What Is Lactose?

  • Article
  • 2 min read December 20, 2017

Lactose is the natural sugar in milk and other dairy foods made from milk like yogurt and ice cream that forms when two other sugars, glucose and galactose, join together.

For the body to digest lactose, it uses a natural enzyme called lactase to break lactose down into these two sugars. If your body doesn’t make enough lactase, you may not be able to break down or absorb lactose properly, which can lead to symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Lactose in Milk & Dairy

You might not have to give up your favorite foods and their health benefits if you have lactose intolerance. For example, ricotta and cottage cheese contain relatively small amounts.

Here are popular dairy foods and their lactose quantities:

  • 1 teaspoon butter: less than 1 gram
  • 1.5 oz. natural cheeses like Cheddar, Swiss, Mozzarella and Gouda: less than 1 gram
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese: 3 grams
  • 1/2 cup ice cream: 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese: up to 6 grams
  • 6-8 oz. Greek yogurt: 6-8 grams
  • 6-8 oz. low-fat plain yogurt: 12-16 grams
  • 8 oz. milk: 12 grams

Roughly one in 10 U.S. adults reports having lactose intolerance. While some people think they need to cut dairy from their food choices, it’s best to first talk to your doctor to confirm lactose intolerance. If the diagnosis is confirmed, then there are a number of tips you can try to continue to enjoy dairy. For example, choose natural cheeses that have minimal lactose, enjoy Greek yogurt since yogurt with live and active cultures help digest lactose or opt for lactose-free cow’s milk, which is still real milk.

Clear dish of yogurt garnished with berries and coconut flakes

More About Lactose

Here are some more of our resources to learn more about lactose intolerance:

Lactose Intolerant? Love Dairy? Try These 12 Tips 

Here are 12 tips to try so you don’t have to give up your favorite dairy foods and the great taste and health benefits that come with them.

Lactose Intolerance: What You Need to Know 

If you think you may be lactose intolerant, you likely have a number of questions. Check out our infographic for additional tips.

How Do I Know If I Have Lactose Intolerance? 

The symptoms often associated with lactose intolerance can be similar to other digestive disorders.