Dairy Allergy: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Dairy Allergy: What to Eat and What to Avoid

The dairy allergy is the most common allergy in children with upwards of 2% of all children needing to avoid dairy and milk. Among adults, dairy allergies are less common, it is more likely an intolerance. However! Dairy allergies among adults can occur, even suddenly and later in life.

How do you know the difference between allergies and intolerance? And if you or your child is allergic to dairy, what should you avoid to keep safe?

Milk Allergy vs Dairy Allergy vs Lactose Intolerance

Milk and Dairy allergies can often be confused with lactose intolerances as they can seem similar at first, though they cause very different reactions in the body. Let’s break down these differences.

Milk Allergies occur when the body is allergic to the proteins in milk, typically cow’s milk. When the milk protein is eaten, or applied topically to the skin, it can trigger a whole host of reactions including rashes, asthma attacks, stomach aches and pains, and even loss of consciousness. Reactions to milk can be severe and cause anaphylaxis. 

Lactose Intolerance is when the body does not produce an enzyme that breaks down the lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products. Since they do not have this enzyme, they experience varying degrees of gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea, gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea. Having a lactose intolerance, while not fun, is not life threatening. 

Being Your Own Allergy Advocate

And if you are certain something is wrong, don’t give up! My primary care physician was unconvinced I had developed a new allergy in my late 20s. He was ready to prescribe an anti-acid medication, assuming I was eating too much fast food. However, I was adamant in my knowing that something was wrong and went to a new allergy specialist. I had my blood checked and my IgE levels were off the charts! We did an elimination diet and saw immediate improvements in my health. After 6 weeks of the elimination diet, I reintroduced certain foods and saw immediate and severe reactions to new foods. Be your own advocate at the doctor’s office, and make sure you take someone with you to help navigate if you need.

How to Read a Food Label with a Dairy Allergy

Learning how to read food labels is one of the most important things you can do after developing a dairy allergy. Always make sure that you read the entire label and not just quickly scan for milk as ingredients can hide under different names.

Sometimes companies will place advisory statements on their label to say things such as, “May Contain” or “Produced in the same facility as…”. These are not required by law but are placed there at the discretion of the company. Talk with your doctor about if you should avoid these food labels as well.

In general, I tend to avoid any and all food products that list my own allergies on these advisory statements. You never know if one day cleaning the machines, an allergen was totally washed away or not. I err on the side of caution with my health and suggest you do the same.

Milk being poured into a glass

What to Avoid with a Dairy Allergy

When looking at a food label, make sure that the ingredient list does not contain any of the following items. The list of foods to avoid with a dairy allergy are long, and while I’ve done my best to include them all here, I am sure there are more being made and discovered each day. If you know of a dairy/milk allergy name that I’ve missed, write it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to add it to the list!

  • Milk
    • Including: acidophilus milk, butter milk, buttermilk blend, buttermilk solids, cultured milk, condensed milk, dried milk, dried milk solids, evaporated milk, fat-free milk, fully cream milk powder, goat’s milk, Lactaid milk, lactose milk, low fat milk, malted milk, milk derivative, milk powder, milk protein, milk solids, milk solid pastes, nonfat dry milk, nonfat milk solids, pasteurized milk, powdered milk, sheep’s milk, skim milk, skim milk powder, sour milk, sour milk solids, sweet create buttermilk powder, sweetened condensed milk, sweetened condensed skim milk, whole milk, 1% milk, 2% milk
  • Butter
    • Including: artificial butter, artificial butter flavor, butter, butter extract, butter fat, butter flavored oil, butter solids, dairy butter, natural butter, natural butter flavor, whipped butter
  • Caramel
  • Casein & Caseinates
    • Including: ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed casein, iron caseinate, magnesium caseinate, potassium caseinate, sodium caseinate, zinc caseinate
  • Cheese (all kinds)
  • Cream
  • Curds
  • Custard
  • Dairy product solids
  • Galactose
  • Ghee
  • Half & Half
  • Hydrolysates
    • Including: casein hydrolysate, milk protein hydrolysate, protein hydrolysate, whey hydrolysate, whey protein hydrolysate, hydrolysate ice cream
  • Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate
  • Lactate solids
  • Lactic yeast
  • Lactitol monohydrate
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactose
  • Lactulose
  • Milk Fat
  • Nisin preparation
  • Nougat
  • Pudding
  • Quark
  • Recaldent
  • Rennet, rennet casein
  • Simplesse
  • Sour cream
  • Whipping cream
  • Whey
    • Including: acid whey, cured whey, delactosed whey, demineralized whey, hydrolyzed whey, powdered whey, reduced mineral whey, sweet dairy whey, whey, whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey powder, whey solids
  • Yogurt (regular or frozen)

