Is Lactose-Free Milk Better Than Real Milk? What Are the Benefits, and What’s Different?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022

What is lactose-free milk? 

Lactose-free milk is a commercially produced dairy product. Lactose-free milk differs from regular milk in that it does not contain lactose and it is easier to digest than real milk.
Lactose-free milk is a commercially produced dairy product. Lactose-free milk differs from regular milk in that it does not contain lactose and it is easier to digest than real milk.

Lactose-free milk is a commercially produced dairy product. For the most part, the only difference between lactose-free milk and normal milk is the amount of lactose present. 

Whether or not this product is better than regular milk depends on your particular dietary restrictions and needs. For example, lactose-free milk is likely the better alternative if you’re lactose intolerant. 

Lactose-free milk starts its journey as normal cow milk. Unlike vegan milk alternatives, this is still a dairy product. Companies are able to chemically modify the lactose or remove it entirely in order to create a dairy product that doesn’t contain lactose. 

This can then be used to create additional lactose-free dairy products, like yogurts and cheeses. 

Lactose is also present in milk from mammals other than cows, but lactose-free versions of these kinds of milk could easily be created. Keep your eyes out for these on the market if you’re interested in using these products. 

How is lactose-free milk different from lactose-containing milk?

Lactose-free milk is easier to digest than normal milk. Normally, your body needs to produce an enzyme called lactase in order to properly digest the lactose that’s in dairy. Not everyone produces enough of this enzyme, though, so lactose can be difficult to digest. With lactose-free milk, the difficult digestive step of breaking down lactose is already complete.

The main difference that most people notice between lactose-free and normal milk is that lactose-free milk tends to taste sweeter than they’re used to. This is because the process of breaking down lactose creates simple sugars. 

In one study, people also reported slightly more cooked or processed flavors in the lactose-free milk compared to their normal cow’s milk. 

The other components of the milk are unchanged. This means that you should be able to use lactose-free milk in all of the same ways that you normally use cow milk. You can bake with it and use it in your cereal or coffee. 

How is lactose-free milk made? 

There are two main ways to make lactose-free milk on an industrial scale. Companies can either break down the lactose within the milk or filter it out. 

The most common solution is to use the enzyme lactase to break down the lactose. Lactase works like a little machine. It helps perform a chemical reaction called hydrolysis. This adds water molecules to the lactose molecule and converts it into two simpler sugars, called glucose and galactose.

Neutral lactase is used on an industrial scale. This is different from acid lactase, which is designed to work inside of your stomach. Unlike neutral lactase, acid lactase is meant to be taken on a case-by-case basis when you eat normal dairy. You don’t need these products to help you break down lactose when you consume lactose-free dairy products because the same chemical reaction already occurred on an industrial scale.

When companies first started making lactose-free milk 0.5 percent to 0.1 percent remaining lactose were considered acceptable levels for the lactose-free label. These days, many countries require that less than 0.01 percent lactose remains in the product for it to be labeled lactose-free.  

Who should drink lactose-free milk? 

There are a number of reasons why you might not want to drink normal lactose-containing milk. One of the main reasons is lactose intolerance. This is a common problem worldwide. Although the amount of lactose intolerance in the population varies widely per country, around 75% of all adults will lose their ability to process lactose at some point. It’s a natural process. 

Lactose intolerance can lead to uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like:

People who develop this condition may still want to have dairy in their lives. Lactose-free alternatives are a great way to preserve the rest of your dairy experiences while preventing the irritating complications of lactose intolerance. 

The families of people with lactose intolerance may also want to make this dietary shift in order to support their loved ones. This is another great reason to try out lactose-free milk. Then, your family will only need to make one milk purchase at the grocery store. 


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Who shouldn’t drink lactose-free milk?

Lactose-free milk doesn’t help with all dairy-related problems. For example, some people have dairy allergies. Milk and dairy allergies are actually the most common food allergy found in children and infants. 

In the case of allergies, lactose isn’t your problem. People with allergies are usually allergic to one or both of the proteins found in milk — casein and whey. With this allergy, your immune system overreacts to the presence of these proteins. That can lead to symptoms like wheezing and trouble breathing

You could also have a milk or dairy intolerance that isn’t specific to lactose. This could also involve milk proteins. 

If you have a dairy allergy or generalized intolerance, then lactose-free milk will not help you. Instead, you should use a nut-based milk-type of substance or another vegan milk alternative. Examples include almond, cashew, and soy milk. None of these have lactose, casein, or whey. 

Are there additional benefits to lactose-free milk? 

The main benefit of drinking lactose-free milk is that you can get all of the nutritional benefits of milk and dairy without the lactose-based health hazards. 

This means that when you drink lactose-free milk, you’re still getting all of the calcium, protein, and vitamins that are naturally present or added to normal milk. 

For example, drinking 100 grams of full-fat lactose-free milk includes: 

  • 3.28 grams of protein
  • 3.2 grams of fat
  • 123 milligrams of calcium
  • 101 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 150 milligrams of potassium

It also includes essential vitamins like vitamins: 

  • A
  • B
  • D
  • K

How do you know if lactose-free is right for you? 

Not everyone who likes regular cow's milk is guaranteed to like lactose-free milk. For example, some people may find it too sweet for them. However, this milk is definitely worth trying if you’re having problems with dairy products and suspect that your problem is lactose.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the lactose-free milk industry is still growing and new products are coming out on a regular basis. Even if you’ve tried it in the past and didn’t like it, there could be a new brand out today that’s better suited to your tastes. 

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Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022

Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology: "Lactose intolerance: diagnosis, genetic, and clinical factors."

LWT - Food Science and Technology: "Sensory characteristics of commercial lactose-free milks manufactured in the United States."

Massachusetts General Hospital: "Lactose-Free v. Dairy-Free: How to Tell the Difference."

Nutrients: "Lactose-Free Dairy Products: Market Developments, Production, Nutrition and Health Benefits."

Undeniably Dairy: "Lactose-Free Milk: What Is It And How Is It Made?"

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Milk, lactose free, whole."