Non-Dairy vs. Dairy-free: How One Woman Found Out the Difference


Assume dairy-free and non-dairy meals imply the similar factor? In no way. Meals specialists clarify the distinction and why it is best to all the time learn the components record.

Like most individuals, Mackenzie Williams beloved ice cream as a baby. However her response to it wasn’t so typical. “It was my absolute favourite indulgence, however consuming it all the time gave me a abdomen ache,” says Williams, who’s the picture editor at The Wholesome. “It wasn’t till I used to be about 12 years previous that I visited a nutritionist who informed me I used to be almost definitely lactose intolerant. I knew she should be proper.”

Nonetheless, for years, she continued to eat dairy. “I made a decision to take care of the uncomfortable penalties,” she says. Lastly, she initiated a long-overdue break-up with dairy. “As of two years in the past, I made a decision sufficient was sufficient,” says Williams. “It was lastly time to chop out milk and cream, as they damage my abdomen most out of all dairy merchandise.” Then she eliminated much more dairy-containing meals from her food plan.

close up of milk being poured into a cup of coffee

Michelle Arnold / EyeEm/Getty Photographs

Residing in a dairy-filled world

Williams isn’t alone in her have to restrict dairy: Lactose intolerance is frequent. About 65 p.c of individuals have a lowered ability to digest lactose after their toddler years, per the Nationwide Institutes of Well being (NIH) U.S. Nationwide Library of Drugs.

And milk and dairy allergy symptoms are pretty prevalent. About 2 p.c to three p.c of kids underneath age three have a milk allergy—about 20 p.c of whom received’t outgrow this allergy by the time they attain age 16, in response to the American School of Allergy, Bronchial asthma & Immunology.

A nasty “non-dairy” shock

A 12 months in the past, Williams began ingesting non-dairy, almond milk espresso creamer. “I used to be so enthusiastic about this as a result of it tasted so good in my each day cup of espresso,” she says. However her physique didn’t like it as a lot as her style buds did.

A few month into her new creamer behavior, Williams observed tiny purple dots on the tip of her nostril, which over time unfold to her cheeks. She noticed a dermatologist, who prescribed a number of medicines. However her signs by no means absolutely resolved. The truth is, her pores and skin situation worsened, and her physician feared it may very well be rosacea. At the similar time, Williams was experiencing excessive gastrointestinal discomfort. “Every single day, I felt extraordinarily bloated and had ongoing stomach pain,” she notes.

Lastly, she realized one thing in her espresso—her creamer—should be the wrongdoer. “After inspecting the bottle, I spotted it stated ‘non-dairy,’ not ‘dairy-free,’” she says. That’s proper. In the world of complicated meals labels, the two descriptors can imply fully various things, and this may result in different well being points, as Williams skilled firsthand. (Discover out what happens when you stop eating dairy.)

Meals intolerance, allergy, and sensitivity

Similar to non-dairy and dairy-free, these phrases usually are not the similar factor in any respect. And understanding the numerous causes folks might have to keep away from, restrict, or watch out a few meals or ingredient is vital to understanding what to search for on a label.

Meals allergy

“An allergy instantly entails the immune system,” explains Ginger Hultin, RD, a Seattle-based spokesperson for the Academy of Diet and Dietetics. “So if somebody has an allergy to dairy proteins, her immune system is overreacting. This will trigger signs equivalent to itching, swelling, hives, and even a tight-feeling throat.”

A dairy allergy can probably result in actually severe and life-threatening signs, equivalent to issues respiratory or anaphylaxis—a extreme, life-threatening allergic response.

Meals intolerance

A lactose intolerance—by far, the commonest sort—is what plagues Williams. And whereas a meals intolerance is never life-threatening, it will probably nonetheless be very disagreeable. “Lactose intolerance happens when the physique can not digest the sugar in milk,” says Chrissy Carroll, RD, writer of Dairy-Free Cookbook for Beginners and proprietor of the web site Dairy Free for Baby. “When you will have this situation, your physique lacks sufficient of a particular enzyme referred to as lactase, which is used to interrupt down that sugar.” This may occasionally trigger digestive issues like gasoline, bloating, and diarrhea—in addition to different signs equivalent to headache, fatigue, eczema, mouth ulcers, bother urinating, and joint ache.

Meals sensitivity

Lastly, folks can have a sensitivity to sure varieties of dairy. “Some literature refers to some of these reactions as a meals hypersensitivity,” says Carroll. As with allergy symptoms, the response is to the protein in a meals, however it’s not a response by the immune system. “These non-IgE [Immunoglobulin E] reactions embrace situations that current in infancy, like meals protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome or cow’s milk protein intolerance,” provides Carroll.

