Diagnosis and diet

Lactose intolerance is mostly a deficiency, not an absence, of the enzyme lactase, produced in the small intestine to break down lactose. As lactose intolerance is sometimes confused with other medical problems, it is best to get a proper diagnosis from a health professional such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian. A hydrogen breath test is usually undertaken to determine a diagnosis before dairy foods are reduced in the diet.1 It is important to note that lactose intolerance is not an allergy (refer to Allergies).


1 Zaitlin P, Dwyer J, Gleason G. Mistaken beliefs and the facts about milk and dairy foods. Nutr Today. 2013;48(3):135-43.doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e3182941c62

  • Dairy foods don’t need to be eliminated

    There are significant differences in the amount of lactose that can be consumed before symptoms present among people diagnosed with lactose intolerance. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest up to 250ml of milk (about 12–15g of lactose) may be well tolerated if it’s consumed with other foods or throughout the day.2Most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yoghurt contains ‘good’ bacteria that help to digest lactose. Low-lactose and lactose-free milks are also available. Dairy foods don’t have to be eliminated from a lactose intolerant person’s diet, rather lactose intake should be adjusted according to tolerance.

    The following table demonstrates how much lactose is present in different dairy foods:

    Dairy food
    Lactose content (g)
    Parmesan cheese, 40g 0.0
    Cheddar cheese, 40g 0.04
    Swiss style cheese, 40g 0.04
    Camembert, 40g 0.04
    Cream cheese, 22g 0.55
    Cream, 20g (1 tbl spn) 0.6
    Ricotta cheese, 120g 2.4
    Ice cream, 50g 1.65 
    Yoghurt (natural), 200g 10.0*
    Regular milk, 250mL 15.75

    * The lactose content in yoghurt decreases each day, even while it sits in the fridge, because its natural bacteria use lactose for energy.

    Sourced from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx



    2 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

  • The importance of dairy foods in the diet

    Dairy foods are often eliminated from the diet as the suspected cause of adverse symptoms, in particular gastrointestinal symptoms, without medical evidence or oversight. Irrespective of the accuracy of self-diagnosis, avoiding foods to alleviate symptoms should be weighed against the consequences of eliminating dietary factors and their related nutrient profiles.3

    The dairy food group is one of the five food groups recommended for good health. Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are packed full of nutrients. Not only are they a great source of calcium, they also contain protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, potassium, iodine, phosphorus.  

    What’s more, the current Australian Dietary Guidelines acknowledge that consuming dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt and cheese, is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure) and type 2 diabetes and is not linked to weight gain or obesity.4

    Approximately nine out of ten Australian adults fail to get their minimum recommended intake of the dairy food group5 and as a result more than half are not getting enough calcium in their diet every day.6 Unnecessarily cutting out dairy foods from the diet can limit choices, reduce enjoyment of food and may adversely affect nutrition.



    3 Yantcheva B, Golley S, Topping D, Mohr P. Food avoidance in an Australian adult population sample: the case of dairy products. Public Health Nutr. 2015;20:1-8.

    4 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

    5 Doidge J, Segal L. Most Australians do not meet recommendations for dairy consumption: findings of a new technique to analyse nutrition surveys. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2012;36(3):236-40.

    6 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Nutrition First Results - Food and Nutrients, 2011-12. 4364.0.55.008. [updated 2015 April 27; cited 2016 Feb 09]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.008~2011-12~Main%20Features~Calcium~401

  • References for this page



    1 Zaitlin P, Dwyer J, Gleason G. Mistaken beliefs and the facts about milk and dairy foods. Nutr Today. 2013;48(3):135-43.doi: 10.1097/NT.0b013e3182941c62

    2 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

    3 Yantcheva B, Golley S, Topping D, Mohr P. Food avoidance in an Australian adult population sample: the case of dairy products. Public Health Nutr. 2015;20:1-8.

    4 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

    5 Doidge J, Segal L. Most Australians do not meet recommendations for dairy consumption: findings of a new technique to analyse nutrition surveys. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2012;36(3):236-40.

    6 Australian Bureau of Statistics [Internet]. Canberra: ABS; 2015. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Nutrition First Results - Food and Nutrients, 2011-12. 4364.0.55.008. [updated 2015 April 27; cited 2016 Feb 09]. Available: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.008~2011-12~Main%20Features~Calcium~401