Skip to Main Content

Apply Now to the University of Wyoming apply now

Appetite for Knowledge

Lactose Intolerance vs. Milk Allergy

Do you experience abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, gas, or diarrhea about 30 minutes to two hours after consuming a food or drink that contains milk or milk products? Well, it could be that you’re lactose intolerant. Lactose is a natural sugar found in dairy and dairy products. Lactose intolerance is when your small intestine doesn’t make enough of a digestive enzyme called lactase, so your body can’t break down or digest lactose which causes those unfavorable symptoms. If you think you may be lactose intolerant talk with your doctor as they can work with you to check for a lactose intolerance.


Being lactose intolerant is not the same thing as having a milk allergy. A lactose intolerance does not involve the immune system, whereas a milk allergy does. A milk allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to a specific protein in dairy products. Milk allergy symptoms can range from mild such as rashes, hives, itching, and swelling, to severe with trouble breathing, wheezing, and/or loss of consciousness. A milk allergy can be potentially life-threatening.



A lactose intolerance can occur in both children and adults and has been found to be hereditary. Lactose intolerance may start during the teen or adult years, in these cases, over time a person’s body starts to make less lactase. But that’s not only the cause of lactose intolerance, certain health conditions and treatments may lead to lactose intolerance as the result of intestinal damage. For example, celiac disease, some types of cancer treatment, and gastrointestinal surgery. As someone recovers, they may be able to resume consumption of foods and drinks that contain lactose. Some babies who are born prematurely may not be able to make enough lactase, but they often grow out of this. In rare cases, infants are born with an inability to make any lactase at all. Lactose intolerance is most common in Asian Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans.



Being lactose intolerant doesn’t mean that you have to cut out all dairy products. In fact, it’s important that you don’t cut out dairy altogether because dairy products contain important nutrients that can help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Cow’s milk is rich in calcium, protein, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamins A and D. It’s important to try different dairy foods and see which ones cause fewer symptoms, to ensure you’re not restricting yourself from foods you can continue to enjoy. Typically, up to 1 cup of regular cow’s milk is tolerated per day among lactose-intolerant individuals. It’s more common to see lactose-free dairy options at the store now more than ever as well. For example, there is lactose-free cow’s milk, which is a good alternative to regular cows’ milk as it has all the same nutrients, just with added lactase to help your body digest it. Recent studies have also shown that for those that are lactose intolerant A2 cow’s milk produces fewer symptoms compared to conventional milk but is still not as effective as lactose-free cow’s milk.


When talking with your doctor you can also discuss the option of a lactase pill or lactase drops which you would take when consuming milk products. Certain dairy products are naturally lower in lactose, such as hard cheese, and Greek yogurt. You may find that you can tolerate a certain amount of lactose and don’t need to completely avoid it. If you are lactose intolerant, give this lactose-reduced smoothie a try below, which is packed with nutrients! If you’re not lactose intolerant, just use regular milk in the recipe below.


Lactose Reduced Smoothie

Yield: 2 cups



1 banana (fresh or frozen)

1 cup frozen fruit (berries, pineapple, mango, etc.)

½ cup lactose-free low-fat milk

½ cup Greek yogurt, honey or vanilla

½ cup fresh spinach leaves



  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Measure ingredients and place in blender.
  3. Blend until smooth and enjoy!


Written by University of Wyoming Extension- Cent$ible Nutrition Program Educator Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD

glass of milk

Contact Our Expert!


Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

Feedback Form

Follow UW Nutrition and Food Safety

Feel free to use and share this content, but please do so under the conditions of our Rules of Use. Thank You.

For more information, contact a University of Wyoming Nutrition and Food Safety Educator at or Ask an Expert.

Have a Question?

Contact Our Expert!


Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

Subscribe to UW Nutrition and Food Safety Newletters


Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

The University of Wyoming is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution.

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
UW Operators (307) 766-1121 | Contact Us | Download Adobe Reader