U.S. Dairy Products > Lactose

Health & Nutrition

Lactose offers a number of nutritional benefits not found in other sugar sources. It generates a prolonged energy supply due to slow hydrolysis in the body, increases the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc, contributes to a healthy intestinal flora, and has minimal effect on tooth decay compared to other sugars.


Protein levels in lactose are so low they are relatively insignificant. If milk allergens are a concern please refer to a pharmaceutical lactose.


Lactose is a carbohydrate with a low glycemic index. During digestion, the intestinal enzyme lactase breaks down lactose into the simple sugars, glucose and galactose, for absorption into the bloodstream. Most people produce sufficient amounts of lactase at birth and during childhood to digest usual amounts of dietary lactose. However, some individuals, as they age, may have a low level of intestinal lactase, which can result in lactose maldigestion. Many lactose maldigesters can consume the amount of lactose in at least one cup of milk when consumed with a meal. Moreover, tolerance to lactose can be improved by gradually increasing intake of lactose-containing foods such as milk and other dairy products.

Lactose has a relatively low glycemic index, which may make this sugar beneficial for diabetics. The glycemic index of a carbohydrate or food refers to the increase in blood glucose relative to a standard such as glucose or white bread. Foods with a low glycemic index cause a slow, modest rise in blood glucose levels. In contrast, foods with a high glycemic index cause a faster, higher increase in blood glucose.

An increase in blood glucose elicits secretion of insulin, which controls blood glucose levels. However, because of insulin deficiency in diabetics, blood glucose levels remain elevated and adverse health effects result if treatment with insulin and/or diet is not provided. Lactose has a lower glycemic index (65) than either glucose (138), honey (104) or sucrose (87). Diets that emphasize low glycemic index foods not only may help decrease the risk of developing diabetes and improve blood sugar control in diabetics, but such diets may also have other health benefits. By improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood lipid levels, low glycemic index diets may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Because of their high nutritional value and bioactive properties, lactose products are increasingly used in products designed to improve health and wellness.

Mineral Absorption

Lactose increases the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc in laboratory animals and human infants.


By stimulating the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria, lactose contributes to a healthy intestinal flora.

Dental Caries

Compared to other sugars such as sucrose, lactose has minimal ability to produce tooth decay.

Glycemic Index & Carbohydrate Metabolism

Because lactose has a low glycemic index, or causes a slow rise in blood glucose relative to a standard, this sugar may be beneficial for diabetics.