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Sugar Content of Milk! Really?

I am very confused. I had no idea that milk, in its natural state, had a sugar component in its makeup. Is that why plain unflavored yoghurt also shows mg of sugar? Does the amount of sugar vary with the cow feed- corn or grass....?Or is there such a thing as cow milk that has low or no sugar?

If you're biology or chemistry gifted, you prob think i'm crazy, but somehow, i can buy the fact that milk has protein or fat, but, maybe because i have been focusing on lowering both my salt and my sugar intake, i have been mentally treating them as the 2 opposites on a see saw. Along that line, i would think that if milk doesn't have salt content, them it also wouldn't have sugar content.....
If you have the patience, might you educate me about my faulty thinking? Thx much.

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  1. Milk has a sugar called lactose. Those people who cannot digest that sugar are lactose intolerant. Lactose is a disaccharide which sucrose ( white sugar) is as well.

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      1. You've no doubt heard of lactose, at the least in terms of lactose intolerance. Well, lactose is a sugar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactose

        Generally speaking, the lower the fat content of cow's milk, the higher the lactose, and vice versa.

        24 Replies
        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          Is that correct? So nonfat milk has MORE lactose than whole milk??

          1. re: nothingswrong

            Nonfat milk is whole milk with the fat removed, leaving the water, protein and lactose behind. Clearly a higher proportion of the calories in nonfat milk come from the lactose.

            1. re: paulj

              Okay, makes sense. I guess I never thought about it. I became severely lactose intolerant almost overnight when I was 13 or so. Now I can do dairy in small amounts (a serving of cheese, or a big spoonful of whipped cream) with no problem. But for some reason I've always had it in my head that lower-fat dairy would be easier to digest. Thanks for the info!

              1. re: nothingswrong

                You can probably do cheese (hard cheeses) and cream because they have minuscule amounts of lactose.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  That's what my doc told me, re: aged cheddar. I tried it but it didn't work out so well.

                  I still can't wrap my head around cream being easier than NF milk. I think when you're so lactose intolerant for so many years, the creamier something is, the more it worries you (like pasta dishes with cream sauce). Back in the day, I couldn't even eat a bite of ice cream, but like I said, I can do a serving of whipped cream now with no problem. This is all good to know!

                  1. re: nothingswrong

                    A good rule of thumb for dairy products is the higher the fat content, the lower the sugar content. Most of the lactose is in milk is in the whey and a small amount is mixed up with the proteins. Clarified butter or ghee, where all the whey and protein solids have been removed and only the fat remains, has no lactose. Same for many aged, harder cheeses like medium to sharp cheddars, where a lot of the lactose goes when the curds are separated from the whey, and the rest is digested by microbial enzymes in the aging process.

                    A lot of people who have trouble digesting lactose also have trouble with other components in milk though. As paulj points out below, most mammals grow out of the milk-consuming phase after early childhood, so having trouble digesting unfermented milk as an adult is kind of normal. It's the fact that so many people seem to consume some other mammal's baby feed with no apparent problems well into old age that's weird.

                    1. re: ninrn

                      Interesting. I can't believe I've never read/heard any of this before, feeling a little stupid right now. To think of all the years I missed out on heavy cream and hard cheese!

                      1. re: nothingswrong

                        Heavy cream still has quite a bit of lactose in it. I'm thinking you're OK with whipped cream because there's so much air that you're getting very little lactose in a small portion. Many hard cheeses, though, are not lactose-containing foods. Look at the labels of Tillamook or Cabot sharp cheddar -- zero carbs. (One of my happiest discoveries in recent years!)

                        1. re: ninrn

                          Beware there...they can legally be labeled as zero carbs if less than 0.5 gram but in general, yes, most sharp cheeses are zero carbs. It's similar to an egg, a large egg has 0.36 grams carbs but unless you're eating the entire dozen it doesn't really add up to much.

                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            That's good to know. But Cabot guarantees all their cheddars to be totally lactose-free and truly zero-carb.

                            1. re: ninrn

                              Really?! Why isn't this advertised more? You'd think with the recent food aversion trend, Cabot would be all over the airwaves as "guaranteed lactose- and carb-free."

                              Btw, you sure know a lot about dairy :)

                              1. re: nothingswrong

                                Like you (I think, from reading other posts) I'm dealing with a lot of health problems and just trying to keep my head above water by trying to learn as much as I can as fast as I can (without going too much more crazy than I already am). Hugs, Ni

                                1. re: ninrn

                                  Oh, I'm sorry to hear that! Yes, you are correct about me.

                                  Well, you've done a great service to someone (me) today with your knowledge, so thank you.

                                  Good luck with everything!

                                2. re: nothingswrong

                                  Well, it's not really particular to their product, most other hard cheese are basically carb- and lactose- free, it's a feature of the cheese.

                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                    I know, but I've been seeing other companies take advantage of their already-gluten-free or low carb products by now marketing them as "GLUTEN FREE WATER" or "LOW CARB EGG" etc.

                                    Americans like that kind of thing. "Oh, low fat chicken breast? MUST buy for my diet!"

                                    1. re: nothingswrong

                                      Trader Joe's advertised gluten free greeting cards a few months ago. At first I was utterly confused, and then I died laughing.

                                      1. re: ohmyyum

                                        I have been seeing the most ridiculous GF advertising here in L.A. "Gluten free fruit salad!" "Gluten free roast potatoes!" "Gluten free omelets!" And then the reason I said "gluten free water" is because I saw a flavored water the other day, with "GLUTEN FREE!!!!" on the label. I mean, come on.

                            2. re: ninrn

                              A simple way to think about it - during cheese making the protein changes into a network that traps the fat and liquid. Lactose is water soluble. Fresh (soft white) cheese still has a lot of that whey. But as it is pressed and aged, more of the whey drains away. Thus old dry cheese is mostly protein and fat, with little water and lactose left behind.

                              Serving portions of sharper, drier cheese are usually smaller. Contrast a serving of mozzarella with a shaving of Parmesan. Or squeaky cheese curds with a bite of extra sharp cheddar.

                              1. re: paulj

                                The most significant factor in reducing lactose in aged cheese is the action of bacteria/fungi. They are actively consuming lactose.

                                1. re: kmcarr

                                  I suspected that was happening as well, but wasn't sure.

                        2. re: nothingswrong

                          Also cream is used in smaller quantities. You don't drink a cup of cream so the serving size amount of lactose is usually different just based on that alone.

                      2. re: nothingswrong

                        Low fat anything has more carbs (and sugars) than their whole fat/higher calorie counterparts.

                    2. re: nothingswrong

                      Sure. If you take out the fat, the percentage of each of the remaining ingredients (proteins, sugar, and water) are going to increase.

                    3. re: Caitlin McGrath

                      Just to confuse things more ... greek-style strained yogurt has less lactose than regular yogurt, because much of the lactose is dissolved in the whey that gets drained away.

                    4. Why would milk not contain sugar? Lactose = galactose + glucose.

                      1. Lactose ("milk sugar") is the culprit. It's part of whole milk and can be removed (usually with lactase).

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ferret

                          Using lactase just changes the sugar to a simple sugar or a monosaccharide.

                          1. re: ferret

                            Lactase just helps with the digestion of the lactose - it doesn't remove it.