Parisian Living

Lactose Intolerance in Paris: The Plight of the Dairy-Challenged

by Bryan Pirolli
How to deal with lactose intolerance in Paris? Sadly, you have to stay away from the creamy ice cream.Gelato from Amorino in Paris is a no-no for the lactose averse, unfortunately! (Josh Leo)

Hello.  For about ten months now I have been grappling with intolerance in my life, something deeply rooted and painful to me and to loved ones.  I feel that it’s time to come out with it, to share this issue publicly in order that others may not suffer as well.  Here it goes:

My name is Bryan.  I live in Paris.  And I am lactose intolerant.

I join the roughly 30 million Americans who, by the age of 20, develop some sort of negative reaction to dairy products.  If I were in America, I probably wouldn’t worry so much, since there are more soy alternatives available in the grocery store than stars in the sky.  The real problem is that I live in France, a country that can proudly boast a different cheese for practically every day of the year.  Cream-filled pastries line bakery windows.  Ice cream and gelato can be found on every corner.  How’s a guy supposed to deal with such blatant intolerance of his own intolerance?

It's hard to resist the creamy artisanal butter and cheeses when lactose intolerant in Paris.Double-dairy: for extra creaminess, do as the French: spread a little butter on your bread before heaping it with brie (Bhamsandwich)

I’ve learned to cope.  I don’t take it personally that most French foods are riddled with lactose molecules.  Every time I get the urge to grab some Camembert or ask for a double scoop of pistachio ice cream, I remember the pain.  Consuming the dairy sends a ticking time bomb into my gastro-intestinal tract.  Mere hours later, it feels as though a family of rabid meerkats are tirelessly trying to burrow their way out of my stomach.  It’s not good.

So for the past few months I have resisted, swearing off cheese and opting for meats on my picnic sandwich instead.  No more butter, just olive oil, please.  Yogurt?  Sure, if it has those bacteria in it that will help me digest the evil lactose (look for bifidus at the supermarket yogurt aisle).

Where to buy butter in Paris when lactose-intolerant.Erica Berman

Bye bye ice cream, hello sorbet – with the added vitamins helping to fight scurvy, who could complain?  It’s difficult to pass up the fruity seasonal sorbet varieties at Pozetto or Grom (like fig and blueberry) once you try them.  The alternatives, seemingly less tempting but altogether surprising, are there if you choose to look.

The constant struggle and uphill battle has rendered me numb.  I can stroll by Pink Flamingo pizzeria or breeze by any Amorino shop without drooling helplessly.  (Note, however, that Pink Flamingo will guiltlessly make you a pizza without cheese if you ask – try the Aphrodite and just ask for extra hummus) For me, however, it’s become a non-issue.  Well, nearly.

When lactose intolerant in Paris, stay away from pizza (left), but goat's cheese salad is ok to eat (right).Dairy Alert: stay away from pizza, but indulge in goat cheese salads to your heart’s delight! (Erica Berman; Fotoos Van Robin)

As no man is perfect, I still have my weaknesses.  Asking me to swear off pizza, for example, would be just as mean as feeding it to me.  Fortunately, I have a weapon.  Unbeknownst to most Parisian pharmacies – for I have asked around – there is a pill available that fights the kryptonic effects of milk – Lactaid.  While as scarce in Paris as quality customer service, the pill is easily importable via airmail, making birthdays considerably easier for my mother who no longer needs to struggle with what to buy me.

Still, I feel like an outcast each time I pop a pill before consuming my ice cream cone.  I can see the brows wrinkle above the eyes of the crepe man as he hands me my ham and cheese crepe and I tear into a Lactaid pill before diving into his creation, as if saying insultingly, “I need medicine to eat this terrible thing.”  I want to eat dairy like the other kids, yet I’m forever different.

