So you’ve been told to go dairy free, and after doing some research you realize that many of the foods you eat contain dairy! What to do now? Today in our Living with Food Sensitivities series we are talking all about dairy and how to navigate a dairy free eating pattern.
What is Dairy?
First things first- let’s define dairy. This refers to a food or product containing milk and/or milk products from cow, goat, or sheep. These animals produce milk that contains the proteins casein and whey. Whether you reacted to the specific milk or one of the milk proteins on your food sensitivity test, you will need to avoid any product that has dairy, because at the end of the day the milk and the proteins are a package deal- you’re not going to get one without the other.
The amount of casein and whey will vary from its milk source. For example, the casein in cheese made from sheep’s milk will be less than the amount of casein found in cheese derived from cow’s milk. When dealing with food sensitivities we do not know how little or how much may be affecting you, so it is best to remove the culprit completely to achieve the best possible results with your elimination plan.
Reading Food Labels
The foods that you are probably already aware of that you will need to avoid are: milk, buttermilk, butter, cottage, cheese, cream, custard, curds, condensed milk, evaporated milk, half & half, ice-cream, pudding, sour cream, whipped cream, whey or casein protein powder.
The not-so-obvious foods that may contain dairy products will be: baked goods, breads, processed breakfast cereals, energy/protein/snack bars, milk chocolate, instant potatoes, soups/ soup mixes, lunch meats, salad dressings, pancake/ waffle mixes, biscuits, meat substitutes, and some probiotic supplements. These ingredient list for these products will need to be reviewed prior to purchasing.
Luckily nowadays, for (almost) every dairy containing food, there is a dairy free alternative. For example, there are dairy free milks made from almonds, cashews, rice, soy, coconut, flax, and the same goes for cheeses, yogurts, and ice cream. The easiest way to look for these options is to look for a “dairy free” or “vegan” label. If you reacted specifically to casein, be cautious because there are a few alternative options that will contain casein. These products will likely be labeled “non-dairy” so reading ingredient labels is a must.
You may also find it helpful to know that milk is one of the top 8 allergens. Because of this, the federal Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires that all packaged food products sold in the U.S. that contain milk as an ingredient list the word “Milk” on the label. This can make it easier to determine if milk is present in your products. If you come across the warning “processed in a facility that also processes milk,” the product is likely okay for an individual with a sensitivity to dairy. This may not be the case for a person who has a cow’s milk allergy. (Follow your health care provider’s recommendations when it comes to avoiding foods you allergic to. If you are wondering about the difference between allergies and sensitivities, please check out this post.)
One of the most common questions we get when we instruct our patients about dairy free eating is, “How do I get enough calcium with a dairy free eating pattern?” Rest assured that there are plenty of wholesome food sources to choose from like: enriched dairy free milks, sesame seeds, almonds, tofu, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, watercress, bok choy, broccoli rabe), sardines, and salmon. We recommend speaking with a nutrition professional if you have specific concerns regarding your calcium intake.
Lastly, the savvy individual in you may be wondering about A2 milk. You may already know that there are genetic variants of the casein protein. These include A1 and A2. Milk products sourced from A2 cows have been touted for benefits such as better digestion. However, keep in mind that regardless of the potential health benefit of A1 milk over A2 milk, individuals who have a sensitivity (and/or allergy) to casein, should avoid all milk.
Dairy Free Recipes
Now that you know all about living dairy free, let’s talk about all of the foods that you can enjoy. Here are some of our favorite dairy free recipes:
Homemade Almond Milk
Blueberry Yogurt Parfait
Gluten and Dairy Free Mac and Cheese
Roasted Cauliflower & Garlic Soup
Dairy Free Green Dressing
Best Dairy Free Ranch Dressing
Dairy Free Hot Chocolate
Dairy Free Pumpkin Pudding
Avocado Chocolate Mousse
Banana Ice Cream
Bonus: Our Favorite Dairy Free Products
And many more! Our blog contains mostly dairy free recipes, so feel free to check out what else we have to offer. Going dairy free may be challenging at first, but with guidance, planning, and keeping an open mind with alternative products, you will be a pro in no time!
“Milk Allergy – Food Allergy Research & Education.” Milk Allergy – Food Allergy Research & Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2018. https://www.foodallergy.org/common-allergens/milk.
Basilia Theofilou is a contributor on our blog as well as one of the nutrition advisors here at PreviMedica. You can read more about her here.