Digestive System Home > Hidden Lactose

Lactose may be added to certain prepared foods. This is called hidden lactose. Some foods that tend to contain lactose in this hidden form include bread and other baked goods, processed breakfast cereals, and instant soups. Some medications also contain hidden lactose.

An Introduction to Hidden Lactose

Milk and and the foods made from milk are the only natural sources of lactose. However, lactose is often added to prepared foods ("hidden lactose"). People with very low tolerance for lactose should know about the many food products that may contain hidden lactose, even in small amounts.

Common Foods Containing Hidden Lactose

Common foods that contain hidden lactose include:
  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Processed breakfast cereals
  • Instant potatoes, soups, and breakfast drinks
  • Margarine
  • Lunch meats (other than kosher)
  • Salad dressings
  • Candies and other snacks
  • Mixes for pancakes, biscuits, and cookies
  • Powdered meal-replacement supplements.
Some products labeled non-dairy, such as powdered coffee creamer and whipped toppings, may actually include ingredients that are derived from milk (and therefore contain lactose).
Learn to read food labels with care, looking not only for milk and lactose, but also for words such as whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, and non-fat dry milk powder. If any of these words are listed on a label, the product contains lactose.

Hidden Lactose in Medication

Lactose is also used in more than 20 percent of prescription drugs and about 6 percent of over-the-counter medicines. Many types of birth control pills contain lactose, as do some tablets for stomach acid and gas. However, these products typically affect only people with severe lactose intolerance.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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