Hidden Dairy: Foods, Medication, and Beyond


There are the obvious dairy foods such as cow’s milk (chocolate, whole, skim, malted, evaporated, etc.), buttermilk, half and half, cream, butter, cheese, ice cream, milk shakes, and yogurt. However, did you know that the majority of processed foods also contain dairy? Some are fairly easy to spot, such as that good old macaroni and cheese or creamy ranch salad dressing. But milk proteins and lactose, the culprits of milk allergies and lactose intolerance respectively, often lurk in some of the strangest places. Below we have a partial list of manufactured foods where dairy ingredients may be hiding, check out it out, we guarantee a few will surprise you!

Understanding Food Labels - When Non-Dairy isn't really Dairy-Free.

If you are in love with some of these foods, don’t despair. We have Dairy Ingredient Lists for your own investigation, and downloadable Product Lists, which include dairy free foods in most of these categories.

Artificial Sweeteners – Darn, I guess we will have to suffer with real sugar! Some artificial sweeteners are derived from dairy foods.

Baby Formula – Read the labels carefully on this one. Babies can have much more severe allergic reactions to milk than adults.

Bakery Goods – This is a hard one to verify, although many fresh bakery goods do come labeled with ingredients.

Baking Mixes (cakes, biscuits, pancakes, etc.) – Read up, there are some okay brands.

Bath Products (shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc.) – Okay, so these are not food items, but those who tend to have skin reactions to milk products (i.e. eczema) may want to avoid topical application.

Bread – Whey is a common preservative in breads. Also, other milk proteins and possibly cheese or butter may be included, depending on the type and brand.

Breath Mints – Not all, but a few do contain casein related ingredients.

Candy – Much of the candy world (of the non-chocolate variety) is free game from a dairy free point of view, not from a health perspective of course, but there are a few to watch out for.

Canned Tuna Fish – Some contain hydrolized caseinate, check out our Product List for the good ones.

Caramel – This is a highly suspicious food and ingredient. It may either be made from sugar and water or milk.

Cereal – Dry and instant cereals vary significantly in ingredients. Even the same type of cereal may contain milk ingredients in the brand name, but not in the generic version.

Chewing Gum – Okay, now this is a weird one. Some brands do actually contain milk protein ingredients.

Chicken Broth – Several brands use milk proteins or solids.

Chocolate – Milk chocolate is a given, but some semi-sweet and dark chocolate brands have milk ingredients as well. Luckily the better tasting ones don’t, check our Product List for some excellent dairy free chocolates.

Chocolate Drinks – Even the non-milk varieties frequently have some dairy to beef them up.

Coffee Whiteners / Creamers – Well, something has to make them white and creamy.

Cookies & Crackers – Often the most processed foods of them all.

Cream Liqueurs – These may possess solid milk ingredients or caseinates.

Custard / Pudding – Most contain milk products, although a few are dairy free.

Drugs / Medications – Lactose is used as the base for more than 20 percent of prescription drugs and about 6 percent of over-the-counter medicines and vitamins.

Eggnog – Try some soy-nog, or make an at home version with other “milk” alternatives.

Fat Replacers – Some are derived from milk, such as Simplesse® & Dairy-Lo®.

Fondues – Isn’t this the word the Swiss use for cheese?

Fried Foods – The breading on fried foods can contain many mysterious substances. Also, cheese is commonly added for flavor and texture.

Ghee – This is technically pure butter fat, no proteins or sugars, but some argue that trace amounts may still linger.

Goat’s Milk – Although slightly different, goat’s milk has proteins similar in structure to cow’s milk proteins, and thus is often an allergen for those with cow’s milk allergy. Also, goat’s milk contains a significant amount of lactose, just a touch less than cow’s milk, and thus not suitable for those with lactose intolerance.

Granola & Nutrition Bars – Just like cookies, various milk additives could be in there.

Gravies – Some utilize milk ingredients for flavor and texture.

Hot Cocoa Mix – The best varieties are pure cocoa and sugar, but some have milk ingredients added for a creamier drink.

Hot Dogs – What isn’t in hot dogs? (Valuable note from a viewer: “… kosher hot dogs, i.e. Hebrew National, which don’t contain milk ingredients”)

Imitation Maple and Other Syrups – Go for the real stuff, it tastes much better!

Instant Potatoes – Particularly the Au Gratin varieties.

Kosher Parve Desserts – Most parve foods are okay, but those with highly sensitive milk allergies may have a problem with the desserts.

Lactose Free Milks – These will still be loaded with milk proteins.

Lunch Meats & Sausages – Some “meat allergies” are actually dairy allergies in disguise. Lactose and caseinates are common in these foods, as well as ingredient cross-contamination.

Margarine – Most are not dairy free, and many are rich in hydrogenated oils.

Meal Replacement / Protein Powders & Beverages – Those instant breakfast mixes and muscle beverages may contain powdered milk, or other milk derived ingredients.

Peanut Butter – A very few may contain milk solids.

Potato Chips – Particularly risky among the flavored varieties, although several brands and flavors are dairy free.

Salad Dressings – Most natural brands have good dairy free flavors.

Sherbet – This is different from Sorbet (usually dairy free), and usually contains milk/cream.

Soup – Obviously the creamy varieties, but even some of the tomato and chicken based soups are not dairy free

Soy “Meat” Products – Those veggie hot dogs, sausages, and patties are also guilty of harboring milk proteins. These products are typically safe for the lactose intolerant, but allergy suffers should read the labels carefully.

Soy Cheeses – Yep, the very products combating the milk industry often contain milk proteins for a more cheese-like consistency. If you are absolutely certain that you do not have a milk allergy, then the soy cheeses should be okay. Otherwise, be sure to check the ingredients.

Spice Mixes – Several contain whey powder.

Whipped Toppings – You know those packages in the dessert section that say “non-dairy topping”. Let’s just say that term is used rather loosely. These products contain casein and are not okay for the milk allergic.


About Author

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.