Shopping tips for lactose-intolerant people

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PantherMedia / Edwin Wodicka

People who are sensitive to lactose need to read the labels on food packaging very carefully. Read on to find out what to watch for when shopping and how much lactose is found in different foods.

All packaged foods have a label on them with information such as:

  • the best before date,
  • all of the ingredients,
  • ingredients that commonly trigger allergies or food intolerances, and
  • the nutritional content and calories.

Labeling for packaged food

Food labeling regulations state which information has to be included on food packaging. For people who are lactose intolerant, the list of ingredients is most important. It contains the following information:

  • A list of all the ingredients according to their percentage of the total weight, in descending order: The main ingredient is at the top, and the ingredient found in the smallest amount is listed at the bottom.
  • A list of all additives, such as emulsifiers, preservatives, coloring and flavoring agents.
  • Labeling of allergens: There are particularly strict regulations concerning the labeling of the main ingredients that can cause allergies or sensitive reactions. Currently, 14 substances and products must be labeled as potential allergens. These include things like soy, wheat, eggs, milk, peanuts, almonds and walnuts. Such ingredients have to be specifically highlighted by using a different typeface, text style (e.g. bold type), or background color.
  • It is enough to indicate that a product contains milk or lactose, without specifying the exact amount.

What words should I watch for in the ingredients?

You should be careful and take a closer look at the amounts if any of the following are listed as an ingredient:

  • Dry milk solids
  • Lactose
  • Lactose monohydrate

Products that contain no lactose

Plant-based milk substitutes that contain no lactose exist, even though they are sometimes referred to as milk. They are made from:

  • Almonds
  • Soy
  • Rice
  • Oats

The following ingredients also do not contain any lactose:

  • Lactate (lactic acid)
  • Lactilol – a sugar substitute
  • Lactic acid
  • Milk protein
  • Lactic acid / fermented lactic acid (for example in sauerkraut)
  • Baking agents / binding agents / starch / thickening agents

If you have any typical lactose intolerance symptoms after eating food you have previously not had any trouble with, it is worth checking the list of ingredients. Manufacturers sometimes change their product recipes.

How much lactose is in different foods?

This table can help you get a rough idea of how much lactose is in different foods. You can also calculate how much lactose you are getting every day:

Butter, margarine, and other fats

Table: Lactose in butter, margarine and other fats
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Butter 20 g 0.1
Lard Any amount 0
Margarine Any amount 0
Vegetable fats and oils including coconut oil Any amount 0


Table: Lactose in different types of cheese
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Mozzarella 20% fat in dry matter 100 g 3.3
Mascarpone 30 g 1
Cottage cheese 30 g 1
Cream cheese 30 g 0.9
Parmesan cheese 30 g 0
Most hard cheeses and sliced cheeses such as Emmentaler, Gouda, Edam or Tilsit 30 g 0

Milk-containing coffee, cream, and crème fraîche

Table: Lactose in milk-containing coffee, cream and crème fraîche
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Latte macchiato 125 ml 5.4
Cappuccino 125 ml 2.9
Skimmed milk powder 10 g 5.1
Whole milk powder 10 g 3.5
A dash of milk 30 ml 1.4
Coffee creamer (7.5% fat) 15 g 0.8
Sour cream (10% fat) 25 g 0.9
Crème fraîche (30% fat) 25 g 0.6
Cream 15 g 0.5

Yogurt, quark cheese, buttermilk

Table: Lactose in yogurt, quark cheese and buttermilk
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Whey 150 ml 7.1
Buttermilk 150 ml 6
Soured milk 150 g 6
Yogurt 150 g 4.8
Kefir 150 g 5.4
Quark cheese 30 g 1
Lactose content changes when fruits are added. Fat content is also important: A high amount of fat means a lower amount of lactose.

Sweet foods: Chocolate, ice cream and cake

Table: Lactose in chocolate, ice cream and cake
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Milk chocolate 20 g 1.3
Ice cream 75 g 4.7
Fruit sorbet 75 g 1.3
Yeast-based cake with crumbles 310 g 3.1
Cream cheese cake 120 g 2
Croissant 70 g 1
Pound cake 70 g 0.3

Milk and milk substitutes

Table: Lactose in milk and milk substitutes
Food product Serving size Lactose in grams per serving
Milk 3.5% fat 150 ml 7.0
Sheep's milk 150 ml 6.6
Goat's milk 150 ml 6.3
Soy milk Any amount 0

Lactose-reduced or lactose-free? Take a closer look

Some manufacturers use terms like "lactose-reduced" and "lactose-free" in their advertisements. The usage of these terms is currently not regulated by law. A product containing less than 0.1 g of lactose per 100 g may be called "lactose-free." Looking for the words "lactose-free" can save you the trouble of first checking the list of ingredients.

But because these terms aren't legally protected, products that don't contain any lactose naturally may be labeled as lactose-free for promotional purposes. There may be other, identical products without this label that are less expensive.

What should I keep in mind when buying foods without packaging?

In Europe, the EU Food Information Regulation specifies that companies must also provide information specifically on allergen content when selling unpackaged food. Unpackaged foods might include things like cake from a bakery, a sausage from a deli, or a restaurant meal. The information may be communicated in written form, such as on the menu or a separate information sheet. They can also be provided verbally. It may also be provided in electronic form, for instance on the business's website.

So it may be worth looking out for the product information you need or asking in the bakery or restaurant.

You can find more information on food labeling on the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture website.

American Heart Association (AHA). Understanding Food Nutrition Labels. March 06, 2018.

Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL). Allgemeine Kennzeichnungsvorschriften: Allergenkennzeichnung ist Pflicht. December 12, 2014.

Bundeszentrum für Ernährung (BZfE). Laktoseintoleranz. 2018.

Bundeszentrum für Ernährung (BZfE). Lebensmittel: Allergenkennzeichnung. August 09, 2017.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on November 29, 2018
Next planned update: 2021


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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