I have been intolerant to lactose for about 10 years now. This seems to be a common problem in Sweden since there are good substitutes for all milk based products in the grocery stores nowadays. All cafes also have the option to get a lactose-free latte. And I like my latte. Over these 10 years this has changed from being a rarity to very common here in Sweden.

But when travelling the story is different. I have assumed that it is impossible to get a lactose-free latte when abroad and never asked. I stick to my single espresso. And when shopping in a grocery store I haven't seen it either. (Finland being the exception.) So to my question: are there other countries except Sweden and Finland where lactose-free alternatives are available?

  • yep - intentionally :-) maybe breaking a rule now?
    – froderik
    Dec 31 '13 at 13:14
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    To everyone who mentions coffee shops like Starbucks -- when you order a drink with soy milk, you should tell the barista that you're lactose intolerant. If you don't, you may run the risk of cross-contamination. My sister is lactose intolerant, and when visiting Starbucks she's found that they will reuse the rag they use to wipe down the milk steamer when wiping down the steamer for soy milk. But when she tells them that she's lactose intolerant, the barristas tend to be extra-careful and more aware about sources of cross-contamination. Dec 31 '13 at 18:15
  • Put on hold. So do I need to put a specific question per continent, country or what?
    – froderik
    Jan 1 '14 at 21:44
  • @froderik: Yes I would say when you are considering tavel destinations and are worried about lactose, ask about the "problem you are facing". There's just too much variance. In Laos it seemed soy milk was easier to get than cow's milk. In Mongolia people traditionally live on dairy products in the summer months. Niether countries have Starbucks. Jan 2 '14 at 2:38
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    @hippietrail good point! Edited accordingly
    – user141
    Jan 2 '14 at 10:11

First of all, globally speaking, lactose tolerance is the deviation and not lactose intolerance. Just about one fourth of the world's population keep the ability to digest lactose after growing up/breast feeding, an ability achieved through genetic selection and most prominent in the cattle keeping population of northern Europe. In Sweden, only 2% of the population is lactose intolerant, but this number increases to 15-25% in Germany, 50% in Italy and even 70% on Sicily. In East Asia and the southern parts of Africa and South America, 90-100% of the population is lactose intolerant.

So why are lactose free milk products so common in Scandinavia, where they do not seem to be medically required, at least not as often as in many other countries? Why can Italians drink their cappuccino or latte with regular milk, even if half the Italians are lactose intolerant? EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) concluded in a study from 2010 that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12g of lactose in a single intake or 20-24g of lactose on a daily basis with no or only minor symptoms. For regular cow milk, this corresponds to a single intake of about 250ml or daily intakes of 400-500ml. Obviously, lactose intolerance is not necessarily an argument for using lactose free milk products in coffee drinks.

It is however often claimed that the alleged health benefits from lactose free milk products is merely a marketing gag. Scandinavians are mostly wealthy enough to pay extra, even just for the belief that they are doing something good for their body and soul.

  • I can second that small doses is no problem. I had cortados when being in Spain this fall and it worked ok. A latte with lactose milk would not be that nice... You also need to keep the intake low in general to not get problems.
    – froderik
    Jan 1 '14 at 21:41
  • Also - I laugh at your last claim. Trolling?
    – froderik
    Jan 1 '14 at 21:42
  • I am not trying to troll, but I've wondered myself why lactose free milk products seem to be much easier obtainable in the Scandinavian countries compared to other countries. First of all, these countries have by far the lowest prevalence of lactose intolerance and even for people with lactose intolerance, using lactose free milk products is really only necessary if you want to drink milk as a thirst quencher. Why are Scandinavians paying a sometimes very high premium for lactose free milk products, when they in most cases have no real benefits from them except being hip and chic? Jan 1 '14 at 23:53
  • From what I know only scandinavians that have the problem buy the products. But I have no data to back it up. Lactose free products are found in its own place and covers the basics but not more. So say maybe one tenth of a stores dairy products are lactose free. I think the answer can be found in that our culture is used to drink lots of milk and we still want to do it when we suffer from lactose intolerance.
    – froderik
    Jan 2 '14 at 6:49

Certainly in the UK there are many coffee shops which can provide lactose free lattes.

The most common is the use of Soya milk instead of real milk.

So this includes Starbucks in many countries, but also smaller coffee chains, and some local coffee houses.


In addition to @RoryAlsop's answer Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts provide lattes and other caffeinated drinks with Soy Milk in the US.

Most of the smaller coffee shops in the US do too.


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