The use of fermented dairy foods is common in areas of the world where lactase deficiency is prevalent. Recently, we have shown that the digestion of lactose from yogurt is enhanced as compared to that from milk. This enhanced digestion is apparently due to inherent B-galactosidase in yogurt which is active in the gastrointestinal tract after consumption of the yogurt. Furthermore, yogurt is well tolerated by lactase-deficient subjects resulting in little or no gastrointestinal distress. Since other fermented and microbial-containing dairy foods are consumed worldwide and may also contain some 'lactase' activity, we chose to evaluate the digestion of lactose from three of these products: pasteurized yogurt, cultured milk (buttermilk), and sweet acidophilus milk. Breath hydrogen techniques were used to evaluate lactose malabsorption in nine lactase-deficient subjects. The studies demonstrated that yogurt is unique among the products tested in enhancing the digestion of lactose. Furthermore, pasteurization of yogurt eliminated the enhanced digestion of lactose, reduced the inherent lactase activity of the yogurt by 10-fold and reduced cell counts by 100-fold. Interestingly, eight of nine subjects fed cultured milk experienced gastrointestinal distress, whereas all subjects fed pasteurized yogurt were symptom free, even though the amount of malabsorbed lactose was similar.