Many adults and children suffer from lactose intolerance, which is the inability to break down a sugar called lactose, which is found in milk and dairy products. Lactose intolerance results in unpleasant digestive problems including gas, abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea. Although a component of milk, lactose can hide in unexpected places, such as in vegetable soup or bread.
Know the facts. Lactose is a sugar found in milk. Some studies have shown that nearly three-fourths of adult humans are lactose intolerant. An enzyme called lactase breaks down lactose as part of digestion. Since most mammals drink milk from their own species only during their early developmental years, many people don't retain the ability to digest lactose when they mature. In all mammals, including humans, the ability to digest this sugar drops significantly in about the first four years of life. Some people have a genetic mutation that keeps lactase functioning; they can digest lactose throughout their adult lives.
Eat fresh vegetables, which don't contain lactose naturally. An intolerance only becomes an issue when lactose is added to veggies in the form of dairy products. To flavor your veggies, think of dairy-free options, such as vinegar or other seasonings. For example, toss kale in olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add avocado, pine nuts or dried cranberries for a tasty kale salad. Squeeze lemon on broccoli. Try salsa on a baked potato.
Enjoy vegan creamed vegetables. By definition, vegan foods contain no meat or dairy. All conventionally creamed vegetables contain dairy, which means they also may contain lactose. Vegan recipes use soy or nuts to "cream" the vegetables, and are perfectly safe for lactose intolerant individuals to consume. Also, remember that most mashed potatoes, including the boxed flake variety, contain dairy products.
Avoid breaded or battered vegetables. These recipes often require dairy to hold the breading together or to hold the batter on. In addition, the bread itself likely contains lactose. Again, vegan versions of these dishes do not include dairy and are lactose free.
Read the labels of all processed and packaged foods carefully. Breads, pasta sauces, salad dressings, soups, gravies, prepared foods and frozen foods can all contain dairy products. Look for products labeled "lactose free."
Be creative and find healthy flavor alternatives to buttered vegetables, cheesy sauces and creamy vegetable soups by using vegan alternatives. For example, choose a vegan margarine without partially hydrogenated oils if you miss the butter.