Lactose is a sugar found in abundance in dairy milk whether whole, lowfat or skim. It is also found in large amounts in human breastmilk.
There is about 25% less lactose in goat milk compared with fluid milk from cows.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 65% of the human population suffers from lactose intolerance, which is a reduced ability to digest this double sugar after infancy. (1)
If you are one of these people, you might be someone who purchases containers of commercial milk labeled “lactose free”.
Others who might purchase this type of product are those seeking to reduce carbs or eliminate sugar from the diet such as diabetics or those who espouse a ketogenic diet.
The Truth About Lactose Free Milk
I first realized the surprising truth about lactose free milk a few years ago when I was on the GAPS diet.
Since lactose is a disaccharide sugar, it is not included in the legal food list. Only fruit and honey are allowed.
So, I switched off of liquid milk and only consumed 24 hour kefir and yogurt instead. Fermenting for a full 24 hours eliminates all the lactose. No commercial brands are fermented for 24 hours, by the way.
But, I really missed milk making my homemade lattes! Nondairy milks just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t find the flavor and consistency change as enjoyable.
At this point, I began checking labels for organic lactose free milk at the store to see if it might work in small amounts making the occasional latte.
I was shocked to discover that lactose free milk has the exact same amount of milk sugar as regular milk!
This includes a popular brand whose cartons are boldly labeled “100% lactose free”.
See the label in the picture above of a widely available brand of lactose free milk. Compare it to the same brand below for regular milk.
The macronutrient amount for carbs and sugar are exactly the same!
Lactose Free Milk vs Regular Milk
If the milk sugar in lactose free milk is actually still there, then what is the difference that enables people to digest it better?
The addition of the enzyme lactase!
You see, lactase is the enzyme necessary to digest lactose.
Lactase is 100% destroyed when raw milk is pasteurized. Even low temp vat pasteurized milk contains no lactase.
Those who are able to digest pasteurized milk after infancy continue to be able to make the enzyme themselves.
Those who cannot digest pasteurized milk are the same people who don’t make the enzyme at all or in insufficient amounts.
Thus, most people who suffer from lactose intolerance find they can consume raw milk with no symptoms. The only ones who can’t are those with a true milk allergy.
Hence, lactose intolerance is actually pasteurization intolerance.
It seems that Big Dairy took a lesson from the raw milk playbook when they developed their “lactose free” fluid milk brands.
Instead of removing the lactose, which would negatively affect the taste and enjoyment of the milk, they simply added lactase instead!
Once again, we find incredibly misleading labeling from dairy manufacturers that says one thing but means another.
By comparison, I have never met a raw milk farmer who falsely claimed their milk was “lactose free” just because the lactase enzyme was in it!
Buy local or risk getting scammed. It’s as simple as that.
Reducing Carbs? Lactose Free Milk isn’t an Option
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to drink commercial lactose free milk is a personal choice.
If you digest it better, then that’s great.
You may wish to consider trying raw grassfed milk, which is legally obtainable in all states except New Jersey. (2)
This option not only provides the lactase enzyme to eliminate the symptoms of lactose intolerance, but also a lot more nutrition than commercial lactose free brands, This is because pasteurization destroys most of dairy milk nutrition. That is why synthetic Vitamin A and D are typically added back after processing.
Whatever you decide, just don’t choose “lactose free milk” thinking it is somehow lower in carbs or free of sugar.
Lactose Free Milk Powder
When it comes to truth in labeling, is lactose free milk powder any closer to the real deal than its fluid milk cousins?
Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no.
The process for making the dry form of milk basically involves evaporating the liquid out of lactose free milk (that according to the label still contains the lactose as explained above). (3)
Hence, the milk sugar would remain in the milk powder. The lactase enzyme that was added after pasteurization would also be present providing that the level of heat used during evaporation was low enough to preserve it.
Ultimately, if you are avoiding lactose for whatever reason, you need to be using a milk substitute or consuming 24 hour fermented dairy.