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Lactose Free vs Dairy Free: WTF is the Difference?

Last Updated on February 22, 2021

When you go to the grocery store, you will see labels on products such as dairy-free, lactose-free, and non-dairy. They sound so similar that you may be wondering why three different terms exist. However, it is essential to understand the differences if you have dietary restrictions.

For example, someone with a milk allergy will still be allergic to lactose-free products. If you are getting into a new diet, all of these words can be confusing. Let's get into these definitions so you know what you should and shouldn't consume.

What is a Lactose-Free Product?

If you have problems digesting milk, as many people do, you may have an intolerance to lactose. Milk products contain a sugar called lactose, and the lactase in our bodies helps us break it down. (1)

Intolerance of lactose affects a person in different ways. Some lactose-intolerant people can eat yogurt or consume cow's milk in small doses. However, other people have to avoid ice cream, hot chocolate, and some types of cheese altogether.

Lactose-free products contain milk without this sugar. Companies remove it via filtration or another method to create milk free of lactose. These products get the label "lactose-free," but they are not free of dairy.

What are Dairy-Free Products?

Dairy-free products do not have any ingredients that come from milk. A dairy-free food or drink may include an alternative such as almond milk, coconut milk, oat, or soy milk. Lactose intolerant people can consume these products because they are milk-free, lactose-free.

People with a milk allergy are often averse to the milk proteins in traditional milk, such as whey and casein. A lactose intolerance symptom would be bloating, cramps, or gas. Dairy allergy health symptoms include vomiting, hives, and other reactions.

Aside from a food allergy, you may seek a milk derivative if you are vegan. Vegan consumers do not consume animal products including dairy foods for many reasons. Some children grow out of milk allergies when they reach adulthood.

Check out our full list of meal delivery services without dairy products to make things easier.

Non-Dairy vs. Lactose-Free vs. Dairy-Free

So, is there a difference between non-dairy and dairy-free? Yes. The term dairy-free is not FDA-regulated. The non-dairy label is regulated, and these non-dairy products may still contain milk protein.

So, if you have an allergic reaction to milk, you may not be able to consume non-dairy food and drink. If you are lactose intolerant, you should be fine. As with any serious allergy, you want to read the label of all of your related items to get information about the contents.


Can I drink lactose-free milk on a dairy-free diet?

No. When it comes to lactose-free vs dairy-free, a product without lactose is not always free of dairy. There are a variety of milks made from nuts and plants that you can drink.

If you are not drinking products from cows, it is important to make sure you get the right amounts of nutrients in your diet. According to Medical News Today, "Dairy is a good source of calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, and protein." (2) Some alternatives add these benefits and prioritize nutrition.

What dairy products do not contain lactose?

There are some foods that are naturally low in milk sugar. These options include:

  • Butter. Consuming butter should not affect your body or cause discomfort. However, butter is high in fat, which means you want to use it in moderation.
  • Hard cheese. Cheese comes from adding bacteria to dairy. Well-aged cheeses tend to have low lactose.
  • Probiotic Yogurt. Yogurts contain bacteria that help you digest lactose. Many consumers find it easier to digest yogurt.

If your lifestyle calls for low lactose levels, carefully read the food labels on anything you buy. For severe issues with diarrhea or nausea, you can also try lactase tablets. Some individuals use these tablets to continue making their favorite recipes or because they like the taste of dairy.

What is the difference between lactose and dairy intolerance?

These two terms are not interchangeable. With lactose intolerance, you can still consume products from a cow. A dairy intolerance may cause swelling, wheezing, throat trouble, or other immune system issues with cow-product consumption.

Watching What You Eat

Many adults are raising their consciousness when it comes to the way they eat. There are several diets that recommend getting rid of cow products for skin health. Fortunately, it is easy to find both dairy-free and lactose-free products such as creamers. Just be sure to read the ingredient list.


  1. Brazier, Y. (2018, January 23). Lactose Intolerance: Symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from
  2. Nichols, H. (2017, June 19). Dairy: Is it good or bad for you? Retrieved August 07, 2020, from


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