What’s the Difference between Lactose Free and Dairy Free?

Have you heard any of these?

“Wait… lactose free means it doesn’t have dairy in it right?” 

“If it’s lactose free how can it be REAL milk?”

“How the heck do you get lactose out of milk!?”

Take a deep breath. We’ll clear this one up for you.
lactose free vs. dairy free
Dairy free and lactose free are often used interchangeably by consumers. But, there’s a problem with that. Lactose free does NOT mean dairy free.

Here’s why: 

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. Our bodies naturally produce an enzyme called ‘lactase’ that helps digest it. That enzyme is how 35% of people in the world can handle consuming lactose products. LactOSE enters your body, lactASE breaks it down, you're good to go.

The other 65%, those who are lactose intolerant (and proud) like us, aren’t able to produce enough lactase enzymes to enjoy milk, cheese, ice cream, all that good stuff.

For a deeper dive into lactose check out our previous blogs HERE


Lactose free products are real dairy products that have that lactase enzyme we mentioned above ADDED to the milk. The lactase breaks down the lactose in these dairy products so that your body can safely absorb it. 

lactose free vs. dairy free
OK OK - so what’s left behind in the milk once we get rid of the lactose? 

THE HEALTHY STUFF: Milk proteins such as whey and casein, and vitamins & minerals. This is still dairy, but now, it’s lactose free.

Whey and casein are proteins derived from milk. You’ll notice a lot of protein powders on the market are made from either whey or casein. Casein digests slowly, making it a good protein to have before bed. Whey, on the other hand, digests quickly and helps with muscle growth and recovery. This is a great option to have post-workout. 

Aside from the proteins, dairy products have A TON of important vitamins and minerals. The obvious one being calcium, which has a very high bioavailability.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “calcium is required for vascular contraction and vasodilation, muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling and hormonal secretion.” In other words, it’s good for you.


So what is dairy free?
lactose free vs. dairy free
Those who have a milk allergy are allergic to the two components in milk; whey and casein. This allergy is often first diagnosed in infants and children. And the reaction is more severe; hives, itching, swelling, etc. This happens because the body has an immune response to the proteins (whey and casein). 
Because of this, dairy free products avoid real milk ENTIRELY. They come in milk alternatives like nut milk, oat milk, pea milk, etc. Because these products do not contain whey or casein, the protein count is much lower than that of in dairy milk.

These dairy free products will ALSO be lactose free. That might be confusing so let’s make it simple:

Dairy free = NO dairy and NO lactose.

Lactose Free = NO lactose. YES dairy.

Get it?




The Slate Milk Squad

Written by Sam Okrasinski, Contributing Author

lactose free chocolate milk

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