What Is “Hidden” Lactose?

Milk and foods made from milk are the only natural sources of lactose. However, this doesn’t mean that dairy products are the only foods and beverages that contain lactose. Lactose is often added to prepared foods, and people with very low tolerance for lactose may develop symptoms when they consume these products. Examples of some of these foods are given below.3


  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Processed breakfast cereals
  • Instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks
  • Margarine


  • Lunch meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Candies and some snack foods
  • Pancake, biscuit, and cookie mixes
  • Powdered meal replacements


Even some “non-dairy” products, such as powdered dairy creamer and some whipped toppings may actually contain ingredients that are derived from milk and so may contain lactose. Learn to read food labels carefully, looking for the “hidden” lactose.3 You will find lactose “hidden” in the ingredients listed below.10


  • Butter
  • Caseinates
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Curds


  • Dry milk solids
  • Milk
  • Milk by-products
  • Milk solids
  • Milk sugar


  • Non-fat dry milk powder
  • Skim milk solids
  • Whey
  • Yogurt


Any of these ingredients on the label means that you will find lactose in the product.


Lactose and Medications


Lactose is used in more than 20% of prescription drugs and about 6% of over-the-counter (non-prescription) medicines.3 Many medications contain lactose as filler, and lactose doesn’t always appear on the label. If you are very sensitive to lactose and have persistent symptoms, ask your pharmacist to help you. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe a lactose-free alternative medication if one is available.10

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