Lactose, the primary sugar in cow’s milk, is a FODMAP. As a result, some suffering from lactose intolerance turn to the low FODMAP diet for relief. But the low FODMAP diet doesn’t require elimination of all lactose. Success lies in figuring out what dairy products fit within the FODMAP system and within your own tolerance level. Here we’ll start with the basics, looking at the lactose content of milk.
Cow’s milk is not low FODMAP, due to its high lactose content. On average, one cup of milk contains 12.4 grams of lactose, far in excess of the recommended 1 gram of lactose per serving. However, lactose-free milk contains no detectable lactose, so can be a good low FODMAP option.
The lactose content of cow’s milk varies slightly by fat content. We’ll look at that below, as well as lactose in canned milks. We’ll also look at why lactose free milk may still lead to digestive issues for some people.
Is Milk FODMAP Friendly?
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Lactose is a disaccharide, which is what the “D” in FODMAP represents. Lactose is composed of two simple sugars, glucose and galactose. In order to digest lactose, our bodies first have to break it down into these sugars. But many people don’t produce enough lactase enzyme to break down lactose. The result is lactose malabsorption (often called lactose intolerance).
The amount of lactose people with malabsorption can eat varies a lot. Experts suggest that even lactose intolerant people can drink up to two cups of milk each day.1 However, you must test your own tolerance level.
For example, I’m lactose intolerant and there’s no way I could drink two cups of milk a day without experiencing significant symptoms. I’m able to eat small amounts of low lactose cheeses, but usually avoid dairy-based milk, yogurt and ice cream, unless lactose-free.
Low FODMAP guidelines published by researchers at Monash University suggest that people with trouble digesting dairy limit lactose to less than one gram per serving.2 At a standard serving size of one cup, no regular milk falls within this guideline.
As shown in the following table, the lactose content of cow’s milk varies slightly based on the milk’s fat content. Overall, a cup of milk averages 12.3 grams of lactose.
Lactose Content of Milk by Fat Content
|Milk||Fat Content||Lactose Content|
|Reduced fat milk||2%||12.2|
|Fat free milk||0%||12.3|
Since regular cow’s milk isn’t an option, many low FODMAPers turn to lactose-free milk. This can be a good solution for some people, but not everyone experiences symptom relief after transitioning to lactose-free milk.
Is Lactose-Free Milk Low FODMAP?
Lactose-free milk is low FODMAP. Lactose-free milk typically contains lactase, an enzyme that breaks lactose down into glucose and galactose. As such, there’s no detectable lactose in lactose-free milk. This makes it a good low FODMAP option for many people with lactose malabsorption.
How Is Lactose Removed from Milk?
As mentioned above, lactose is the primary sugar in cow’s milk. And lactose is made up of two other sugars, glucose and galactose.
The human body uses an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose into glucose and galactose. However, our ability to produce lactase declines as we age. Many adults don’t produce enough lactase to properly digest lactose. This condition, known as lactose malabsorption, is estimated to affect over 65% of the world’s population.5
To help people digest cow’s milk, some manufacturers add lactase to milk. The lactase breaks down the lactose into glucose and galactose. These are easier for humans to digest.
Is Lactaid Milk Low FODMAP?
Lactaid milk is low FODMAP. Lactaid is one of the brands that adds lactase enzyme to its milk. As a result, Lactaid milk has no detectable lactose and could be a good low FODMAP option.
Adding lactase changes the sugar composition of cow’s milk. The total amount of sugar stays the same, but the types of sugars change. And since glucose is sweeter than lactose, you’ll likely find lactose-free milk is sweeter than regular milk.
The following table shows the sugar content of regular whole milk and lactose-free whole milk. You can see how the addition of the lactase enzyme changes the sugar composition.
Sugar Content of Regular vs Lactose-Free Whole Milk
|Sugar Type||Regular Milk||Lactose-Free Milk|
Because the lactose has already been broken down, lactose-free milk, like Lactaid, can be a good option for some low FODMAPers. However, others still have difficulty with Lactaid. A possible reason for this is the presence of guar gum in Lactaid.
