What Foods Are High in Lactose?

Reviewed on 3/17/2021

Treatment for lactose intolerance can include avoiding foods high in lactose, such as milk products, buttermilk, ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese.
Treatment for lactose intolerance can include avoiding foods high in lactose, such as milk products, buttermilk, ice cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Treatment for lactose intolerance depends on the severity of the condition. 

Treatments include:

  • Avoiding or limiting dairy foods that contain lactose
    • Read ingredient labels for words that indicate dairy products, such as:
      • Milk, milk byproducts, dry milk powder, and dry milk solids
      • Lactose
      • Whey 
  • The amount of lactose in different dairy foods varies
    • Foods high in lactose include:
      • Milk (nonfat, 1%, 2%, whole)
      • Evaporated milk
      • Condensed milk
      • Buttermilk
      • Milk powder
      • Ice cream
      • Yogurt
      • Cottage cheese
  • Consuming non-dairy sources of nutrients (such as calcium and vitamin D) and protein
    • Consuming plant based milk
    • A doctor might also recommend supplementation with calcium or vitamin D
  • Taking an enzyme supplement to help break down foods that contain lactose
    • Products should be taken just before eating (if taken during the meal they will not work as well) 
      • Lactaid (tablets or liquid)
      • Lactrase
      • LactAce
      • Dairy Ease
      • Lactrol

What Is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which the body is unable to digest products that contain lactose, such as milk and other dairy products. Lactose, sometimes called milk sugar, is a carbohydrate that contains one molecule of glucose and one of galactose linked together. 

Normally, the body makes an enzyme called lactase that breaks down lactose, but in people with lactose intolerance, the body either does not make enough lactase, or the enzyme does not work properly.
Lactose intolerance is not the same as a dairy allergy, which is an immune reaction. 

What Are Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance?

Symptoms of lactose intolerance occur after consuming dairy foods and may include:


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What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

There are several causes of lactose intolerance. 

  • Primary lactose intolerance 
    • The most common form, caused by genes
    • Most people’s bodies stop producing the enzyme lactase at preschool age
    • This form is common among people of African and Asian populations
    • Less common among people from northern Europe
  • Congenital lactose intolerance 
    • Rare form of the disorder, caused by genes
    • Present from birth
    • Characterized by the lack of lactase activity in the small intestine 
  • Developmental lactose intolerance 
    • Occurs in babies born prematurely
    • May go away on its own
  • Secondary lactose intolerance 
    • Occurs due to illness, infections, injury, or even surgery that can affect the small intestine and result in the production of less lactase
    • If the condition is able to be treated, people may be able to tolerate lactose again

How Is Lactose Intolerance Diagnosed?

Lactose intolerance is diagnosed with a patient history and physical exam. Tests used to confirm lactose intolerance includes: 

  • Lactose hydrogen breath test
    • Patients drink a liquid with lactose in it then breathe into a machine every 30 minutes
    • The machine measures how much hydrogen is exhaled
    • People who have lactose intolerance breathe out more hydrogen than normal
  • Lactose tolerance test 
    • Patients drink a liquid with lactose in it 
    • Blood samples are taken when the test begins, and again 1 and 2 hours later 
    • If there are low levels of sugar in the blood after drinking the lactose, it is a likely indicator of lactose intolerance

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Reviewed on 3/17/2021