What foods contain lactose?

Lactose can generally be found in all dairy products. However, if a person has lactose intolerance it does not automatically mean that they are intolerant to all dairy products! It depends on the type of manufacturing process and how much lactose is still present in the product once it reaches the stage as a finished product. A product is described as lactose free and can therefore be tolerated if it contains less than 0,1g lactose per 100g in the product.

You may find many lactose contents of milk and milk products in our lactose table.

Cheese - lactose free

cheeseThe general rule for cheese is: The longer the cheese has gone through the ripening process (the more mature the cheese is), the lower the lactose content in the cheese. Soft cheeses (cottage cheese, cheese spreads) are nearly always badly tolerated, while matured cheeses such as mature Gouda and Parmesan are nearly always well tolerated.

Caution: The media tend to report that soft cheeses or cheeses mkade from sheep's or goat's milk are tolerated. It has also been reported incorrectly that no cheeses or dairy products may be consumed. This is information is wrong! More info here...

Read the cheese products packing!

If the proportion of carbohydrates has been indicated on the products packaging, then this is equal to the lactose content. This means that if 0,0 grams of carbohydrates have been declared (European Union!), then the cheese is lactose-free!  Grated cheese products often contain added starch, which means that the cheese may be lactose-free, but the content of carbohydrates stated on the package will not be given as 0,0 grams. This is, however, quite often itemised on the packaging.

The manufacturing process of dairy products is different in places where lactose intolerance is more common, in order to make them lactose-free. For example Greek Mozzarella is better tolerated by lactose intolerant people because it is fermented in a different manner to that of a Mozzarella made in Germany. You should, however, not rely on that when you go on holiday to Greece, since products from Central European countries are also sold in southern European EU-countries (sometimes even sold as local produce!)

It is worth having a look at the list of ingredients. Some processed cheese types may contain whey powder as an added ingredient.

Whey – the lactose bomb

Whey is the milk product with the highest content of lactose, the very reason why almost all whey products are not tolerated. It is very important to have an extra look at the ingredients list of ready meals and in general any processed foods because whey powder is a favoured additive for any industrially manufactured food products. This is how a fish finger can quickly turn out to be a lactose product.

Yoghurt – a special case with regard to lactose

milkLactose contents vary a lot between different yoghurt brands. Here it will also depend on the type of yoghurt as well as the way in which it has been manufactured. If you do not want to abstain completely from yoghurt then you can try to find out which products you can tolerate and which ones you cannot tolerate by trying them out individually. Studies have shown that probiotic yoghurts which contain lactose with live-active bacterial cultures can been tolerated much better than heated and therefore “sterile” yoghurts containing lactose(1).

Lactose makes products browner and heavier

Lactose tends to be added to different food products.
Example: The lovely brown colour that appears when barbecuing sausages often originates from the lactose that has been added. Lactose is also used as a “filler material” in order to increase the mass of the food product, but at the same time will keep the production costs low. Products that are lactose-free will nowadays be labelled as such.

Ready made meals (pizza, microwave dinners, ...) contain very often high wmounts of lactose! Be careful!

Lactose-free products

The retail market has reacted to the issue of lactose intolerance in the past few years and a growing number of lactose-free products are being offered as a result. Apart from this an increasing number of products are being marketed as lactose-free. Many supermarket chains have also jumped on this bandwagon and sell lactose-free products. All "vegan" products are lactose free as well!


Sources include:
(1) I. Labayen , L. Forga, A. González, et al; "Relationship between lactose digestion, gastrointestinal transit time and symptoms in lactose malabsorbers after dairy consumption", Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Volume 15 Issue 4, Pages 543 – 549