For many people, milk and other dairy products are off the table.
If you have lactose intolerance, even a glass of milk may trigger digestive distress with symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Lactose-free milk is an easy alternative that could help eliminate many of these unpleasant symptoms.
However, many people are unsure about what exactly lactose-free milk is, how it’s made and how it compares to regular milk.
This article looks at the similarities and differences between lactose-free milk and regular milk.
Lactose-free milk is a commercial milk product that is free of lactose.
Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk products that can be difficult for some people to digest (1).
Food manufacturers produce lactose-free milk by adding lactase to regular cow’s milk. Lactase is an enzyme produced by people who tolerate dairy products, which breaks down lactose in the body.
The final lactose-free milk has nearly the same taste, texture and nutrient profile as regular milk. Conveniently, it can be used in the same way and can hence be swapped in for regular milk in your favorite recipes.
Summary Lactose-free milk is a milk product that contains lactase, an enzyme that helps breaks down lactose. You can use lactose-free milk in place of regular milk in any recipe, as it has nearly the same taste, texture and nutrient profile.
Even though lactose-free milk contains lactase to aid the digestion of lactose, it boasts the same impressive nutrient profile as regular milk.
Like normal milk, the lactose-free alternative is a great source of protein, supplying about 8 grams in a 1-cup (240-ml) serving ().
It’s also high in important micronutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12 and riboflavin ().
Plus, many types are enriched with vitamin D, an important vitamin involved in various aspects of your health but found in only a few food sources ().
Therefore, you can switch out regular milk for lactose-free milk without missing out on any of the key nutrients that regular milk provides.
Summary Like regular milk, lactose-free milk is a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, riboflavin and vitamin D.
Most people are born with the ability to digest lactose, the main type of sugar in milk.
However, it’s estimated that about 75% of the global population loses this ability as they age, resulting in a condition known as lactose intolerance ().
This change typically occurs around 2–12 years of age. Some retain their ability to digest lactose into adulthood while others experience the decreased activity of lactase, the enzyme necessary for digesting and breaking down lactose ().
For those with lactose intolerance, consuming regular lactose-containing milk can cause digestive issues, such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and belching ().
However, because lactose-free milk contains added lactase, it’s easier to tolerate for those with lactose intolerance, making it a good alternative to regular milk.
Summary Lactose-free milk is easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance because it contains lactase, the enzyme used to break down lactose.
A notable difference between lactose-free milk and regular milk is the flavor.
Because your taste buds perceive these simple sugars as sweeter than complex sugars, the final lactose-free product has a sweeter flavor than regular milk (6).
Though this doesn’t change the nutritional value of the milk and the difference in flavor is mild, it may be worth keeping in mind when using lactose-free milk in place of regular milk for recipes.
Summary In lactose-free milk, lactose is broken down into glucose and galactose, two simple sugars that give lactose-free milk a sweeter flavor than regular milk.
Though lactose-free milk can be a good alternative to regular milk for those with lactose intolerance, it may not be suitable for everyone as it’s still a dairy product.
For those with a dairy allergy, consuming lactose-free milk may cause an allergic reaction, resulting in symptoms like digestive distress, hives and vomiting.
Additionally, because it’s produced from cow’s milk, it is unsuitable for those following a vegan diet.
Finally, those who choose to follow a dairy-free diet for personal or health-related reasons should avoid both regular and lactose-free milk.
Summary Lactose-free milk should be avoided by those with a dairy allergy and individuals following a vegan or dairy-free diet.
Lactose-free milk is made by adding lactase to regular milk, breaking down lactose into simple sugars that are easier to digest.
Though it's slightly sweeter, it can be a good alternative for people with lactose intolerance.
Still, it's unsuitable for people with dairy allergy or those avoiding dairy for other reasons.