Is Dairy-Free The Same As Lactose-Free? Meaning, Allergies, Similarities, & Differences

Lactose-free and dairy-free are two similar but different dietary restrictions. Both diets are specific about milk and dairy consumption.

While these two sound alike, dairy-free products and lactose-free products are not the same. Milk is a common factor in both diets because it is a dairy product that contains lactose. This is where the misconception starts.

Continue reading to see the meaning, similarities, and differences that are worth noting.

What is a lactose-free diet?

Lactose-free products do not contain lactose, the sugar present in milk. A lactose-free diet is void of products that contain lactose.

Some people do not easily digest lactose. To solve this problem, some manufacturers began producing lactose-free milk. This milk contains lactase, an enzyme, to help humans digest lactose.

Lactose-free milk has the same nutritional value as regular milk. The only difference is that it is digestible by people who cannot produce lactase. These people are lactose intolerant. Lactose-free products contain dairy but without lactose.

Furthermore, the lactase in lactose-free products does not take out the good stuff in the dairy. They still contain healthy proteins such as whey and casein which aid muscle growth and fat metabolism.

What is a dairy-free diet?

A dairy-free diet is a diet that contains every other food item except dairy products.

Dairy-free foods do not contain milk or its by-products. Instead, they use plant-based ingredients like oats, almonds, soybeans, cashew, coconut, flaxseed, and rice. This is a diet for people with dairy allergies.

A dairy-free diet is also great for people with lactose intolerance because they naturally leave out lactose. Moreover, they do not contain whey and casein proteins. Dairy-free milk includes oat milk, almond milk, and nut milk.

Is dairy-free the same as lactose-free?

No, a lactose-free diet is not the same as a dairy-free diet.

The first thing to know is that a dairy-free diet is a lactose-free diet but a lactose-free diet may not be dairy-free.

A lactose-free diet does not include foods that contain lactose which is found in milk/dairy. However, it may include other dairy products that do not contain lactose. On the other hand, dairy-free products are made from nuts or plants.

Also, a lactose-free diet is for people with lactose intolerance while a dairy-free diet is for people with dairy allergies.

In addition, while lactose-free products contain whey and casein proteins, dairy-free foods do not have these proteins. Another difference is that a dairy-free diet is a vegan diet while a lactose-free diet is not.

When you weigh the nutrients you get from each, a lactose-free diet provides you with more protein and calcium, unlike a dairy-free diet.

A dairy-free diet comes with more complexities. If you have nut allergies, it also becomes a problem. If you have gluten intolerance, you have to stay off oats.

Most importantly, people on a dairy-free diet should stay away from lactose-free products because they contain dairy.

Is dairy-free ice cream the same as lactose-free ice cream?

Dairy-free ice creams are made from plant-based milk but lactose-free ice creams may contain dairy without lactose.

However, some ice creams are both lactose-free and dairy-free. Sorbets are examples of such ice creams. They are strictly made from water and fruit juice.

Is a lactose-free diet better than a dairy-free diet?

Whether you are following a lactose-free or a dairy-free diet, what is most important is that you do what works for you.

If you are lactose intolerant, you should be on a lactose-free diet while a dairy-free diet is best for those with dairy allergies.

Additionally, each diet comes with its cons. As mentioned earlier, lactose-free products are not completely safe for people with dairy allergies if they are dairy-based. Dairy-free products also have their downsides as mentioned earlier.

None of the diets is better than the other. While some people follow dietary restrictions as part of their lifestyle, they are also prescribed for people with certain underlying health issues or inherited intolerance.

Lactose intolerance vs dairy allergies

Lactose intolerance is a condition that affects the digestive system. It is a condition where the body cannot produce the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down lactose.

Consequently, people with this condition have frequent bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and cramps.

On the other hand, dairy allergy affects the immune system. It is a condition where the body reacts to milk or milk proteins like whey and casein. It is characterized by symptoms such as hives, swelling, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing.

Additionally, reports show that lactose intolerance affects about 75% of the world’s population. But dairy allergy is more common in infants, young children, and some adults.

While people with lactose intolerance do not have to ditch dairy products, people with dairy allergies must stay away from milk and its derivatives like butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.


Do all dairy products contain lactose?

No, not all dairy products contain lactose.

Lactose-free dairy products always carry a lactose-free label on them. For instance, some cheeses, milk, and butter are lactose-free.

Does lactose intolerance mean a dairy-free diet?

No, lactose intolerance does not mean a dairy-free diet.

You may still eat dairy products if you are lactose intolerant, granted that they do not contain lactose.

Should you take lactose-free milk if you are on a dairy-free diet?

No, you should not take lactose-free milk if you are on a dairy-free diet.

Avoid lactose-free products if you are on a dairy-free diet.

Why does lactose-free milk hurt your stomach?

Lactose-free milk is still a dairy product. If your stomach hurts after drinking lactose-free milk, it could be because you have dairy allergies.


The main difference between lactose-free and dairy-free products is the presence of dairy in lactose-free products and its absence in dairy-free products.

People who consume lactose-free products most likely suffer from lactose intolerance or those who want to cut down their dairy intake.

Similarly, a dairy-free diet is for people with dairy allergies and people who want to avoid dairy. Moreover, it helps to improve digestive issues and reduce bloating.

I hope this article helped you identify the differences between a dairy-free and a lactose-free diet.

Does lactose-free milk make you sick? This article shares why lactose-free milk makes you feel sick, types of lactose intolerance, the best alternatives to lactose-free milk, and possible remedies.

Thanks for reading.