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Dairy-Free Diet

What's a Dairy-Free Diet?

A dairy-free diet is one that has no animal milk in it, or any products made from milk.

Who Would Need a Dairy-Free Diet?

People may go on a dairy-free diet because they:

  • have a milk allergy or intolerance
  • are on an elimination diet (they stop eating some types of food for a set amount of time, then re-add to their diet to see if it causes symptoms)
  • follow a special diet (such as a vegan diet, which has no animal products in it)

How Can I Help My Child Avoid Dairy?

If your child is on a dairy-free diet, it is important to read food labels and teach your child to do so. Foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must list “milk” or say “contains milk” on the label if the food has milk in it. If you see “may contain milk” or “produced in a facility that also uses milk” on the label, it means that it’s possible (but not likely) that the food had contact with a milk product during processing. It is safest to avoid these products too.

Which Foods Contain Dairy?

All cow’s milk products contain dairy, including:

  • milk (including dry/powdered milk)
  • buttermilk
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • cream/half and half
  • ice cream
  • butter and ghee
  • pudding and custard

Other ingredients that can contain milk include:

  • casein, whey, and curds
  • lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoglobulin, lactoferrin
  • recaldent (found in some toothpastes)
  • rennet
  • tagatose (a type of artificial sweetener)

Read every food label because sometimes an unexpected food might contain milk, such as:

  • margarine
  • sherbet
  • baked products (such as breads, brownies, cookies, cakes, and muffins)
  • processed meat (such as deli meat and hot dogs)
  • cereals

Visit FARE’s website for more about foods to avoid.

What Can I Substitute for Dairy?

Many dairy substitutes are available. Some have added vitamins and minerals that can help your child get the nutrition they need (especially calcium, vitamin D, protein, and vitamin B12). Substitutes include:

  • dairy-free/vegan butter, cheese, and ice cream
  • dairy-free milk and yogurt alternatives (such as those made with soy, rice, coconut, oat, or almond milk)

Don’t substitute goat's milk or sheep’s milk products for dairy without talking to your doctor first. These are similar to cow’s milk products, so your child might need to avoid them.

What Else Should I Know?

When eating away from home, always ask if there’s any dairy in the items your child orders. If the cashier/server doesn’t know, ask for an ingredient list. If no ingredient list or nutrition label is available, have your child choose something else.

Kids with food allergies should always have two epinephrine auto-injectors with them that haven’t expired. Your doctor may recommend that your child also carry an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine such as Benadryl.

Talking with a dietitian or your doctor can help you make sure your child gets the vitamins and nutrients they need while on a dairy-free diet.

Reviewed by: J. Fernando del Rosario, MD, Patrice Kruszewski, DO
Date Reviewed: Mar 1, 2023

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