Summer in Paris when lactose-intolerant is difficult because you have to stay away from artisanal ice cream.Stay away from gorgeous scoops of ice cream like these. Opt for dairy-free sorbet instead! (Bhamsandwich; Ali A)

But I’m here to spread the word that lactose intolerance is not shameful.  Nor does it preempt anyone from French cuisine.  It’s a difficult reality exacerbated by a heavily milk-based culture tempting us with its cheesy, creamy, Chantilly-topped edibles that some of us, alas, cannot readily eat.  Life is tough, right?  Just remember that you’re not alone.  Look towards the friendly fruity sorbets, skip the caloric whipped creams, and go for a chicken and crudités sandwich instead of ham and cheese.  Life goes on, and, as long as I never become allergic to wine, I can deal with the Parisian dairy-centric gastronomy.  Just keep sending those pills, Mom…

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Written by Bryan Pirolli for the Hip Paris Blog. For our amazing rentals in Paris, Provence & Tuscany check out our website Haven in Paris.

Written By

Bryan Pirolli

Bryan Pirolli is a travel journalist whose byline has appeared in CNN Travel, Time Out Paris, and Travel+Leisure. He also teaches media studies at the university level. In his spare time, he managed to create The Gay Locals (www.thegaylocals.com), Paris' first LGBT tour guide provider, offering travel services for and by the LGBT community. View Bryan Pirolli's Website

27 comments on “Lactose Intolerance in Paris: The Plight of the Dairy-Challenged

i hope this helps everyone here ,i also used to not be able to eat dairy and many vegetables with out lactaid tablets and beano, for 25 years or more, but have finally cured it . it took a year or more[ after about 10 years of maybe 90% organic [ no GMOS ] i found is only if i eat 100% organic food.including lots of organic grass fed raw milk also organic homemade or farmers market[ not store bought] bone broth both really heal digestive system . which means no eating out [ in the u. s.] unless can find a rare organic place .[ havent found yet!]

also in the usa forget it- one meal out and stomach problems the whole next day. but eating out or buying take out in england or france my stomach isn’t as bothered, think is because stomach has healed A and way less GMOS there , maybe less glyphosate on the wheat? for lucky people out side of the u .s.

now i can eat the cheese and dairy in france and england no problem[ i think ,not completely sure ,because i s till try to buy organic food on any trips ] , no lactaid tablets needed either[ have a supply havent used in years !]

Bryan,

Where are you & your Lactaid pills!? Lol I am here in Paris @ forgot mine and what a mistake! Unbeknownst to me I went to several pharmacies & after struggling with my minimal French and finally resigning to a comical version of sign language, it was obvious no such medicine exists here ..oh well, I refuse to stop eating and will continue to suffer my way through my France trip..thank you for your post.

i found raw milk in paris! at the bio farmers market.now i forget which one but its the one that is all organic. i can drink raw milk without any problem plus it tastes so much better too!i always

had to buy lactaid or take lactaid tablets before i found raw milk . i dont know about raw milk ice cream but you could try making your own. also after drinking raw milk for a wile i think you can start to eat cheese again without it bothering you at least cheeses like parmesan and i think raw milk cheeses maybe too.

i also take now dairy digest instead of lactaid tablets becasue now said they are GMO free.

@HavenInParis!!

Yikes, goat’s milk is just as bad. I have to post so people will not get all excited and go eat it. It is almost identical in molecular structure to cow milk, so please, please be careful everyone!

It is best to go with the nut or rice milk. Soy if you can tolerate it. In the US, soy is one of two top GMO (Genetically Modified) ‘foods’, corn is the other, so soy is not a great bet. Soy also affects female hormones, so best to stay away from.

If you have milk allergies or lactose intolerance, goat’s milk is unfortunately not better.

I am hoping to do some traveling in France soon and do not want to be scared to go because I cannot have dairy. It is so much easier here in the US. You mentioned soy, which a lot of us who cannot tolerate dairy also do not do well with (over-the-counter medicine called Beano helps *some*, since soy is a bean!). I don’t eat soy any more, but we have all of these lovely things!

