5 Holiday Recipes for People Who Are Lactose Intolerant

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Dairy-free eggnog by Healthful Pursuits.
Dairy-free eggnog by Healthful Pursuits.

If you’re among the 15 to 30 percent of people who are lactose intolerant, or you have guests coming over for the holidays who are, it’s important to be mindful of the ingredients you’re putting into the food you serve. Dairy ingredients can be lurking in a number of holiday recipes, from creamed side dishes to cakes and pies.

People who are lactose intolerant don’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme that helps you digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. Consequently, within 30 minutes to an hour or so after consuming food with dairy, such as eggnog, pie with ice cream, creamy ranch dressing, or creamy main dishes and sides, those who are lactose intolerant can experience painful digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, gas, nausea, and diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance varies widely, based on genetic background. Overall, it’s present in up to 15 percent of people of northern European descent, up to 80 percent of Latinos and blacks, and up to 100 percent of Asians and American Indians. Lactose intolerance also varies widely in its severity. “Some people with lactose intolerance can consume a few grams (g) of lactose and be fine,” says Alanna Cabrero, RD, with NYU Langone Health in New York City. They can eat a Greek yogurt, for example, which contains roughly 4 g of lactose, without symptoms. But the minute they overdo it by having a second or third serving of a lactose-heavy dairy product, they experience symptoms.

“Others can’t even tolerate a little milk in their coffee without having digestive symptoms,” Cabrero adds.

Whether you’re mildly or severely lactose intolerant, consider taking a dietary aid, such as a Lactaid supplement, before a “mystery” holiday meal to help you digest lactose. “The pill provides the digestive enzyme you don’t have in case you accidentally consume dairy,” Cabrero says.

If you’re the host, make your menu from scratch. When you control the ingredients, you and your guests can enjoy the meal without worry.

Need inspiration? Feast on these lactose-free holiday recipe ideas. Bonus: The dishes are easy to prepare at least a day ahead, so you can spend time with your guests and enjoy the festivities.

1. Dairy-Free Eggnog

Instead of coconut milk, substitute almond milk or Lactaid whole milk. “With Lactaid milk, you get the benefits of micronutrients and protein,” Cabrero says, while “Milk alternatives have [no] or very little protein,” she says. Protein is important for cell repair, among other functions.

Find the full recipe at Healthful Pursuit.

2. Egg Custard Pie

One ingredient you don’t have to worry about is butter. Even though it’s a dairy product, butter doesn’t contain any lactose, which is a carbohydrate (carb). Butter is a fat. “There are no carbs in butter,” Cabrero says. Lactose-free doesn’t mean dairy-free. So go ahead, make a butter pie crust for your lactose-free holiday guests.

For the full pie recipe, visit The Spruce. Serve the pie with lactose-free ice cream.

3. Breakfast Bread Pudding

Your family and overnight guests will enjoy waking up to the smell of honey bread pudding baking in the oven. Lactose-free half-and-half makes it a nonthreat for even the most lactose sensitive.

Find the full recipe on the Food Network.

4. Homemade Ranch Dip

If you or your guests are extremely lactose sensitive, use lactose-free sour cream. Otherwise, go ahead and use regular sour cream. Two tablespoons of regular sour cream, which is in line with the amount of ranch dressing you’re likely to have with crudité or on a salad, contains less than 1 g of lactose, which isn’t much. In general, “knowing your portions and how much lactose is in each food is helpful,” Cabrero says. Portion sizes can be more important than the lactose-containing food.

Get the full recipe at Barefeet in the Kitchen.

5. Almond Milk Creamed Spinach

This delicious side dish is a tasty complement to holiday mainstays, such as turkey, ham, and prime rib. As a general rule, hard, aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano and cotija, don’t contain lactose because “the bacteria used to make the cheese during the aging process munch on the lactose,” Cabrero says. Soft cheeses and unaged cheeses, on the other hand, such as American or mozzarella, do contain lactose (roughly 1 to 3 g per ounce of cheese). Feel free to substitute coconut milk or Lactaid milk for the almond milk.

See Food & Wine's website for the full recipe.