Yogurt May Be a Good Option for
Individuals Avoiding Lactose in Their Diets

Individuals with lactose intolerance may experience digestive symptoms after consuming dairy products, such as bloating, gas and diarrhea.1 Many people with lactose intolerance can manage their symptoms by limiting the amount of dairy they consume; however, some lactose intolerant individuals often avoid dairy products completely.1,2 Unfortunately, this dairy avoidance may prevent the lactose intolerant person from consuming enough calcium, vitamin D and high-quality protein.2 Consumption of yogurt provides these nutrients, which are necessary in the promotion of muscle and bone strength.3,4 Fortunately, lactose intolerant individuals may be able to consume yogurt with fewer associated symptoms than when consuming milk.4,5,6

Lactase non-persistence vs. lactose intolerance: not everyone experiences symptoms

Lactase is the enzyme that helps break down lactose, a naturally occurring sugar found in milk, into glucose and galactose. Lactase non-persistence is a normal condition—found in about 65% percent of humans—in which lactase levels decrease after infancy.7 Lactase non-persistence affects the ability to digest lactose and, thus, may cause lactose malabsorption.1,7 Lactose malabsorption occurs when this undigested lactose passes into the colon, where bacteria break it down, creating fluid and gas in the process.1 It is this fluid and gas that can lead to uncomfortable symptoms; however, not all people with lactase non-persistence and lactose malabsorption will experience symptoms.1,7

Lactose intolerance occurs when lactase non-persistence and lactose malabsorption cause symptoms such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. It is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent but is also commonly found in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.”7 There are a few other causes of lactose intolerance that are less common, such as congenital lactase deficiency (present from birth) and secondary lactose intolerance which occurs after an illness, injury or surgery. 1,7

Dairy avoidance may lead to inadequate intake of certain key nutrients

Most Americans don’t consume the recommended 3 daily servings of dairy.6 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a shift to “consume more dairy products in nutrient-dense forms,” including fat-free or lowfat yogurt.6 For people who are lactose intolerant, avoiding milk and milk products can prevent them from getting enough calcium, potassium and vitamin D, all nutrients already lacking in the American diet.2,6


  • Yogurt often contains less lactose than milk8

    • Plain yogurt typically contains between 6 and 12 grams of lactose in a 6-oz. serving9

  • Greek yogurt contains less lactose than regular yogurt

    • Some of the lactose is removed when the product is strained to remove the whey

  • Lactose intolerant individuals may be able to eat up to 12 grams of lactose without discomfort when it is spread throughout the day5,8

Live cultures in yogurt aid in the digestion of lactose

The fermentation of milk (the process used to make yogurt) may improve tolerance to lactose because of the presence of lactic acid bacteria.8 The bacteria used to ferment the milk later assist in the digestion of lactose inside the intestines. The lactose is broken down during the fermentation activity of these bacteria.10


1. Try yogurt in lieu of milk or certain cheeses

2. Look for live and active cultures in yogurt

3. Opt for Greek yogurt

4. Use yogurt in dressings, dips, sauces, toppings, and marinades

5. Consume milk and milk products in small amounts throughout the day


There are many creative ways to add yogurt to your meals and snacks, in small amounts throughout the day. Try this recipe for Pesto Drizzle on Jersey Tomatoes which can also be used as a vegetable dip!

Many lactose intolerant individuals can still enjoy the health benefits of dairy

Individuals with lactose intolerance often think they must avoid dairy altogether to prevent digestive discomfort.1,2 However, many lactose intolerant individuals need only to limit their consumption of dairy (and thus lactose) to manage symptoms.1,2 Yogurt often contains less lactose than milk, as well as cultures that help digest lactose.8,9 Dairy avoidance may lead to under-consumption of some key nutrients, so incorporating yogurt, which typically provides calcium, vitamin D and protein, may be a good way for individuals avoiding dairy products to increase their nutrient intake.2,4,5,6

1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Lactose Intolerance | NIDDK. [online] Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov
[Accessed 21 Jun. 2017].

2. Savaiano DA, Boushey CJ, McCabe GP. Lactose intolerance symptoms assessed by meta-analysis: a grain of truth that leads to exaggeration. J Nutr. Apr 2006;136(4):1107-1113.

3. Sahni S, Katherine LT, Kiel DP, Quach L, Casey VA, Hannan MT. Milk and yogurt consumption are linked with higher bone mineral density but not with hip fracture: the Framingham Offspring Study. Arch Osteoporos. 2013;8(0):119.

4. Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lemmens SG, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr. 2012;108 Suppl 2: S105-S112.

5. Johnson AO, Semenya JG, Buchowski MS, Enwonwu CO, Scrimshaw NS. Adaptation of lactose maldigesters to continued milk intakes. Am J Clin Nutr. Dec 1993;58(6):879-881.

6. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. 8th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2015.

7. Genetics Home Reference. (2017). lactose intolerance. [online] Available at:
[Accessed 21 Jun. 2017].

8. Lomer MC, Parkes GC, Sanderson JD. Review article: lactose intolerance in clinical practice–myths and realities. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. Jan 15 2008;27(2):93-103.

9.Ragovin H. Why so good? The science behind yogurt’s aura of health. Vol 16. Tufts University: The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy; 2015:14-17.

10. Martini MC, Kukielka D, Savaiano DA. Lactose digestion from yogurt: influence of a meal and additional lactose. Am J Clin Nutr. May 1991;53(5):1253-1258.

POSTED ON: Jul 12, 2017