Lactose-free dairy products explained in 10 questions

Lactose intolerance can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including cramps, bloating, gas and even diarrhea. Some people have trouble digesting lactose, for various reasons, sometimes genetic or metabolic. The solution is to choose food that helps manage this problem.

Here’s everything you need to know about lactose-free dairy products!


What is lactose?

Lactose is the sugar (a carbohydrate) naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose has to be broken down by an enzyme called lactase to be digested. Lactase is like a small knife that cuts lactose into two pieces.

If your body does not produce enough lactase—or any at all—then you are considered lactose intolerant. Because the body is unable to digest it, this leads to very uncomfortable digestive symptoms.


Why eat lactose-free food?

Because lactose intolerance isn’t a food allergy, trace amounts of lactose and small quantities of foods with lactose can be tolerated without unpleasant symptoms. However, there’s a fine line between not consuming dairy products at all and consuming a bit too much. There is now a wide variety of lactose-free food on the market to address this issue and make people’s lives easier.


If you think you may be lactose intolerant, you should typically eliminate dairy products from your diet for 3 to 4 weeks, depending on your physician’s recommendations. In any case, a medical diagnosis is key.

Diagnosing lactose intolerance is no small feat. Health risks include delaying testing of other serious medical problems, excluding food when it isn’t necessary and improperly managing long-term symptoms.

How are lactose-free foods made?

Lactose-free foods are not always naturally lactose-free. There are several ingenious ways to make our favourite dairy products lactose-free!

When you buy lactose-free food at the grocery store, it is important to know that lactase—the famous digestive enzyme—was added before going to market. Fortunately, this enzyme can be reproduced in a lab. Yeast and fungi that produce lactase when fermented are used. Because lactose is already cut and digested by the enzyme when it is consumed, this makes it possible to offer irritation-free products to lactose-intolerant consumers. This is an ingenious, simple and effective solution!


A new mechanical filtration process helps significantly reduce the amount of lactose in milk. This is known as concentrated milk through ultrafiltration, like in Natrel Plus dairy products. The smaller components of milk, such as lactose, will be partly eliminated through this process. Lactase is still added to ensure that any remaining lactose is eliminated. The result is a dairy product with twice the protein of regular milk.


Is the nutritional value of lactose-free food different?

Regardless of the method used to make food lactose-free, its nutritional value will remain the same. They contain the same nutrients, including calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. In some cases, the nutritional value may even be improved, as is the case with ultrafiltered dairy products.

Does the taste of lactose-free food stay the same?

Surprisingly, the resulting dairy products taste slightly sweeter! Glucose and galactose, the two molecules derived from the halved lactose molecule, have a sweeter taste than lactose. The difference is usually described as subtle.


Is the texture of lactose-free foods different?

Because the texture and properties of lactose-free milk and dairy products are similar to regular milk and dairy products, they can easily be substituted, even in our favourite recipes! 

For example, you can add lactose-free milk, cream and butter to pancakes, cakes, muffins and soups the same way you would regular dairy products. They also keep just as long in the refrigerator.


Can we make dairy products lactose-free at home?

It’s possible! Lactase can be purchased over the counter at the pharmacy as either a pill, which can be swallowed or chewed before consuming dairy products, or as drops, which can be added to milk or dairy products at least 24 hours before consumption.


Can someone become lactose intolerant if they consume only lactose-free food?

This is a very sensitive issue that researchers still need to clarify. Because the answer is not clear-cut, health authorities recommend that lactose intolerant people keep consuming dairy products, even those with little lactose. It may be possible to increase your tolerance to lactose by regularly consuming small quantities.


Should we buy lactose-free dairy products if we’re intolerant?

In practice, most lactose-intolerant people can tolerate minimal amounts of regular dairy products. Hard cheeses (such as cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Parmesan, blue and brie), yogurt, kefir and small amounts of milk (125 ml to 250 ml) are usually well tolerated. 

Feel free to consult a dietician-nutritionist to determine your personal tolerance. This is a good way to avoid the risk of vitamin D and calcium deficiencies.

Why is lactose-free food a good idea?

Health care professionals agree that what can’t be tolerated has to be replaced. Lactose-free dairy products allow people who have trouble digesting lactose to keep consuming dairy products regularly. This is a great solution if you like how they taste and are used to consuming them. Calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients found in dairy products help maintain bone health throughout our life. Get all this, without the compromise!

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