Guar gum is made from guar beans, a legume like peanuts and soybeans. It’s a soluble fiber used in food manufacturing as a thickener and a binder. Guar gum is found in many processed foods, including ice cream, yogurt and canned soups. It’s also often used to thicken lactose-free and plant-based milks.6
Guar gum is generally considered safe and can have some health benefits, such as regulating the bowels and lowering cholesterol. However, people sensitive to guar gum can experience gas, cramps and other digestive issues.7
If your lactose intolerance symptoms don’t ease once you switch to lactose-free milk, it could be that you’re sensitive to guar gum.8
Unfortunately, avoiding guar gum isn’t always as easy as reading labels. For example, data reported to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as recently as January 2021 indicates that Lactaid 2% milk contains guar gum.9 However, as shown in the image above, guar gum doesn’t appear in the list of ingredients on the carton of 2% Lactaid I purchased at my local grocery store.
Once I realized that guar gum in Lactaid might be irritating my system, I began looking for alternatives. I tried lactose-free FairLife milk and have had really good results.
Is FairLife Milk Low FODMAP?
FairLife lactose-free milk is low FODMAP. Like Lactaid, FairLife adds lactase enyzme to its milk. As a result, the final product contains no detectable lactose, so is a low FODMAP food.
To remove lactose from cow’s milk, FairLife first “ultra filters” the milk to remove most of the sugar. It then adds lactase enzyme to remove any remaining lactose.10
So, like Lactaid, FairLife milk contains lactase enzyme. However, I haven’t found any evidence that it contains guar gum or other thickeners. If you’ve tried Lactaid milk in the past and it didn’t work for you, consider giving FairLife a try.
Please note that I have no affiliation with FairLife milk and am not paid for recommending it. I just think it’s a good product that’s been really helpful to me.
If switching to lactose-free cow’s milk doesn’t alleviate your digestive issues, it could be that you’re not actually sensitive to lactose, but rather to milk protein. Or, you may be sensitive to both. If you’re really not sure, you may want to experiment with A2 milk.
Is A2 Milk Low FODMAP?
Be aware that A2 milk is not low FODMAP. Unlike lactose-free milks, no lactose is removed from A2 milk.11 So, A2 milk contains the same amount of lactose as regular cow’s milk. Therefore, A2 milk is not a low FODMAP food.
The reason A2 milk is often suggested for people who can’t digest regular cow’s milk is because it lacks one of the major milk proteins. The two common milk proteins are casein and whey. Casein comes in two forms, A1 and A2, and makes up 80% of the protein in milk.
Casein allergy is a well-known condition that can result in wheezing, hives and other symptoms.12 For a long time, it was thought that casein was the cause of milk allergy, while lactose was the cause of milk intolerance.
However, research suggests that the A1 casein protein may be another cause of milk intolerance.13 Sensitivity to the A1 casein protein results in the same symptoms as lactose intolerance, so sensitivity to the protein can easily be confused for sensitivity to lactose.
According to the A2 website, the company draws milk from cows that only produce the A2 protein. So, it’s not that the A1 protein is removed from the milk during processing. Rather, the A1 protein is never in the milk at all.
A2 milk still contains lactose, so isn’t considered low FODMAP. But if it turns out your intolerance is caused by casein rather than lactose, A2 milk could be a good option for you.
Thus far, we’ve only looked at refrigerated milk. You may be wondering about shelf stable milk products and whether they might be low FODMAP alternatives. Let’s quickly look at a few of these.
Is Powdered Milk Low FODMAP?
Powdered milk is not low FODMAP. A standard one-third cup serving of non-fat powdered milk contains 11.4 grams of lactose, while one-third cup low-fat powdered milk contains about 20 grams of lactose.4 This far exceeds published low FODMAP guidelines of 1 gram of lactose per serving.
Water makes up 80-90% of liquid milk. To make powdered milk, nearly all of the water is removed.14 This leaves behind the solids: protein, fat and sugar (in the form of lactose). As a result, powdered milk has a much higher concentration of lactose than an equivalent amount of liquid milk.
Powdered milk is often added to infant formula and is also used in baking. It can also be turned into liquid milk by adding water. One cup of water to one-third cup powdered milk is the typical ratio to reconstitute powdered milk.
