Many years ago, we received a question from a reader named Melinda asking if eggs are dairy.
My son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. Can he eat eggs on a dairy-free diet or does he also needs to avoid eggs? Are eggs dairy?
Some of you might be tempted to mock this question, but it’s one of the most frequently asked questions that we receive. This topic is also a source of confusion and frustration for many people. Fortunately, I have good news: eggs are not dairy, and I can tell you why …
Photo by Hannah Tasker.
Are Eggs Dairy? No! They’re Dairy-Free, and Here’s Why
I’m going to cover this topic using more specific questions that I’ve received over the years from (many) readers. First, let’s start with a firm definition of dairy.
What is Dairy?
🐄 Dairy products are foods or beverages produced from the milk of mammals.
Says who? Britannica Encylopedia, Merriam-Webster, Science Direct, and of course Wikipedia, to name a few. Even the USDA has categorized eggs with meat and protein products, not dairy, for the past 100 years. And the National Dairy Council was established back in 1915 with a mission of educating the public on “milk and milk products,” not eggs.
Eggs, on the contrary, are laid by a female bird, reptile, fish, or invertebrate. (There are two Australian mammals that lay eggs, but they’re the odd ones out, and they also produce milk for their young very differently, so lets not get deep on that topic.)
In our food supply, eggs usually refers to bird eggs, and most commonly to chicken eggs specifically. Eggs are not only a completely different type of food from milk, they’re also from another class of animals entirely.
Mammals produce milk to feed their young, birds lay eggs to create their young. As you can see, there aren’t a lot of biological similarities beyond the facts that both are from animals and both provide key nutrients. In fact, eggs are more akin to meat than dairy products.
How Can I Explain to Others that Eggs Are Not Dairy?
If you’re dealing with someone online, you can point them to this post. In most cases, they will either read it and be more educated, or shut up just because they don’t want to have to read something. We’ll hope for the former, but at least the latter might keep them from spreading misinformation.
If dealing with people in person, I keep it as short and simple as possible. Here’s what I usually say.
Some people simply say ‘milk is from cows, and eggs are from chickens,’ which does help people to see how different the two are. But it doesn’t relate either of them to dairy. By giving them the visual image of a dairy farm vs a poultry farm, and pulling the word dairy in, I find that most people get it. But please do comment below if you have an effective (and polite!) way of getting the dairy vs eggs message across.
Why Do Some Dairy-Free Products and Recipes Contain Eggs?
This is another frequently asked question, so I want to address it specifically. Eggs are not dairy. Dairy-free products and recipes can contain eggs. So can milk-free products and recipes. People who follow a dairy-free diet specifically, with no other dietary restrictions, can and often do eat eggs.
Vegan products and recipes should be made without dairy and eggs because vegans do not consume any animal products. Milk and eggs are both animal products, but that is where most of the similarities end. Only milk products are classified as dairy. To be clear, vegan products should be dairy-free*, but dairy-free products are not necessarily vegan.
*If a product or recipe is labeled as “vegan” but it contains dairy, contact the owner of the product or recipe to report the error. I have seen it happen with a food product, but only once in fifteen years. I have seen it happen many times with recipes. Remember, it is always up to the consumer to decide what is safe for their needs.
If I Have a Dairy Allergy, Can I Eat Eggs?
Even doctors sometimes incorrectly include eggs with dairy in conversation. Make sure you discuss your food allergy test results with your physician and verify the specific foods you are allergic to.
If they tested for milk allergy, they most likely tested for egg allergy. So you should have the results for both. If you are allergic to milk, but not eggs, then the doctor will most likely give you the green light for eggs. But only you and your doctor can decide what is safe and healthy for your needs.
If your doctor has you do an elimination diet test for food allergies, make sure milk and eggs are tested separately. Most people who are allergic to milk can eat eggs, but it is very possible to be allergic to both milk and eggs. The only way to know is to test both of them.
If I’m Lactose Intolerant, Can I Eat Eggs?
I can’t advise you medically, but there is no lactose in eggs. Lactose is the sugar in mammal milk.
Why Do People Confuse Eggs with Dairy?
Trust me – if you live dairy-free, you will deal with this issue on many occasions. Though they aren’t the same, dairy and egg products have been intertwined quite a bit in food production and retail. Here are some key reasons why people might still confuse eggs with dairy.
- In the past, many dairy farms also produced eggs. It isn’t as common anymore, but many people used to buy eggs from the local dairy.
- Eggs are usually sold in or near the dairy case. Milk products and eggs have long been considered staples in our society, and they are both refrigerated in the United States. So grocers typically display them in the same refrigerated case, near or in the back of the store, so customers have to go through the store to get to them. Location, location, location!
- Photos of “dairy products” often include milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. In fact, when I was looking for a dairy products photo the other day, I had trouble finding one that didn’t contain eggs! Consequently, many “dairy” stories that people might read include photos with eggs in them.
I’ve read many people blame the food pyramid, but the official food pyramids, from 1992 to 2010, classify eggs with meat, not milk. The more recent MyPlate guides go a step further by showing “Dairy” separate from “Protein.” Eggs are named in the “Protein” category. The reality is, eggs have never been officially categorized as dairy. It’s just a frustrating myth that’s perpetuated in society due to basic observation.
This Post is for Informational Purposes Only
I originally posted this article back in 2010, but have given it a big update with more references, straight-forward answers, and tips. It is a quick guide based on valid facts from confirmed resources and experiences. But only you can decide what products and recipes are safe for your dietary needs. This information should not be construed as medical advice. Speak with a physician before undergoing any change in diet.