Almondmilk (my fave!) “cheese” made from this is OK, weird texture. Best ice “cream”, in my humble opinion!
rice milk (2nd fave)
Hemp milk – haven’t tried it, a little curious!)
Coconut milk and water (coconut water in gelato is heavenly!)

I lost myself for a second there 🙂
I had hoped that perhaps you would have Health Food stores there and I could just pop in and buy what I need. Now i am a little worried. I think i will read all of the comments and see what people think. I am too scared to try lactaid + cow milk. The pain, as you mentioned, is excruciating. I get an accidental tiny bite of milk and i am sick for 12-24 hours!

Dairy just isn’t good for humans. I read a few years ago that “humans are the only mammals who regularly drink the mother’s milk of another mammal”. Ick, so true, and ick again ;0) (And the Meg Ryan scene is sooo not funny if you have felt that real pain!)

just wanted to add i finally found raw milk lait cru at the organic [bio] farmers market near place de clichy or blvd de clichy in paris ,its totally digestible for people who a re lactose intolerant without having to take those lactaid pills because it contains the lactase enzyme becasue it hasnt been killed by the heating of pasteurization, now if only they would have raw milk ice cream too! but you can make your own even with out an ice cream machine, so look for raw milk at farmers markets or health food stores if you a re lactose intolerant .its made such a difference to me plus it tastes so much better than pastuerized milk a dn is much healthier for you too

I’m also a lactose intolerant but I happen to live in Finland where many people suffer from this, and local dairy companies have reacted. Nowadays we have non-lactose milks, creams, butters, ice creams, yougurts etc. I don’t know are any of those products available in Paris, but you may ask e.g. Valio Zero Lactose products from bigger markets.

Had allergies and strange health problems? Could be tied to milk…bet you don’t know as much as you think you do about the dairy industry and the harmful effects of milk on the body.
Got the facts on Milk? (also known as “The Milk Documentary” is an entertaining, award winning feature documentary that dares to question the conventional wisdom of the much publicized health benefits of milk and dairy products.
Addressing myth, truth and all in-between, the film is a humorous yet shocking exposition that provokes serious thought about this everyday staple. Definitely worth checking out! There are some amazing facts in here that will blow your mind!
Please check it out and pass it on, let’s spread the word!
http://www.milkdocumentary.com/

What a wonderful post! I too suffer from lactose intolerance … and those lactaid pills only work 50% of the time for me. Needless to say, I don’t bother to use them anymore! Fool me twice, and all that! I had to laugh that one of the commenters mentioned French Kiss with Meg Ryan — I just wrote a post on my Lactose Intolerance blog about that exact scene!

Enjoy your sorbet — and drink some French wine… after all, there’s no milk in that!

Ariel - Haven in Paris

The cheese and bread is so yummy, but then again, there are so many other wonderful food options in Paris, including all the great fruits and veggies at the markets!

Jenny @ French A La Beach

Ohhh – this brings back beautiful memories – I miss Paris so much – thank you for posting these pickies. I am currently doing up shabby chic furniture – just put my first piece up on my blog.

thanks again

Jenny @ French A La Beach

Carefl on how much Lactaid you take. I know some people that are lactose intolerant and Lactaid no longer works for them because they took so much. I am also lactose intolerant and prefer to just stay away from milk, even if I do have a small bite here and there. The other day was my first bite of ice cream in months!!

I COULDN’T HELP but think of Meg Ryan in “French Kiss” when I began reading your article! She loved the French cheese — “Did you know that there are 452 official government cheeses in this country? Don’t you think that’s incredible? To come up with 452 ways of classifying what is basically a bacterial process?” Ultimately, the cheese did not like her!

Be thankful you’re not a lactose-intolerant vegetarian! Imagine the tragedy of having a meat-less AND cheese-less sandwich! Tragique!

I now feel like some ice-cream…

Hey, just to let you know, there is one lactose free ice cream option at Amorino’s: chocolate + soy milk.Hope you are a chocolate lover 😉

I also HIGHLY recommend Pozzetto on rue du Roi de Sicile in the Marais. They have fabulous sorbet choices. – Erica

De vrais produits français !