Is Evaporated Milk Low FODMAP?
Evaporated milk is not low FODMAP. One-fourth cup whole evaporated milk contains over 6 grams of lactose, far in excess of suggested low FODMAP level of 1 gram of lactose per serving.4
Like powdered milk, evaporated milk has had some of the water removed. In this case, the water content is reduced by 60%.15 As such, evaporated milk is still liquid, but the amount of protein, fat and lactose in evaporated milk is higher than in the same amount of regular milk.
Also like powdered milk, evaporated milk can be reconstituted. Since it’s already in liquid form, less water is needed. Typically, you add equal parts evaporated milk and water. So, to make one cup of milk, you would add half a cup of water to half a cup of evaporated milk.
Is Condensed Milk Low FODMAP?
Condensed milk is not low FODMAP. Two tablespoons of condensed milk has over 4 grams of lactose, which well exceeds the low FODMAP recommendation of 1 gram of lactose per serving.4
Condensed milk is simply evaporated milk that’s been sweetened. It’s often labeled “sweetened condensed milk” for this reason. And for the same reason, you may sometimes see evaporated milk labeled as “unsweetened condensed milk.”
It’s important not confuse them, though. Evaporated milk is not sweetened and can be used as a substitute for milk and half-and-half. Condensed milk is very sweet and is used almost exclusively in dessert recipes. Caramels and pumpkin pie are two well-known recipes that use condensed milk.
Final Thoughts: Are Any Milk Products Low FODMAP?
At this point, you may be wondering if any cow’s milk products are low FODMAP. There are a few. Butter is naturally low FODMAP. You can learn more in my post on butter and low FODMAP butter alternatives.
There are a few naturally low lactose cheese varieties, too. Beyond that, cow’s milk products are pretty much all high FODMAP due to excess lactose, unless you intentionally seek out lactose-free versions.
Fortunately, if you wish to keep dairy in your diet, there are many lactose-free options. We’ve discussed lactose-free milks like Lactaid and FairLife. You can also buy lactose-free versions of powdered, evaporated and condensed milk.
For example, Carnation makes a lactose-free evaporated milk and La Lechera makes a lactose-free condensed milk (both brands are owned by Nestle). And there are some lactose-free dairy ice creams and yogurts on the market, too.
If it turns out you’re sensitive to both lactose and milk proteins, then plant-based milks and other products are probably your best bet. But you’ll need to be careful, since some plant-based milks and yogurts aren’t low FODMAP.
Milk was one of the foods that I had to test a lot when I went low FODMAP. I tried several types of plant milk. I didn’t care for the taste or texture of many. And most use some kind of thickener that could also cause stomach irritation. Lactaid didn’t work well for me, either. So I was really glad to find FairLife milk.
If you’re struggling to find suitable low FODMAP dairy options, you might try FairLife. Just remember that everyone’s digestive system is unique, so what works great for me may not work well for you. It really is a trial-and-error process.
Have you tried FairLife lactose-free milk? What did you think? If you’ve tried Lactaid, too, how do they compare? Or, if you avoid dairy, do you have a good plant-based milk recommendation? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Posts Related to “Is Milk Low FODMAP?”
You may have read that buttermilk is lower in lactose than regular milk and wonder whether it could be a low FODMAP alternative. Honestly, not really. You can learn more in the post I wrote on buttermilk.
Goat milk is also lower in lactose than cow’s milk. It also has very little of the casein protein that causes digestive issues for many people. But, it’s not a real low FODMAP alternative for cow’s milk. You can learn why in this post I wrote on goat milk and the FODMAP diet.
If you wish to avoid dairy completely, there are a few low FODMAP plant-based milks. One of the better options is almond milk. While it lacks protein, fortified almond milk is a good source of calcium and other nutrients. It’s also low in galactooligosaccharides, which I discuss in detail in my post on low FODMAP almond milk.
About the Author
Amanda Coleman, PhD, studies food culture and teaches a popular Food and Society course. Years of digestive problems led her to live low FODMAP. Now she uses her research and analysis skills to help others understand FODMAP essentials, so they can lead better, healthier lives.