Your body creates all kinds of digestive enzymes. Some of those enzymes are specially dedicated to break down certain types of carbohydrates. Lactase is one such enzyme. Its sole purpose is to digest the sugar from dairy that is called lactose. Not everyone digests lactose easily though. If you’re lactose intolerant, you probably avoid all things made with milk. Rice and rice products, like rice milk, are naturally lactose-free. However, lactose could be added when rice is prepared.
What Goes Wrong
Lactose intolerant means just that: your body can’t tolerate lactose. Your system simply doesn’t produce enough -- or any -- lactase. Often it’s a problem from childhood, although having a severe intestinal infection in your adult life can also leave you with lactose intolerance. Once lactose molecules reach your gut, they can’t get broken down without the enzyme lactase, so, shortly after eating, you can feel your digestive tract working to rid your body of these foreign indigestible particles. Bloating and a swelling feeling in your gut are typical. These side effects can be followed by nausea and diarrhea.
Plain white, brown, wild or any other kind of rice shouldn’t cause issues in your gut if you’re lactose intolerant. If, however, you go to a restaurant or have a meal at someone else’s home, you'll need to be cautious. Some cooks add butter to rice to keep it from sticking. Once in a while, they may even add cheese, like Parmesan, for added flavor, or even milk for creaminess. This is why it’s critical to let anyone who prepares your meal know that you’re lactose intolerant. They can easily set some rice aside before stirring in dairy-based ingredients.
Likelihood of Having Issues
Unless you’re highly sensitive to lactose in even minuscule amounts, the small amount of lactose you might get from prepared rice shouldn’t cause major issues. One full tablespoon of butter has a mere 0.01 grams of lactose. An ounce of Parmesan cheese gives you 0.04 grams. To compare, you’ll get 12 to 13 grams of lactose from 8 ounces of cow’s milk, explains Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian based out of New Orleans. So, even if your side of rice is made with a little butter or even a sprinkle of cheese, the little dose of lactose isn’t generally worrisome.
You may be able to prevent problems with lactose by taking an oral over-the-counter lactase enzyme. When taken with the meal that contains lactose, even if it's a buttery side of rice, these supplements can minimize digestive complications related to lactose. While these supplements are generally safe, get your doctor’s approval first as a precaution. Or, for a dairy alternative, opt for rice milk, since it doesn't have any lactose. Rice milk is perfect for drinking, but you can also add it, instead of cow's milk, to cereal and recipes.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Rice, White, Medium-Grain, Cooked
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Rice, Brown, Medium-Grain, Cooked
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: What I Need to Know About Lactose Intolerance
- The Times Picayune: Some Dairy Products May be OK for the Lactose Intolerant