Milk and Dairy are sometimes found in the following products:

  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Baby Formulas
  • Bread
  • Candy
  • Canned Tuna
  • Chewing Gum
  • Cereals
  • Granola bars
  • Gravy packs
  • Instant Potatoes
  • Hot dogs
  • Lunch meats
  • Natural Flavoring
  • Flavoring
  • Caramel Flavoring
  • High protein powder
  • Lactic acid
  • Non-dairy creamer
  • Rice and Soy cheese

What You Can Eat with a Dairy Allergy

After developing a new allergy, how you eat both at home and out and about is very likely going to change. Cooking at home is going to be the safest option for you and your family as you can ensure no allergens come into contact with the food and no cross contamination can occur. Make sure your diet is filled with simple whole foods, such as meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.

Living with allergies has gotten so much better in the past few years thanks to the requirements of labeling all food in grocery stores, as well as the sheer quantity of allergy free alternatives available in most stores.

An easy trick to shopping for dairy free items is to look for things labeled “vegan”. These products will not contain any animal products, including dairy and all its hidden names. Just make sure that you read the label so you don’t eat something that contains another allergen of yours if you have more than one allergy!

For a list of some of my favorite dairy alternatives, and when each non-dairy milk will work best in what recipes, make sure you grab a download of my free Food Swap Guide! It’s filled with over 45 swaps and substitutions so you can keep making your favorite recipes with your allergies.

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Eating Out with Dairy Allergies

Perhaps the biggest change to your life with a dairy allergy will come from the options available to you when dining out. No longer can you just go grab a quick bite to eat, nor will you be able to freely eat at a friend’s house.

The best way to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting sick at restaurants is to research ahead of time. Most restaurants post their menus online, which gives me a chance to figure out if this restaurant would be a safe option. Even if the menu says “dairy free” or “vegan” you still should research, because it is really difficult to ensure that a chef or kitchen will wipe off any surfaces, open new bags of ingredients, or even use a different set of gloves when preparing food.

To that effect, some places I have found to be generally safe include:

  • Chick-fil-A
  • Burger King
  • Chipotle
  • KFC
  • Dominos Pizza
  • Popeye’s
  • Arby’s
  • Del Taco
  • El Pollo Loco
  • Panera Bread
  • Taco Bell
  • Subway

When dining at a friend’s house, I will always ask if I can bring an option that is wheat allergy safe. Follow this link for an article that shares ideas for talking with your family and friends about your allergies.

Other Hidden Sources of Dairy Not In Food

Beyond food, there are places that milk and dairy can hide, making you sick even though you don’t eat milk anymore! While you won’t be eating these things, you should be aware that a reaction can occur from touching or smelling dairy. These hidden dairy places include:

  • Medications (make sure you talk to your doctor before stopping medications and ask about switching to a different medication!)
  • Toothpaste
  • Lotions
  • Make-up

Make sure you check these places and use the list above to make sure that you and your family are safe from these hidden dairy sources!

Clean up your skincare routine, too!
Find out about my favorite products to clean my face that are allergy friendly!
(It’s basically a spa for your face.)


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