Paris is really not THAT bad (no worse then any where else) for the lactose intolerant. There are TONS of goat cheeses, you can get great sorbet in all the ice cream places and I have even noticed soy cappuccinos one in a while> I think Kooka Boora has one. There are lots of health food stores all around that sell soy and rice milk. Even gluten free products (since someone mentioned that as well). It is true that the gluten free things are not as advanced as they are in the US or UK. But, they are making progress. There are even smoothie stores that do smoothies with coconut and soy as well (Smooth in the City on rue des Abbesses). So, it’s not easy, but can be done. My Mom is lactose intolerant and we have lots of fun explaining it in restaurants when she comes to visit. They do usually end up sort of getting it, and helping us out, really!

Careful with the Lactaid pill popping . . . I hear you can build up a tolerance, is this true?

Both of my children are lactose intolerant, although thankfully their intolerance is not severe. They can eat cheese and yogurt, but most other forms of dairy give them problems. Thankfully Karin at At Alien Parisienne was so helpful in her post about food allergies that you linked to over at Posted in Paris. Because of that post, I packed plenty of Lactaid pills for my kids and our trip to Paris was wonderful. We checked in several pharmacies and none had the Lactaid-style pills. We *did* find the Lactel Matin Leger milk in most every Franprix (and I believe the Dia as well, but I’m not sure), but not being used to UHT milk, we didn’t like the taste. So my advice to the lactose-intolerant: pack Lactaid pills. I packed ours in our checked bags because I was worried that they might confiscate the medicine in the carry-on. However, I also carried several Lactaids in my pocketbook (sealed, clearly marked) and they didn’t confiscate those, so….

does anyone know where to buy raw milk in paris?i used to have to drink lactose free milk for many years but since iv’e been drinking raw milk i have no problem.it still has the lactase enzyme needed for digestion but i cant find raw milk in paris or in london. i did find bain marie milk thats non homogenized but its not truly raw so i still had to take lactose tablets thanks !

Food allergies galore! Thanks for the comments. I’m now debating over which is worse — gluten or lactose allergies — aren’t there medicines for both??

And Carin — just bring a good supply of those Lactasin and you should be fine. I recently survived an amazing week of gelato and pizza in Naples by popping pills nonstop, and boy was it worth it!

I’m not sure which is worse. Being gluten intolerate (that’s me) and not able to eat the magnificent bread and pastries in France or being lactose intolerant and missing out on the fabulous cheese. Both are a curse, I guess.

I’m lactose intolerant too and going to Paris this summer was torture! I feel your pain. But also, with some research I have found out that most hard cheeses are actually lactose-free because the long ageing breaks it down. So there’s still hope!!

Thanks for the article!

That’s a truly miserable complaint to suffer from when confronted by French cuisine. Butter, cheese, creme fraiche – a wholly frightening trinity.

Hi Bryan!

My name is Carin. I’m from Sweden. And I’m lactose intolerant as well.

..And I’m actually planning on moving to Paris this January 🙂 Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been wondering what to do about my lactose intolerance while in Paris. Here in Sweden I’m popping (lactose) pills like a crazy person whenever eating anything that contains lactose. Although mine is named “Lactasin”. I’m hoping my mother will be as kind as yours and send me the pills while over there.

But as you say Paris must be torture for someone who can’t consume lactose. And to make it even worse, I’m also soya intolerant (!) so the soya products are not an option for me I’m afraid. Do you see any products at all that are free from lactose? (I mean lactose free milk etc.) Here in Sweden we have these kind of things, the same goes for yoghurt, that neither contains milk, lactose or soya. But I doubt my mother will send me food while I’m away haha 😉

Anyways, thank you so much for this post. It gives me a little bit of hope to survive over there 😉 I can’t wait to go!

Thank you once more!

Best,
Carin

Claire - Lola Is Beauty

I feel your pain – Italy made me gluten intolerant so I really do – but that cheese looks so good!

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