Lactose is the natural sugar found in milk and milk products. Approximately 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This condition is caused by a deficiency of an enzyme called lactase. Prior to absorption into the bloodstream, milk sugars are broken down into simple sugars by the enzyme lactase which is naturally produced in the small intestine.
Lactose is present in two large food categories— dairy products, and as a food additive in dairy and non-dairy products. During cheese manufacturing, a curdling process is initiated to separate the curd from the whey. After this process, lactose is found in the water based portion along with whey and casein. A process called ultra-filtration makes it possible to remove lactose as whey protein is filtered to higher protein concentrations.
When it comes to whey protein powders, there is always a slight chance that there are low levels of lactose in whey protein concentrate, however it is relatively safe to determine that whey protein isolates are free of lactose as they have been concentrated to the highest possible level of protein and were processed with the highest degree of filtration for effective lactose removal. For those with high sensitivities to lactose, it is best to stay away from protein blends that may include milk proteins and various types of whey that have not been filtered to the same degree as whey protein concentrate 80% and whey protein isolate 90%. A digestive enzyme product that contains the enzyme lactase can also be used to help breakdown and digest products with lactose more effectively.
Dominick Walsh is a blogger for Performance Nutrition and TMRzoo.com and covers all men’s health topics and exercise issues including protein powders, diets, weight loss, weight lifting supplements, fat burners and supplement reviews. Dominick’s columns cover everything you need to know about your pre, during and post workout nutrition.