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How to Experiment with Your Tolerance for Dairy Products

The most practical way to figure out how much dairy you can — or can’t — tolerate is to experiment with your diet. You have various ways to experiment:

  • Vary the amount of dairy you take in. A full cup of milk may be too much for you to tolerate, but a few tablespoons of it in your coffee may be okay. By experimenting with different amounts of milk and milk products in your diet, you can zero in on your individual tolerance level.

  • Vary the type of dairy products you choose. Some people find they can tolerate certain forms of milk or milk products better than others. For example, some people can digest yogurt or cheddar cheese, but they may develop symptoms when they drink milk or eat ice cream.

  • Gradually introduce dairy into your diet. Completely remove milk and milk products from your diet, and then slowly add them back over a period of days or weeks. Introduce one product at a time so that you can more easily pinpoint the offender if symptoms arise.

    Begin with small quantities at first, and then build up to more. Pay attention to signs that your symptoms are returning. When they do, you may have found your limit.

  • Spread out the dairy products that you consume. Some people find they can tolerate more dairy products if they spread them out over the day, rather than eating a big dose at a single sitting. For example, they may be able to add milk to their coffee in the morning and eat a small amount of cheese on a baked potato at dinner. But if they put milk in their coffee and also eat a bowl of cereal with milk at the same meal, it may be enough to induce symptoms.

  • Dilute the dairy products with other foods. Some people find that eating a small amount of a dairy product with other foods in a meal is better tolerated than eating the dairy product by itself. For example, rather than eating a chunk of cheese or drinking a glass of milk, they may tolerate the dairy product better by eating it in combination with a few crackers or a piece of toast.

Yogurt with active cultures and hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan, tend to be better tolerated than other forms of milk and soft cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Active cultures in yogurt help to break down some of the lactose in milk, and hard cheeses —– especially those that are aged for more than two years — contain much less lactose than many other types of cheese.

What works for one person may not work for you. Testing various approaches can help you discover your tolerance limits for dairy as well as strategies for increasing those limits.

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