A: Alisa – This question actually came from two fellow food blogger within two days of one another. Averie received a comment/email from a blogger insisting that brands like LUNA were using dairy-free whey (for protein), while Ricki was speaking with a gentleman at a party who stated that you could get dairy-free / vegan whey. Intrigued, both ladies wanted to know if this was in fact true.
Unfortunately, there is no such product. Whey, otherwise referred to as milk plasma, is by definition “the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.” It is a byproduct from cheese manufacturing and from the production of casein. Thus whey is specifically a part of mammal milk. It is not found in things like soybeans (soymilk), coconuts (coconut milk) or other plant foods.
Though you will see whey on the ingredient labels of many processed foods (it is frequently added for flavor and/or texture), whey has gained increasing popularity as a protein powder. The confusion arises in the fact that you can find whey protein powders that are labeled as “lactose-free” (such as American Whey Protein Powder) and/or “casein-free” or "no casein" (such as Jay Robb Whey Protein Powder), and many brands are promoted as low in lactose. Nonetheless, the whey itself is still derived from milk, usually from cow’s milk, but sometimes from other mammals such as goats. Those who are specifically intolerant of lactose or sensitive to casein may be able to tolerate a pure whey powder that is labeled as lactose-free or casein-free respectively, but potential cross-contamination should be considered.
Keep in mind also that whey is the second most allergenic milk protein next to casein, and some people even find they are allergic / sensitive to whey but not casein. If a milk sensitivity or allergen is a concern, make sure that whey is safe before taste-testing.
As for the LUNA bar question, the new LUNA Protein bars do contain whey, and it specifically states in their FAQ’s that the whey is derived from dairy (as all whey is – see above). I was disappointed myself to see a LUNA product arrive that didn’t fit with my dairy-free diet, but there are numerous other dairy-free bars available to fill the void. See the No Dairy Product Lists for hundreds of non-dairy energy and snack bar options.
For more dairy-free Q&A topics, see our Ask Alisa Page.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.