8 Dairy Foods That Are Low in Lactose

Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022
8 Dairy Foods That Are Low in Lactose
Here are 8 foods that are low in lactose

Although dairy is an excellent source of vitamin D, calcium, and potassium, you may need to avoid some dairy products if you are lactose intolerant.

Many people with lactose intolerance, however, can consume up to 12 grams of lactose at a time without any symptoms, and not all dairy products are high in lactose.

Here are 8 foods that are low in lactose.

8 low-lactose dairy foods

1. Hard cheese

Cheese is made by infusing bacteria or acid into milk and then separating the resulting cheese curds from the whey. Because lactose in milk is contained in the whey, a large portion of it is eliminated during the cheese-making process.

However, the amount of lactose in cheese varies, and the cheeses with the lowest amounts are those that are aged the longest. This is because the bacteria in cheese break down some of the residual lactose, decreasing its concentration. The longer a cheese is aged, the more lactose the bacteria can break down. 

As a result, aged, hard cheeses are often low in lactose.

Table: Low-lactose vs. high-lactose cheese
Low-lactose cheese High-lactose cheese
Parmesan Soft cheeses, such as Brie or Camembert
Swiss Cottage cheese and mozzarella
Cheddar Cheese spreads

2. Yogurt with probiotics

If you are lactose intolerant, yogurt is typically easier to digest than milk. Most yogurt contains bacteria that can help break down lactose, reducing the amount of lactose your body needs to digest. 

Look for yogurt that is labeled “probiotic,” which means they contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria. Full-fat and strained yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, is also relatively low in lactose compared to low-fat yogurt.

3. Kefir

Kefir is traditionally made by combining kefir grains with milk. Kefir grains, such as yogurt, contain live cultures of bacteria that break down the lactose found in milk. As a result, when consumed in moderation, kefir may be less likely to cause unpleasant symptoms in people who are sensitive to lactose.

4. Heavy cream

Heavy cream is made from the fatty liquid that forms on the surface of the milk. Depending on the fat-to-milk ratio, different creams contain varying levels of fat.

Heavy cream is a high-fat product that has 37% fat and almost no sugar. Lactose levels are therefore relatively low, with about 0.5 grams in a tablespoon.

5. Goat milk

Goat milk is similar to cow milk in terms of nutrient content, but it has less than 10% lactose content. One cup of goat milk contains 9 grams of lactose, but one cup of cow milk contains 12 grams of lactose.

If you are mildly lactose intolerant, you may want to give goat milk a try.

6. Buttermilk

Buttermilk is often made from yogurt and water. Cultured buttermilk also contains bacteria that break down lactose, meaning that it is fairly low in lactose.

7. Low-lactose butter

Butter is a high-fat dairy product created by separating the solid fat and liquid components of cream or milk. Because the liquid half of milk, which contains lactose, is eliminated during processing, the final product is about 80% fat. Butter is therefore very low in lactose, with about 0.1 grams in 100 grams.

Lactose levels are even lower in fermented and clarified butter products, such as ghee, than in ordinary butter.

8. Lactose-free milk

Lactose-free versions of dairy products are those that have been processed with lactase. Lactase is an enzyme that converts lactose into simpler sugars called galactose and glucose. While similar in nutritional profile, texture, and flavor to regular milk, lactose-free milk is completely free of lactose and therefore suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.

What are symptoms of lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance symptoms often appear 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming dairy and may include:

What causes lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance occurs when you are unable to digest lactose due to a lack of lactase, which is an enzyme that breaks down lactose. Bacteria in the colon then break down undigested lactose, resulting in excess gas.

Risk factors for lactose intolerance include:

  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Diseases of the small intestine
  • Ethnicity (higher risk in Africans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans)
  • Injury to the small intestine (radiation to the abdomen)
  • Premature birth (lactase-producing cells develop late in the third trimester)

What are treatment options for lactose intolerance?

  • Dietary changes: While the amount of lactase produced by your body cannot be changed, dietary adjustments can affect the amount of lactose your body needs to break down. The gradual introduction of lactose-containing foods can allow the body to acclimatize to lactose with fewer symptoms.
  • Enzymes: Enzymes (in pill or liquid form) can be administered before consuming milk or milk products to help break down lactose and minimize symptoms.
  • Supplementation: Calcium supplements may be required to prevent calcium deficiency caused by a diet low in milk and dairy products.


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Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Definition & Facts for Lactose Intolerance. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance/definition-facts

Lactose Intolerance. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance

Lactose Intolerance: 14 Ways to Still Love Dairy. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/ss/slideshow-dairy

5 Dairy Foods Low in Lactose. https://blog.ochsner.org/articles/5-dairy-foods-low-in-lactose

Lactose content of different foods. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/image?imageKey=PI%2F55938