There are so many lactose free drink options in the dairy case now. Most of them are non-dairy “milks.” But did you know that there is a dairy option that is lactose free? Read on to find out what lactose is and how it is removed to make lactose free dairy milk.
Lactose Free Milk
What is Lactose?
Lactose is a sugar in milk. It is only present in milk and other dairy products. Lactose is a disaccharide – which means that it is a sugar that is made up of two smaller sugars (or monosaccharides). One molecule of lactose is made up of one molecule of glucose plus one molecule of galactose.
Your body can’t use lactose as an energy source. To use lactose for energy, it has to first be broken down into it’s two monosaccharides – glucose and galactose.
Your small intestine makes a special enzyme called lactase. This is lactase’s only job – to break lactose down into usable sugars. Some people don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme. This means that they can’t break down lactose into glucose and galactose and are lactose intolerant. Up to 25% of Americans may be lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance is not the same as a dairy allergy. People with lactose intolerance do not have the enzyme they need to break down lactose, so they can’t properly digest that sugar and can have some uncomfortable stomach problems. People with a dairy allergy are typically allergic to a protein in the milk. Like any other food allergy, this can be life-threatening and all forms of dairy should be avoided. (PS, I’m a veterinarian, not a human doctor, so I’m not giving medical advice. See your doctor if you think you have lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy.)
Lactose Free Milk
Yes, there is real dairy milk that is lactose free! Most lactose free milk has been pre-treated with a lactase enzyme to break down the lactose sugar into glucose and galactose. Fairlife is a relatively new brand of lactose free milk (first available in stores in the United States in 2015). Instead of adding an enzyme to break down the lactose sugar, Fairlife has the lactose is filtered out of the milk.
People who are lactose intolerant can drink lactose free dairy milk, since it the lactose has been removed. If you are lactose intolerant, or if you are avoiding lactose for another reason, be sure to check the labels on the milk you buy. Look for a product that says “lactose free.” The FDA does not have regulations for what this phrase means. But there is an expectation of truth in labeling, and any product labeled “lactose free” should not contain any lactose.
Lactose free milk has the same nutritional content as regular milk – it has the same amount of protein, the same amount of calcium and vitamin D, and the same amount of carbohydrates. Lactose free milk sometimes tastes sweeter than regular milk. This is because glucose and galactose taste sweeter to us than lactose does; it is not because the sugar content is different.
There are plenty of non-dairy “milks” available as another option for people who need to avoid lactose. Since these products are not dairy milk, they do not have lactose. But many of the non-dairy milks do not have the same nutritional content as dairy milk – be sure to check your labels and compare protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
Do you need lactose free milk? What option do you use now? Will you consider switching to lactose free dairy milk?
Carbohydrate diagrams created with CheMagic Model Kit Mini.