I’m often asked, “Is butter low FODMAP?” When I respond yes, I often also get the follow-up question, “Why is butter low FODMAP/low lactose if milk is high?” In this Q&A post, I will answer both of those questions and more!
I’m going to start with a brief explanation of lactose. Lactose is the sugar naturally found in most dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese.1 The enzyme lactase is needed to break down lactose in our small intestines so it can be absorbed. 2 Lactose intolerance occurs when we do not have enough lactase. 1 When lactose is not absorbed it is fermented by bacteria in the large intestine and may cause digestive symptoms.2
Lactose is one of the five types of FODMAPs.3 FODMAPs are all carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed, highly fermentable in the large intestine and may trigger IBS symptoms.3 The low FODMAP diet is used by dietitians to help their clients identify if any FODMAPs trigger digestive symptoms. 3
Butter and Dairy Products
As I stated above, many dairy products contain lactose including milk. Butter is made from milk, so why is it low in lactose?
During the process of making butter, cream is separated from fresh milk and beaten until thickened.4 Extra liquid is drained off and the remaining product is mostly fat (at least 80%).4 If you look on the nutrition facts table you can see that there is just fat and perhaps some salt, but no carbohydrates/sugar or protein. Since we know that lactose is a sugar, we can see from the nutrition facts table that there is no lactose left.
Similarly, if you see “milk fat” in an ingredients list, you can know that it won’t add lactose to the product since it is just fat.
Cheese is also low in lactose, but some varieties contain more lactose than others. For example, 1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella is low in lactose.5 Ricotta has more lactose but is still low at 2 tablespoons.5 It is called the “Low FODMAP Diet” and not the “no FODMAP diet” for a reason. Most individuals are okay with small amounts of lactose.1 Check out the Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App to find more serving sizes or my FODMAP chart.
What about other oils/fats?
Other oils and fats, including canola oil, olive oil and lard are low FODMAP.5 These oils and fats would only be high FODMAP if they have high FODMAP ingredients added to them.5 For example, garlic or onion flavoured oils may have bits of garlic or onion in them. Infused oils are different from flavoured oils. They have the taste of garlic or onion, but have all of the pieces removed and are low FODMAP. Click here for my blog post on how to safely make your own infused oils at home.
What if I feel sick after eating butter?
Perhaps you came to this page because you are trying to figure out why you seem to feel unwell after eating butter. Here are three non-lactose/FODMAP factors to consider but please reach out to a dietitian to get some individualized advice.
The first thing to consider is that fatty foods can be an IBS symptom trigger for some individuals.6 Completing a food and symptom journal, as well as meeting with a dietitian, can help you to figure out if high-fat foods are a trigger for you.
If you find that you are reacting to all milk products regardless of lactose content you may have a milk allergy. A milk allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to the proteins that are found in milk.6 An allergy is very different from an intolerance. Both allergies and intolerances can cause digestive symptoms, but facial swelling, coughing, runny nose and skin irritations (hives, rashes, itchiness, eczema, etc.) are only symptoms of an allergy.6 If you suspect you may have an allergy please talk to your family doctor to get assistance.
Finally, your symptoms may be from another food you ate at the same time as the butter. For example, bread becomes high in the FODMAP fructans in serving sizes larger than one small slice (35 grams).5 The low FODMAP diet can help with systematically identifying which foods trigger IBS symptoms.
Butter is delicious and low FODMAP but it is still best to consume in moderation. While we now know that the type of saturated fat found in butter is not as harmful for our hearts as we once thought, extra virgin olive oil is still a much more heart healthy option.7 Try to cook mostly with olive oil or another healthy oil and use butter sparingly as a treat.
The basic idea behind the low FODMAP diet is simple: cut out the foods that may be triggering symptoms and then test them one by one. In reality, implementing the diet is not quite that simple. There are plenty of foods where there is confusion around the FODMAP content (butter is just one example) and most of our processed foods contain FODMAPs such as onion, garlic, high fructose corn syrup (called glucose-fructose in Canada), etc.
The low FODMAP diet is a medical diet and it is recommended to be implemented with the help of a trained dietitian. I know what it is like to struggle through this diet without any help. Now I am able to support clients on this diet through one to one nutrition counselling and coaching (in person or via Skype/phone). I have two digestion packages for my services to choose from. One is designed to help lead you through the diet from start the finish (Low FODMAP package). The other is designed for those who have already started the diet but now want some assistance from a dietitian (Digestive Health package). Check out my Nutrition Counselling and Coaching page for more details.
Are there other foods you are confused about? Do you have suggestions for my next Dietitian Q&A? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-allergies-intolerances/Managing-Milk-Allergies.aspx
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2014. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/lactose-intolerance
- Sue Shepherd, 2017. http://shepherdworks.com.au/disease-information/low-fodmap-diet/
- Dairy Farmers of Canada, 2017. https://www.dairygoodness.ca/butter/how-butter-is-made
- Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App, 2017. http://www.med.monash.edu.au/cecs/gastro/fodmap/iphone-app.html
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Digestion-Digestive-health/Irritable-Bowel-Syndrome.aspx
- Eat Right Ontario, 2016. https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Facts-on-Fats.aspx