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Is Lactose-Free the Same as Dairy-Free?


Lactose is a naturally occurring substance found in milk and milk products. And while the term “lactose-free” is commonly misunderstood as “dairy-free,” the two terms are decidedly different. It’s important to understand the differences, so you can make informed choices for you and your family in the grocery aisle. Hopefully, this guide can help!

What’s the Difference Between Lactose-Free and Dairy-Free?

First, it’s important to understand what lactose is. Lactose is a sugar found inside milk and milk products, including cheese, yogurt, and other items. In fact, in a single cup of milk, there are about 12 grams of lactose, depending on the type of milk.

By understanding that lactose is an ingredient found inside dairy milk, it’s easy to see the key differences. Dairy-free simply means no milk or milk products while lactose-free means milk without lactose.

Dairy-Free Means No Milk or Milk Products

Dairy-free products contain no milk or milk products. Typically, these products are made using plants, nuts or grains. For example, almond milk beverages are considered to be dairy-free alternatives. Other examples may include coconut beverages and soy beverages.

Lactose-Free Means Milk Without Lactose

Lactose-free products include milk without lactose. In some cases, the lactose is neutralized by lactase, the same substance our intestines use to neutralize lactose when we ingest it.

Although many products out there from butter to cheese include milk, they can still be labeled lactose-free, so long as the lactose is removed or neutralized. This means that even if you’re lactose intolerant (more on that below), you may still be able to enjoy your favorite lactose-free dairy products.

Just to recap: Dairy-free products contain no milk or milk products while lactose-free products may still contain dairy, just without the lactose. And there are many reasons why shoppers opt for dairy-free and lactose-free products.

Why Do Some People Choose Dairy-Free Products?

Dairy-free products are very common. One study found that 50% of shoppers consume both real dairy and dairy alternatives. What’s the motivation behind their choices? There are several reasons. Let’s dive in.

Dairy Allergies

Some consumers have dairy allergies that require them to stay away from products containing milk. And according to Mayo Clinic, dairy allergies are one of the most common allergies found in children.

For those with dairy allergies, consuming milk can cause a wide range of yucky symptoms. Severe allergies may even result in life-threatening reactions.


Some new moms find that their babies become sensitive to their breast milk while consuming milk and dairy products. They often choose to go dairy-free, based on recommendations from a healthcare provider, to try and ease their baby’s discomfort and prevent the distressing symptoms of a milk allergy. Once they finish breastfeeding, many moms add dairy back into their diets.

Growth Hormones

Other shoppers choose dairy-free products to simply avoid consuming products from animals treated with antibiotics and growth hormones. Cow’s milk does include the naturally occurring hormone bGH (bovine growth hormone) which is critical for the production of milk. However, some products include the artificial hormone, rbGH, which is occasionally used to help cows make more milk.

Unfortunately, rbGH can lead to issues for the animals used in production, including udder infections, infertility, and birth defects. For humans, not too many studies have been completed to understand the effects (or lack thereof) of rbGH.

What About Antibiotics?

Cows, just like us humans, must sometimes take antibiotics to help with infection. Some shoppers do avoid dairy to hopefully avoid antibiotic residue. However, the use of antibiotics is highly regulated with the milk undergoing strict testing before it goes on the shelf.

Saturated Fats

For shoppers wanting to decrease the number of saturated fats they consume each day, dairy might be one thing they cut out of their diet. Many milk and dairy products are high in saturated fats. Saturated fats can be found in cheeses, creams and whole milk.

Why Do Others Opt for Lactose-Free Products?

Other shoppers who still enjoy dairy products often opt for lactose-free products instead of forgoing dairy altogether. The most common reason is lactose intolerance.

Lactose Intolerance

Those with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose in milk. This is most commonly due to having too little of an amount of lactase in the small intestine.

Unfortunately, this can lead to symptoms such as digestive concerns, bloating, and gas. Although lactose intolerance is typically harmless, the symptoms are uncomfortable and are reason enough to avoid lactose.

Tips for Avoiding Lactose or Dairy in Your Diet

Want to avoid lactose or dairy in your diet? If so, you have options. Here are some tips you can use to help:

Looking for Dairy-Free Options? Pacific Foods Can Deliver.

If you’re looking for dairy-free alternatives to your favorite soups, and plant-based beverages, look no further than Pacific Foods. Learn more about our products by shopping today.