creamy flavor and texture.
You may notice a trend here. The more processed a food is, the higher the chance that it contains at least a trace amount of lactose or some other mystery ingredient. If you have any kind of food sensitivity, eating whole, unprocessed foods is always best. This not only reduces your chance of accidentally consuming an allergen, but also makes the process of elimination easier if you have a not-yet-identified sensitivity.
Contact your gastroenterologist for more information about sticking to a lactose-free diet and identifying any allergies that have not yet been diagnosed.