Whether you’re just beginning a dairy free life, or you’ve been living without milk for a long time, hidden sources of dairy are an issue. It’s going to be an ongoing battle, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to read your nutrition labels.
If you’re ever unsure, I recommend contacting the company directly or steering clear of the product all together, especially if you have a food allergy. It’s not worth the risk.
1 – Chewing gum
Apparently not all gum is dairy free. Who would have though? Some brands use an additive called Recaldent, which is derived from milk.
2 – Breadcrumbs & croutons
Store bought breadcrumbs and croutons all tend to have milk listed in their ingredients. I tend to buy Panko and cornflake crumbs for this reason, but I still always double check the ingredients.
I’ve had to put some back on the shelf after seeing milk on the list.
3 – Sherbert
Sherbet is not sorbet. It’s made with milk and is really just fruity ice cream in disguise. Don’t make the mistake of buying this instead of sorbet.
4 – Processed meats (deli meat, hot dogs, etc).
Many brands use whey or some sort of milk as a cheap filler for their products, and a lot of premium sausages have cheese included.
5 – Bread
It’s not uncommon for bread dough to be fortified with milk or butter, especially when it comes to dinner rolls and sweeter breads like brioche. It’s a common practice in the baking world, but there are still plenty of breads out there that are dairy free.
6 – Canned fish
This is something that I did not know about it. I was actually really bummed to learn that something that should have a single ingredient has unnecessary fillers.
I have yet to come across a brand with milk listed while shopping, but I wanted to include it for reference.
7 – Chips (and other snack foods)
A lot of these use whey to make their products creamy or to enhance their savory flavor. Personally, I think it’s a total load of crap, – like why do salt & vinegar chips need that? – but I don’t manufacture food products, so what do I know.
8 – Frozen chicken nuggets & fish sticks
I think it’s something in the batter, but I find these products to be hit or miss for me. Luckily, I can normally find something that is free from dairy and safe for our whole family to eat.
9 – Salad dressings
10 – Crackers
Aside from crackers that are cheesy, there are still quite a few brands that include milk in their cracker ingredients. Always check the labels.
11 – Margarine
Even though it’s marketed as an alternative to butter, not all margarine is dairy free. Many use whey to make their product taste more like butter. (Check out our favorite dairy free butter substitutes).
12 – Alcohol
This one is a big problem because there are no laws requiring alcohol products to label their ingredients. And, unfortunately, milk and milk derivatives are commonly used in the beer and wine making processes.
Even some cocktails, like the Polynesian Pearl Diver tiki cocktail, contain milk.
We regularly use barnivore.com to see if products are vegan-friendly (which means their dairy free). Other than that, you should contact the manufacturer if you need more information.
13 – Granola & cereal bars
Sometimes they’re made with butter and sometimes manufacturers add whey powder for added flavor. Either way, it’s something to watch out for.
There are tons of vegan and dairy free options on the market though, so just look around until you find one you like.
14 – Spice blends
Most spice blends will be safe, especially if it’s something like cajun seasoning or pumpkin pie spice, but things like taco seasoning and ranch mix often have added whey or milk powder, so always double check.
This homemade ranch dip uses a dairy free packet of ranch seasoning. This time, the generic was dairy free and the name brand wasn’t.
15 – Bouillon & gravy mixes
I’ve found that beef bouillon tends to contain milk more often, but you would be surprised how many brands use whey as a filler in their products.
I always reach for loose bouillon rather than cubes, and I have found a few gravy mixes that don’t have milk. But, it varies by store.
16 – Instant potatoes
This one is a little more obvious, but I wanted to include it for anyone who uses instant potatoes. There usually dried milk and butter flavoring in these products, so it’s best to make your own dairy free mashed potatoes.
17 – Medications
It’s hard to believe that pharmaceutical companies would use a top 8 allergen in medication, but it’s more common than you might think.
If you’re having mystery symptoms, try checking your labels for ingredients like whey or lactose. I also recommend letting your pharmacists know to avoid any future problem.
18 – Lactose free products
Even though they’re labeled lactose free, they’re really just dairy products with the lactase enzyme added.
If you’re lactose intolerant, great, but if you have a milk allergy or casein intolerance, you should avoid these.
Published: June 8, 2019. Updated: January 13, 2023.
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