When you will have a lactose intolerance, you could possibly tolerate sure lower-lactose meals equivalent to butter or laborious cheese. “Allergic reactions, on the different hand, require full elimination of all dairy merchandise and components,” notes Carroll. (Study extra about how to tell the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.)

The trick—after figuring out your sort of meals points—is to discover ways to learn the number of labels you’ll discover on the grocery store cabinets.

almonds splashing in milk

Mintr/Getty Photographs

“Non-dairy” doesn’t imply “no dairy”

The time period “non-dairy” is regulated by the U.S. Meals & Drug Administration (FDA)—however it could not imply what you assume it does.

“Non-dairy merchandise can nonetheless have milk protein like casein and whey,” says Hultin. “Each of those could cause allergic reactions.”

Nonetheless, information is energy—and realizing the best way to examine label claims is energy, too. If a meals incorporates a caseinate (dairy-based) ingredient, the FDA requires for its supply to be listed in parentheses in the product’s ingredient record. So if a product have been to record sodium caseinate on its ingredient record, for instance, that ingredient may be adopted by “a milk spinoff” in parentheses. You may additionally see a “incorporates milk” assertion on an ingredient label.

What non-dairy labeled meals can include

As Williams realized, non-dairy merchandise can include milk proteins. “Non-dairy meals are regarding as a result of traditionally many have contained caseinate components,” says Carroll. “At all times doublecheck labels on non-dairy merchandise like creamers.” And the way about lactose-free merchandise? These are freed from the sugar in milk, however they could nonetheless include the milk protein. “These merchandise are protected for folks with lactose intolerance however unsafe for folks with dairy allergy symptoms,” says Carroll.

Moreover, the non-dairy label shouldn’t be meant to be used by individuals who have a milk or dairy allergy. As a substitute, it’s meant for individuals who might devour a small quantity of dairy or lactose. (Nonetheless, many products labeled “non-dairy” are in fact dairy-free, notes the group GoDairyFree.)

The reality about dairy-free labels

Right here’s some irritating information for individuals who have to keep away from dairy: The FDA doesn’t regulate the time period “dairy-free,” so you possibly can’t make certain of what you’re shopping for if you happen to see a product with this descriptor. Sadly, you don’t have any assurance {that a} dairy-free merchandise doesn’t include any milk proteins, notes the College of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Carroll notes that “whereas there isn’t any regulatory definition for the time period dairy-free on a bundle, the FDA warns towards false or deceptive labels. As such, meals labeled dairy-free needs to be freed from all dairy merchandise. However a scan of the components is all the time suggested.”

If the ingredient record is complicated or unclear, you possibly can all the time do a extra thorough test. “If a meals label says the merchandise is manufactured in a facility that produces dairy, you may need to test with the producer on its procedures earlier than buying the merchandise,” advises Tracee Yablon Brenner, RDN, in Nyack, New York. (See foods you think are dairy-free but aren’t.)

dairy free almond milk

Getty Photographs (2),

Ready for a dairy-free label you possibly can belief

The GoDairyFree group reached out to the FDA in 2019 to ask for a “dairy-free” label that buyers can depend on. The FDA responded: “Now we have interpreted the time period ‘dairy-free’ as which means the full absence of all dairy components together with lactose, and so on.” So it seems that the FDA’s intent is for dairy-free meals to actually be freed from dairy and lactose-containing components—however the lack of regulation means you’ll nonetheless need to test.

At all times learn the components record

Irrespective of whether or not you’re shopping for a dairy-free or non-dairy meals, all the time learn the components record. “It is extremely essential to learn labels, as lactose could also be in lots of processed meals,” says Brenner. Potential meals sources embrace mixes like pancake combine, breakfast cereals, cereal bars, sweet, creamer, frozen greens, noodle mixes, instantaneous soup, rice potatoes, cheese-flavored crackers, and deli meat.

“There are apparent phrases to search for like butter, buttermilk, cheese, cottage cheese, cream, curds, and ghee,” says Hultin. Then, there are much less apparent ones like diacetyl, lactoferrin, lactulose, and rennet.”

What if you happen to’re aiming to keep away from simply the majority of lactose? Look out for milk, cream, and mushy cheeses. “These are the meals highest in lactose,” says Kelly Jones, RD, a sports activities dietitian in Philadelphia. (Get flavorful dairy swap ideas.)

And if you happen to take prescription drugs, test the components with the pharmacist. “About 20 p.c include lactose,” says Yablon Brenner. “These embrace contraception drugs and drugs for gasoline and abdomen acid.”

Transferring on from dairy

Williams has now given up cheese and butter—and retailers very fastidiously for meals. “I’ve observed large enhancements with my pores and skin,” she says. “A few week after chopping out the espresso creamer, my pores and skin was clear. I can’t imagine I used to be placing that espresso creamer into my physique for an entire 12 months with out even realizing what it was doing to me.” (Get delicious vegan recipes for any time of day.)