Lactose Intolerance and Cream Cheese

Lactose intolerance does not necessarily mean you cannot eat cream cheese. Every person diagnosed with lactose intolerance experiences a different degree of intolerance. Some people can eat 1 tablespoon of cream cheese with no symptoms, but cannot handle 2 tablespoons. Follow an elimination diet to determine the degree of your lactose intolerance, under a doctor's supervision.

Toast with cream cheese spread on a wooden plate. (Image: GooDween123/iStock/Getty Images)

The Cause of Intolerance

When you eat any food, your intestines have to break down more complex proteins and sugars into simpler forms so that your body can absorb them. Enzymes break down these substances. The inability to produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, results in lactose intolerance. The body uses lactase to digest lactose into more easily digested simple sugars, glucose and galactose. When someone with lactose intolerance eats dairy products, the undigested lactose passes into the large intestine, or colon, causing common symptoms.

Elimination Diet

You can use an elimination diet to determine how much cream cheese you can tolerate. An elimination diet typically helps identify allergens, but it can also reveal how much lactose you can tolerate in a specific product. Completely eliminate all dairy products from your diet for up to two weeks. When two weeks have passed, introduce cream cheese back into your diet under controlled conditions. Begin by consuming ¼ teaspoon of cream cheese. Every day thereafter, increase the cream cheese by ¼ teaspoon until you experience symptoms. Keep a log of your findings and discuss them with your doctor.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms to look for include gas, bloating, foul-smelling stools, stools that float, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. The more cream cheese you eat, the more severe your symptoms will be. Lactose intolerance symptoms cause discomfort, but they do not cause any harm to the intestines or digestive tract. Alarming signs of a more serious condition include excessive weight loss, blood in your stools or dehydration.

Treatment

You can still enjoy cream cheese if you're lactose intolerant. Some cream cheese manufacturers add lactase during production, making the cream cheese lactose-free. You can also take an enzyme supplement at the first bite of the cream cheese to prevent adverse reactions.

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