6 low-lactose dairy products

People with lactose intolerance often avoid eating dairy products to avoid unwanted, uncomfortable or embarrassing side effects.

However, not all dairy products are high in lactose. If you’re lactose intolerant, some foods might be safer than you think.

Lactose intolerance is a very common digestive problem. In fact, it affects about 75% of the world’s population. Interestingly, it’s most common in Asia and South America, but much less common in parts of the Western world, including North America, Europe, and Australia, according to 2012 research.

Those who suffer from it do not have enough of an enzyme called lactase, present in the intestine. Lactase is needed to break down lactose, the main sugar found in milk.

Without lactase, lactose can pass through the intestine undigested and cause unpleasant symptomsincluding:

  • nausea
  • pain
  • gas
  • bloating
  • diarrhea

Fear of developing these symptoms may lead people with this condition to avoid foods that contain lactose, such as dairy products. However, this is not always necessary, as not all dairy products contain enough lactose to cause problems for those intolerant.

In fact, it is believed that many intolerant people can eat up to 12 grams of lactose at a time without feeling any symptoms. To put that into perspective, 12 grams is the amount found in 1 cup (230 ml) of milk.

In addition, some dairy products are naturally low in lactose. Below, 6 of them.

Butter is a high-fat dairy product that is made by churning cream or milk to separate its solid fat and liquid components.

The final product is approx. 80% fatbecause the liquid part of the milk, which contains all the lactose, is eliminated during processing.

This means that the lactose content of butter is really low. In fact, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of butter contain only 0.1 grams of lactose.

Levels this low are unlikely to cause any problems, even if you have an intolerance.

Butter made from fermented dairy and clarified butter products, such as ghee, contains even less lactose than regular butter.

So unless you have another reason to avoid butter or need to use a lot of it, ditch the dairy-free spread.


Butter is a high-fat dairy product that contains only traces of lactose. This means that it is generally acceptable to include it in your diet if you suffer from lactose intolerance.

Cheese is made by adding bacteria or acid to milk and then separating the cheese curd that forms from the whey.

Since the lactose in milk is found in whey, much of it is removed during cheese making.

However, the amount found in cheese can vary, and cheeses with the lowest amounts are those that have aged the longest.

Indeed, the bacteria present in the cheese are able to break down part of the remaining lactose, which reduces its content. The the more a cheese is agedthe more the bacteria present is able to get rid of lactose.

This means that aged hard cheeses are often very low in lactose. For example, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cheddar cheese contains only traces of it.

Low-lactose cheeses include Parmesan, Swiss, and Cheddar. Moderate portions of these cheeses can often be tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.

Cheeses like pecorinos, made from sheep’s milk, are also naturally lower in lactose because sheep’s milk contains less lactose than cow’s milk.

Cheeses that tend to be higher in lactose include cheese spreads, soft cheeses like brie or camembert, cottage cheese, and mozzarella.

Even some high-lactose cheeses may not cause symptoms in small portions.


The amount of lactose can vary between different types of cheese. In general, cheeses that have aged longer, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, and Swiss, have low levels of lactose.

Lactose intolerant people often find yogurt much easier to digest than milk.

This is because most yogurts contain live bacteria that can help break down lactose, so your body has less to deal with on its own.

For example, one of the studies included in a review from 2014 articles on lactose digestion suggest that when eating yogurt, the digestive tracts of lactose intolerant people retain 60% less undigested lactose when eating yogurt than when consuming the same amount of milk.

According the same studyyogurt also causes fewer symptoms, with only 20% of people reporting digestive distress after eating yogurt, compared to 80% who had difficulty after drinking milk.

It’s best to look for yogurts labeled “probiotics,” which means they contain live cultures of helpful bacteria. Yogurts that have been pasteurized, a process that kills bacteria, may not be tolerated as well.

Additionally, whole-fat and strained yogurts, such as Greek and Greek-style yogurt, might be an even better choice for people who are lactose intolerant.

Indeed, whole yogurts contain more fat and less lactose-laden whey than low-fat yogurts.

Greek and Greek-style yogurts are strained during processing. This removes even more whey, which naturally makes them much lower in lactose.


Lactose intolerant people often find yogurt easier to digest than milk. The best yogurt for people with lactose intolerance is a high-fat probiotic yogurt that contains live bacterial cultures.

Choosing a protein powder can be tricky for people who are lactose intolerant. Protein powders are usually made from whey protein, which is the liquid part of milk that contains lactose.

However, the amount of lactose present in whey protein powders can vary depending on how the whey is processed.

There are three main types of whey protein powder:

  • Whey concentrate: This contains up to 85% protein and a small amount of lactose.
  • Whey isolate: This contains a higher concentration of protein and less lactose than whey protein concentrate.
  • Whey hydrolyzate: This contains a similar amount of lactose as whey concentrate, but some of the protein in this powder has already been partially broken down.

The best choice for people with lactose sensitivity is whey isolate, which contains the lowest levels of lactose.

Still, lactose content can vary widely between brands, and most people have to experiment to see which brand of protein powder works best for them.


Dairy protein powders have already been delactosed. However, some types, such as whey isolates, contain less lactose than others and may be a better choice for people who are lactose intolerant.

Kefir is a fermented drink that is traditionally made by adding “kefir grains” to animal milk.

Like yogurt, kefir grains contain live cultures of bacteria which help to break down and digest lactose in milk.

This means that kefir may be better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance, when consumed in moderate amounts.

In fact, a older study from 2003 found that, compared to milk, fermented milk products like yogurt or kefir could reduce symptoms of intolerance by 54-71%.


Kefir is a drink made from fermented milk. Like yogurt, the bacteria in kefir break down lactose, making it more digestible.

Cream is made by skimming the fatty liquid that rises to the surface of the milk. As with butter and Greek yogurt, isolating the fat content of milk eliminates some of the lactose-containing elements.

Different creams may contain different amounts of fat, depending on the fat to milk ratio in the product.

Heavy cream is a high-fat product that contains approximately 37% fat. This is a higher percentage than other creams, such as half and half and light cream.

It also contains almost no sugar, which means that its lactose content is very low. In fact, a half ounce (15ml) of heavy cream only contains about 0.5 grams.

Therefore, small amounts of heavy cream in your coffee or with your dessert shouldn’t cause you any problems.


Heavy cream is a high-fat product that contains almost no lactose. Using small amounts of heavy cream should be tolerable for most people who are lactose intolerant.

Brands that make popular dairy products often offer low-lactose alternatives, created by mixing lactase directly into the product to break down the lactose before you’ve even taken a bite. Brands with full lines of lactose-free products include Lactaid and Green Valley Creamery.

Plant-based dairy alternatives marketed to vegans are also great lactose-free options.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary for people with lactose intolerance to avoid all dairy products.

In fact, some dairy products, like the ones discussed in this article, are naturally low in lactose.

In moderate and controlled amounts, they are generally well tolerated. Some people may find that some of the foods listed above are harder on their digestive system than others.

Through trial and error, as well as moderation, you can create a list of low-lactose foods that work best for you.

About Thomas B. Countryman

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