The Best Milks for Your Belly

Even though lots of us were raised with a tall glass of milk alongside our meals, milk is not always a friend to our digestive systems. Many people have an intolerance to lactose, which can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and excessive intestinal gas.

Milks that are friendly for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are low in lactose and don't contain any other ingredients that lead to digestive distress.

Researchers at Monash University have devised a list of FODMAPs, which are various types of carbohydrates that can make symptoms worse in people who have IBS. This list clarifies which milks are easiest for our bellies to digest.​

This article takes a quick look at several dairy and plant-based milks that may be good options for those with digestive issues.


Lactose-Free Milk

smiling woman with a glass of milk

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People with lactose intolerance don't have enough of the enzyme lactase to digest lactose easily. Lactose-free milk is typically cow's milk that has had lactose removed. This allows people with lactose intolerance to enjoy milk without unwanted digestive symptoms. Lactose-free milk is allowed on a low-FODMAP diet.

Some nutrition experts point out that cow's milk contains important nutrients including protein, vitamins, and calcium. Because of its nutritional makeup, milk has been considered essential for bone health.

Other health experts question whether humans should be drinking milk at all. Some research does not support the claim that milk reduces fracture risk.

Drinking milk could also bring about other health risks. Dairy milk has been associated with acne and eczema. A few studies have linked cow's milk to a higher risk of prostate and ovarian cancers.

Lactose-free milk is a good choice if you have IBS and/or lactose intolerance and want to avoid stomach cramping and excessive gas. But knowing about the possible risks of cow's milk can help you to feel better about using non-dairy milk for the sake of your stomach.


Almond Milk

Almond milk in a carafe among almonds

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Almond milk used to be considered a high-FODMAP food. Luckily, almond milk has been recently tested by the researchers at Monash University. They've determined that a 1-cup serving is low in FODMAPs.

Almond milk contains a whole host of vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, vitamin E, and calcium. 

Store-bought almond milk may contain added sweeteners.


Hemp Milk

bowl of hemp seeds

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Hemp milk is made from hemp seeds. Are you thinking, "Isn't hemp marijuana?" It is true that they are both classified within the same family, but they're actually very different plants.

Hemp milk is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals as well as all nine essential amino acids. Hemp milk is a good source of plant-based protein, so it can be beneficial for vegetarians.

The good news: Monash researchers have found that a 1-cup serving of hemp milk is low in FODMAPs.


Coconut Milk

coconut milk with half coconut beside it

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Coconut milk is made from the meat of coconuts. It's a good source of fiber and is filled with lots of vitamins and minerals. Coconut milk is high in saturated fats, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when consumed over as over 10% of daily calories. Even so, its lauric acid levels and medium-chain triglycerides may promote good health.

If you have IBS, portion size for coconut milk is important. According to the Monash University app, a serving size should be limited to 1/2 cup.

Many commercial coconut milks have guar gum added. Guar gum is not a FODMAP but may have a laxative effect. It is unclear if the coconut milk tested at Monash University contained guar gum.

Like almond and hemp milk, coconut milk is easier to make at home than you might think. If you make your own coconut milk, you won't have to worry about added ingredients.



Pitcher and glass of kefir

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Kefir is a fermented milk drink typically made from the milk of cows, sheep, or goats. It can also be cultivated from coconut milk and not-so-IBS-friendly soy and rice milks. As a fermented food, kefir is filled with beneficial probiotic bacteria and yeast.

Kefir is thicker than regular milk but much thinner than yogurt. It has a pleasant, tangy flavor. 

Kefir may do more than help you avoid digestive symptoms. It may actually improve the health of your digestive system. 

Kefir has not yet been tested at Monash University for its FODMAP count. However, the fermentation process results in a low-lactose food. For that reason, it may be well tolerated by those who have IBS.


If you're looking for a milk that won't upset your digestive system, you may want to try lactose-free varieties. They have low levels of the milk sugar that causes problems.

You may also want to take a look at Monash University's FODMAPs list. It's a helpful guide to foods to avoid if you have IBS or other digestive issues. According to this guide, almond, hemp, and coconut milks may work for people with IBS. Just pay attention to your serving size.

You may also want to try kefir. The fermentation process lowers lactose to a better level for those with IBS and lactose intolerance.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.