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Can lactose intolerant eat protein bars?

Protein bars have become a popular snack and mini-meal replacement for many people looking to lose weight, build muscle, or simply get more protein into their diets. However, for those with lactose intolerance, navigating the protein bar aisle can be tricky. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at whether lactose intolerant individuals can safely eat protein bars.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is a condition where people lack sufficient levels of the enzyme lactase needed to properly digest lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. When lactose moves through the digestive system undigested, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.

It’s estimated that 65% of the global population has some degree of lactose malabsorption. However, many people with lactase deficiency don’t experience symptoms of lactose intolerance. True lactose intolerance with symptomatic response affects around 6% of children under the age of 5 worldwide and 36% of adults. [1]

Common triggers for lactose intolerance

The main dietary culprits for lactose intolerance are dairy foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter. Dairy ingredients like milk solids, whey, and casein are also commonly added to many packaged foods.

Here are some of the most common triggers for lactose intolerance:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • Cream
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Sherbet
  • Custard
  • Pudding
  • Milk chocolate
  • Packaged foods with added dairy ingredients like whey or casein

Reading labels for lactose

When evaluating whether a food contains lactose, it’s important to carefully read the ingredient label. Look for ingredients like:

  • Milk
  • Milk solids
  • Milk powder
  • Dry milk solids
  • Nonfat dry milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter
  • Whey
  • Whey protein
  • Casein
  • Caseinate
  • Lactose
  • Curds

The position of milk-derived ingredients on the label is also telling. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so milk products higher up on the list likely indicate a higher lactose content.

Do protein bars contain lactose?

Many protein bars are formulated to be lactose-free. However, some can still contain small amounts of milk ingredients.

Here are some common ingredients found in protein bars:

  • Whey protein – Whey is the watery part of milk that separates from the curds during cheese production. Whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate are purified forms commonly used in protein supplements and bars. Both contain lactose.
  • Milk protein isolate – Milk protein isolate is produced by filtering skim milk to remove lactose and fats. Trace amounts of lactose may remain.
  • Casein protein – Casein is the main protein found in dairy milk. Casein protein isolate may be added to protein bars and contains negligible lactose.
  • Calcium caseinate – This is a milk-derived form of casein that contains very little lactose.
  • Milk fat/butter fat – Added forms of milk or butter fat contain lactose.
  • Cocoa butter – The fat component of chocolate is dairy-free.
  • Natural flavors – Natural and artificial flavors are typically lactose-free.

Lactose content of protein bars

Here is the typical lactose content for protein bars with milk-derived ingredients:

Ingredient Lactose Content
Whey protein concentrate 1-3 grams lactose per serving
Whey protein isolate 0.5-1 gram lactose per serving
Milk protein isolate 0.5 gram or less per serving
Casein protein Negligible lactose

Keep in mind that lactose content can vary between brands depending on factors like protein purity and manufacturing processes. Refer to nutrition labels for lactose information on specific products.

Choosing low lactose protein bars

The good news is that people with lactose intolerance have many great tasting protein bar options to choose from. Here are some tips for finding low lactose protein bars:

  • Look for bars made with whey protein isolate instead of concentrate
  • Choose bars with milk protein isolate or calcium caseinate
  • Avoid bars with milk fat or butter fat
  • Check labels carefully and select bars with no milk ingredients
  • Look for “lactose-free” claims on packaging
  • Stick to chocolate flavors made with cocoa butter instead of milk chocolate
  • Consult manufacturer information for lactose content

Recommended low lactose protein bars

Here are some excellent lactose-free protein bar options to try:

Protein Bar Key Features
Quest Nutrition Protein Bar – Whey protein isolate
– Milk protein isolate
– Lactose-free
One Protein Bar – Whey protein isolate
– Calcium caseinate
– Lactose-free
Simply Protein Bar – Whey protein isolate
– Soy protein isolate
– Lactose-free
Think! Protein Bar – Soy protein isolate
– Calcium caseinate
– Lactose-free
Garden of Life Sport – Organic Plant-Based Protein Bar – Pea protein
– No dairy ingredients
– Certified vegan

Other tips for lactose intolerance

In addition to choosing low lactose protein bars, here are some other helpful tips for managing lactose intolerance:

  • Consume dairy in moderation – Smaller portions may be tolerated
  • Try lactose-free milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Choose lactose-free meal replacement shakes
  • Take a lactase enzyme supplement before consuming dairy
  • Opt for plant-based milks like almond, coconut, oat, or soy
  • Watch out for hidden lactose in processed foods, sauces, dressings, and baked goods
  • Try vegan protein powders made from peas, rice, hemp, or soy

The bottom line

People with lactose intolerance don’t necessarily have to avoid protein bars. By selecting bars made with whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, or plant-based proteins, most can enjoy the nutrition and convenience of protein bars without GI upset.

Carefully reading nutrition labels and ingredients is key to finding low lactose or lactose-free protein bars. With so many dairy-free formulations available today, those with lactose intolerance have more protein bar options than ever to help support their health goals.