Butter is a popular, creamy fat frequently used in cooking and as a spread.
Even though it’s made from milk, there’s some confusion about whether it’s considered dairy.
You may also wonder whether it contains lactose, a carbohydrate to which many people are allergic.
This article tells you whether butter is a dairy product and/or contains lactose.
Butter is a solid, high-fat food usually made from cow’s milk. It can also be produced from the milk of goats, sheep, or buffalo.
It’s created by churning or shaking cream until it separates into solid and liquid parts called butterfat and buttermilk, respectively. The butterfat is what becomes butter.
Cream is used because it’s higher in fat than milk, thus producing more butter.
Butter contains around 80% fat and only trace amounts of carbs and protein. Yet because butter is so high in fat, it’s also high in calories.
Just 1 tablespoon (14 grams) packs about 100 calories and 12 grams of fat, 7 of which are saturated (1).
In the small amounts usually consumed, butter does not provide many vitamins and minerals. However, 1 tablespoon (14 grams) may contain 11% of the DV for vitamin A (1).
SUMMARY Butter is made from cream and high in fat, containing only trace amounts of protein and carbs.
Anything made from the milk of mammals is considered dairy.
Since butter is made from milk, it’s a dairy product.
Despite this, it’s often allowed on dairy-free diets. While this might seem contradictory, there are several explanations.
People who can’t tolerate dairy usually have problems with either the protein or carbs in milk.
Those with a milk allergy have an allergic reaction to the protein, while those who are lactose intolerant cannot digest lactose, the main carb in milk.
Additionally, some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may do better avoiding lactose (
However, unlike most dairy products, butter contains very low amounts of lactose. Therefore, people who must follow a lactose-free diet are usually able to eat it without problems (1).
Some children with an allergy to cow’s milk also seem to be able to tolerate butter (
However, this is not the case for everyone. Even though butter contains almost no protein, even trace amounts can cause a reaction. This means it should not be considered safe for people with a milk protein allergy.
SUMMARY Butter is made from milk, making it a dairy product. However, it’s allowed on some dairy-free diets because it’s low in protein and carbs.
Butter contains only trace amounts of lactose, which makes it different from most other dairy products.
Lactose-intolerant people can consume up to 12 grams of lactose at a time without symptoms, and 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of butter contains nearly undetectable levels (
Even though you might use more than this amount when cooking or baking, it’s impossible to reach the 12-gram lactose limit just by eating butter.
For example, 1 cup (227 grams) of butter contains only 0.1 grams of lactose (1).
For this reason, butter is well tolerated in most lactose-free diets. Only those who are highly sensitive to lactose may experience symptoms.
SUMMARY Butter is very low in lactose, with 1 cup (227 grams) offering only 0.1 grams. For this reason, it fits easily into most lactose-free diets.
In the past, butter was considered extremely unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content.
While some people may need to limit their intake, most people can consume moderate amounts of saturated fat without worry.
In fact, there’s evidence that dairy fat may benefit your health due to its conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content.
CLA is a naturally occurring trans fat that is not considered harmful like those found in processed foods.
Studies on CLA indicate that it may have health benefits, such as preventing plaque buildup, increasing bone mass, reducing your risk of cancer, and regulating immune function and inflammation (
Nonetheless, more studies are needed to confirm these claims (
Keep in mind that since butter is high in fat, it’s also high in calories. Therefore, it’s best to avoid eating it in large amounts.
SUMMARY Some health professionals believe butter is unhealthy because of its saturated fat content, but this is a controversial idea. Butter is likely safe to eat and may even offer health benefits.
If you’re lactose intolerant and have symptoms when eating dairy, there are some things you can do to reduce the lactose content.
Clarified butter or ghee
It’s possible to reduce the lactose content of butter even further by using it to make clarified butter, also called ghee.
Clarified butter is almost pure butterfat that’s created by melting butter until the fat separates from the water and other milk solids. The milk solids are then removed.
Eating dairy with meals
Eating dairy products with foods that are high in protein, fat, or fiber will slow the emptying of your stomach.
This causes less lactose to enter your intestines at a time. For this reason, full-fat dairy is probably better tolerated than low-fat dairy (
Slowly increasing lactose in your diet
Several studies show that slowly increasing the amount of lactose you consume over the course of two weeks can improve your tolerance to lactose.
Lactase tablets or drops
SUMMARY You can reduce lactose in dairy products or tolerate them better by using clarifying butter, eating dairy with meals, or increasing your intake gradually.
The following dairy products are low in lactose and are tolerated by some people who follow a dairy-free diet:
- Yogurt. Though it contains only 5% less lactose than milk, yogurt is often well tolerated because the bacteria in it can digest this carb (
- Kefir. Kefir provides very little lactose because the bacteria and yeast used in the fermentation process break it down (
- Lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk has the enzyme lactase added, which breaks down most of its lactose.
- Some cheeses. Certain types of cheese harbor little or no lactose. Mozzarella and Swiss contain 0–3%, while aged cheeses, such as Parmesan, Gouda or hard cheddar, have 0–2% (
SUMMARY Several other dairy products are low in lactose, including yogurt, kefir, lactose-free milk, and some types of cheese.