Dairy products are nutritious and consuming them is important for your body’s bone health. They provide your body with a variety of nutrients like calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and proteins.
However, if you are lactose intolerant, you probably restrict yourself from eating dairy products. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest and absorb the sugar present in milk and dairy products because of the lack of a substance called lactase that helps to break down lactose into simpler sugars for easy absorption by the body.
Here’s the good news. There are a few dairy foods that are naturally low in lactose and if you are lactose intolerant, these dairy foods can do you good than harm.
6 Dairy Foods That Are Naturally Low in Lactose
Butter is a dairy product high in fat. Butter is made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk to separate the solid butterfat and liquid components. The final product is around 80 percent fat because all the liquid part that contains lactose is removed during the process. This means that butter has very low lactose content and can be used by those who are lactose intolerant.
In addition, butter made from fermented milk products and clarified butter contain even less lactose than regular butter.
2. Hard Cheese
Cheese is another dairy product that is naturally low in lactose. Cheese is made by adding bacteria to milk and separating it from the cheese curds that form from the whey (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained). Lactose in milk is found in the whey, most of which is separated when the cheese is made.
The amount of lactose found in cheese varies; the types of cheese with the lowest amounts of lactose are the ones that have been aged the longest. This is because the bacteria in cheese break down the remaining lactose to lactic acid.1 The longer the cheese is aged, the more the lactose content is converted to lactic acid by bacteria present in it.
Different types of cheese that are low in lactose include Parmesan, Swiss and cheddar cheese. Moderate portions of these cheese can be tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant.
3. Probiotic Yogurt
People who are lactose intolerant find it a lot easier to digest yogurt than milk. This is because there is active bacteria present in yogurt that assist with the digestion of the lactose present in it. The bacterial lactase survives the acidic conditions of the stomach and actively breaks down the yogurt lactose, preventing any symptoms for lactose-intolerant people.2
A study comparing the digestion of lactose after consuming milk and probiotic yogurt was conducted on lactose-intolerant individuals. The results showed that the bacteria in yogurt helped with better digestion of lactose present in it than milk. Consuming yogurt also showed fewer reports of diarrhea and flatulence.3
Probiotic yogurts are better than pasteurized yogurt. The former contains live cultures of bacteria that help digest lactose better than the latter. If the yogurt is pasteurized, it means that the bacteria have been killed and may not be well tolerated.
Full-fat and strained yogurts like Greek and Greek-style yogurt may be an even better choice for people with lactose intolerance because full-fat yogurts contain more fat and less whey than low-fat yogurts.
4. Some Dairy Protein Powders
If you are an athlete and working to build your muscles, protein powders are a common choice. However, it can be tricky to find lactose-friendly protein powders as these are made from the proteins in milk whey – the lactose-rich part of milk.
There are three main types of whey protein powders and the amount of lactose they contain vary depending on how they are processed.
- Whey concentrate: This protein powder contains around 79–80% protein and a small amount of lactose.
- Whey isolate: This powder contains around 90% protein and less lactose than whey protein concentrate.
- Whey hydrolysate: This powder contains a similar amount of lactose as whey concentrate, but some of the proteins in this powder have already been partially digested.
Among these three protein powders, the best choice for those with lactose intolerance would be whey isolate as it contains the least lactose. However, the amount of lactose can vary with brands and you may have to try which one works best for your body.
Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that contains cultures of bacteria like yogurt. This is made by adding kefir grains to animal milk and the bacteria present in it help break down lactose and may be a better option for those who are lactose sensitive.
A study involving flavored kefir showed that it significantly reduced the severity of flatulence, abdominal pain, and diarrhea symptoms.4 A moderate consumption of kefir is a good choice if you are lactose intolerant.
6. Heavy Cream
Cream is made by skimming off the fatty liquid that rises to the top of milk. Different creams can have different amounts of fat depending on the ratio of fat to milk in the product.
Heavy cream is high in its fat content and is higher than other creams like half and half and light cream. It also contains very little amount of sugar which means its lactose content is very low.
Therefore, adding a small blob of heavy cream in your coffee or on your dessert may not cause you serious problems.
These foods are naturally low in lactose and their consumption in moderate amounts may not harm your body as other dairy products would if you are sensitive to lactose. However, if you experience discomfort, it is best to stop having the food and if the uneasiness prevails, consult your doctor for professional advice.
|↑1||Kindstedt, Paul S. “The basics of cheesemaking.” Cheese and Microbes (2014): 17.|
|↑2||Savaiano, Dennis A. “Lactose digestion from yogurt: mechanism and relevance.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99, no. 5 (2014): 1251S-1255S.|
|↑3||Kolars, Joseph C., Michael D. Levitt, Mostafa Aouji, and Dennis A. Savaiano. “Yogurt—an autodigesting source of lactose.” New England Journal of Medicine 310, no. 1 (1984): 1-3.|
|↑4||Hertzler, Steven R., and Shannon M. Clancy. “Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103, no. 5 (2003): 582-587.|