The science behind lactose-free dairy:                                          The nutritional goodness of dairy without the digestive discomfort

Lactose-free fresh dairy is a fast-growing market in the global dairy industry, with Western Europe leading the way ahead of Latin America, closely followed by North America and the Asia-Pacific region.1 It’s easy to see why: with more consumers reporting digestive health issues related to lactose sensitivity, a growing perception that lactose-free dairy is a healthier option, and interesting possibilities for sugar reduction, there’s a triple incentive to put these products on the shelves. Below, we explore how lactose intolerance and lactose-free dairy work, and how DSM can help manufacturers with everything from production to packaging claims.

Did you know that around 70% of adults worldwide can’t digest lactose properly?2 Many people report uncomfortable intestinal symptoms – from bloating and flatulence to pain and diarrhea – that can have a serious negative impact on quality of life. And it’s all because of the biology of lactose digestion.

Lactose, lactase, and the large intestine
In some people, the gut enzyme lactase breaks down lactose into galactose and glucose, which, once separated, can easily be absorbed in the small intestine. But many people, especially in certain parts of the world, such as most of Asia, stop producing the lactase enzyme after early childhood. In these people, lactose remains intact as it reaches the large intestine, where it ferments, giving off lactic acid, acetic acid, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. These are what cause the undesirable digestive symptoms reported by 19% of global consumers.3


Adding lactase for added (nutritional) value
Of course, these so-called lactose intolerant people can choose to avoid dairy altogether – but this leaves them at risk of deficiencies in key nutrients like riboflavin, vitamin B12, and protein. Dairy is a key source of calcium, which plays an important role in supporting healthy bones. Among dairy avoiders, however, only 40–70% achieve the recommended intake of calcium.

Consumers who want to avoid lactose while maintaining the nutritional value of dairy have several options. They can turn to digestive lactase supplements, plant-based alternatives fortified with vitamins and minerals contained in dairy, or yogurts with active cultures that aid in lactose digestion – but lactose-free solutions also have a valuable role to play …

In lactose-free dairy, the lactase enzyme that many people are missing in their intestine is added to the dairy product by manufacturers, breaking down the lactose in the food before it’s consumed and can cause complaints. These enzymes are optimally effective during the production of lactose-free fresh dairy – including milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream – on a large scale. What’s more, depending on the product, lactose reduction through lactase enables products to carry a ‘lactose-free’ or ‘reduced-lactose’ claim.

In short, lactose-free solutions can deliver taste, texture, nutrition, and digestive support, allowing people who can’t tolerate lactose to enjoy the nutritional benefits and indulgent experience of fresh dairy without the risk of digestive discomfort!

What’s the draw for lactose digesters?
But this doesn’t explain why even lactose-tolerant consumers (like many people in Northern Europe and North America, for instance) are turning to lactose-free solutions – with 40% of consumers saying they intend to seek out more lactose-free products in the coming years.6 There is, in fact, another driving force behind this move into the mainstream: the perception, held by 39% of consumers, that lactose-free products are healthier than regular fresh dairy.7

As an extra benefit, because the lactose is already broken down into its sweeter forms (glucose and galactose), less added sugar would be needed to achieve the same taste in, for example, sweetened yogurt. Adding lactase therefore could support producers to feature “reduced-sugar” claims on their packaging – and appeal to today’s proactively health-conscious consumers.

Expertise across the dairy matrix
With consumer demand for lactose-free dairy growing, the benefits for manufacturers are also clear. But it can be hard to know where to begin.

Start with us: thanks to more than 50 years of experience, DSM is the world-leading lactase specialist. We can advise on your ability to make different front-of-pack claims relating to low lactose, better digestibility, and reduced sugar. We can also help you with the practicalities and challenges of adding lactase to your dairy products – whether you use batch or continuous processes. And, of course, we offer a broad range of Maxilact® lactase enzymes to help you deliver dairy products that are full of dairy nutrients without any of the digestive drawbacks.

Do you want to provide your customer an easy to digest, lactose-free, probiotic and vitamin fortified fermented milk drink?

Our MilkJoy prototype illustrates how we could support you and your lactose-free ambitions. Using our Maxilact® lactase combined with other key DSM ingredients, we can help you grow a strong list of eye-catching claims and deliver multiple benefits for consumer.

Want to know more? 


From great taste to better product differentiation and faster production processes, we can help dairy manufacturers create and capitalize on new opportunities. To find out more about our Maxilact® lactase portfolio, click here!

Contact us to find out how our experts can help.


1 Dekker PJT, Koenders D, Bruins MJ. Lactose-Free Dairy Products: Market Developments, Production, Nutrition and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 5;11(3):551. doi: 10.3390/nu11030551. PMID: 30841534; PMCID: PMC6471712.

2 Savaiano and Levitt. J of Dairy Science 1987.

3 FMCG Gurus: Across the globe, the prevalence of digestive health problems is on the rise, March 2021.

4 Hodges Nutrients. 2019. Lactose Intolerance and Bone Health: The Challenge of Ensuring Adequate Calcium Intake - PubMed (

5 USDA Food Composition Databases. Available online: (accessed on 3 January 2019).

6 DSM research Jan 2020, online quantitative survey in 10 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, and South Africa with n=500 per market.

7 DSM research Jan 2020, online quantitative survey in 10 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, and South Africa with n=500 per market.

Published on

05 December 2022


  • Consumer insights