Dairy Is Necessary, Even for Lactose-Intolerant Children

Armen Hareyan's picture

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced last week that lactose intolerance in children should be managed by adjusting dairy food choices and eating patterns, rather than eliminating dairy products from the diet, because the unique package of bone-building nutrients in milk and dairy products is "essential for growth in children." In light of these recommendations, Dairy Council of California offers some simple strategies to help lactose-intolerant children consume three servings of dairy each day (four daily servings for adolescents).

Lactose is the primary naturally occurring carbohydrate (sugar) found in cow's milk and lactose intolerance is a clinical syndrome resulting in abdominal discomfort after consuming lactose or lactose-containing substances. Published in Pediatrics, the report "Lactose Intolerance in Infants, Children and Adolescents," finds that most children are able to consume varying amounts of dietary lactose without discomfort.

There is no substitute for dairy's package of bone-building nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and protein. Parents and children may find that some dairy products are easier to digest than others, so experimentation is highly recommended.

"I often recommend trying lactose-reduced milk or lactase-replacement tablets," said Cheryl Davis, a registered dietitian and the clinical nutritionist working with the report's lead author, Melvin B. Heyman, M.D., at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. "With the help of these products, many children can drink the milk provided with a school lunch, have yogurt as a snack or dip fruit into cottage cheese. Even using reduced-lactose milk instead of water to make oatmeal or hot chocolate can help make sure lactose-intolerant children get adequate calcium in their diets. Their bones will thank you."


Consistent with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the National Medical Association, the largest African American physician's group in the country, the AAP report recommends that children with lactose intolerance meet their recommended daily allowance of milk and dairy products by choosing products carefully and eating them with other foods to aid digestion. Hard cheeses like cheddar or Swiss and yogurts with live active cultures are easier for lactose-intolerant children to digest. Drinking a small serving, 4 to 8 oz., of milk at mealtimes may also help children meet their dietary requirements with minimum symptoms.

"School wellness policies implemented this summer have had a dramatic effect on the food options available in cafeterias," said Andrea Garen, registered dietitian with Dairy Council of California. "Flavored 100% milk and yogurts, which are generally well-tolerated by children with lactose intolerance, are calcium-rich options available at school."

Dairy Council of California, a nutrition education organization, suggests the following ideas to enjoy dairy without discomfort at school, home or on the go:

  • Choose whole-grain crackers with swiss or cheddar cheese slices for a great snack.

  • Combine plain yogurt with dry soup mix to make a tasty dip for freshly cut vegetables.

  • Try a yogurt-bran breakfast parfait! Layer crumbled bran muffin, sliced fruit and yogurt in a clear bowl or cup for a balanced breakfast that is pleasing not only to the eye, but to the stomach as well.