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  • Writer's pictureQuincy Barker

Hidden Dairy - Reading Ingredient Labels

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

You might be putting a lot of effort into cutting dairy out of your diet, but still not getting the results you are hoping for. This might be due to you consuming dairy without even realizing it. There is “hidden” dairy that appears in food you would least expect, possibly preventing you from feeling your best.

My goal with the list below is not to cause stress or make you feel more limited with food options, but to inform and educate in hopes you get where you want to get with your health faster.


Reading food ingredient labels is key!

When reading product labels, you may not see the word milk anywhere, but below are some common dairy by-products to watch for:

1. Casein

A protein found in milk and other dairy products.

2. Whey

The liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.

3. Lactose

A sugar found in milk.


Below is a list of food items that can often contain dairy. Some items obviously have dairy in them, such as any soup with the word “creamy” in it or those buttery croissants you can smell through the window, but some are less obvious and that is what I want to bring to your attention.

1. Protein Powder

Typically, protein powders are derived of whey and casein which is a no-go. A few vegan protein powders that I enjoy post-workout are Vega Sport and Beyond Yourself. The same goes with many protein bars.

2. Hot Dogs & Sausages

Dairy is often added to use as a binding agent and ultimately allows the manufacturer to use less meat overall. This isn’t true for all hot dogs and sausages, so be sure to read the label to be safe.

3. Hamburger Buns

Many hamburger buns contain butter. Watch out for brioche buns as they contain butter and liquid ingredients such as milk and cream.

4. Naan Bread

Naan bread generally contains milk and sometimes yogourt.

5. Margarine

I always thought of margarine to be a butter alternative, which it is, but it is not always a dairy-free alternative. Dairy in the form of whey or lactose can often be found in margarine.

6. Beer

Many craft beers add lactose (milk sugar) to the brewing process. Some beer companies label ingredients on the can and others do not. For those beers that don’t label ingredients, be sure to contact the brewery for more information.

7. Fast Food

Although many fast-food chains are now offering vegan options and catering to more dietary restrictions, there can be many fillers and by-products used in some of their regular menu items. Most fast-food restaurants now have ingredients listed on their website. It can be worth taking a few minutes to go through some menu items you have enjoyed in the past to confirm they are safe for you to continue to consume.

8. Gelato

Gelato is traditionally made with milk so be sure to ask which flavours available are dairy-free.

9. Chips, Crackers & Rice Cakes

Obviously, certain flavours of chips contain dairy like sour cream or cheddar. However, dairy can also be lurking in less obvious flavours such as BBQ, ketchup or dill pickle.

10. Canned or Boxed Soup

Depending on the flavour of soup, some contain dairy and some do not. I was surprised recently when I went to make boxed tomato soup. By habit, I read the label and was disappointed to see that skim milk was one of the top ingredients. Thankfully, there are a ton of dairy-free boxed soups out there. Just be sure to read the label for ingredients.

11. Salad Dressing

Many salad dressings contain dairy in them which is no surprise. Thankfully, there are a ton of dairy-free salad dressing lines out there, such as Daiya, Primal Kitchen, Organic Ville or simply make your own!


What do I want you to take away from this? READ LABELS!

Never assume it is dairy-free because I have made that mistake far too many times.

Many food items say “may contain dairy” but contain no dairy ingredients. This is often due to the product being made in the same facility as dairy items and therefore, could be cross-contamination. As I am not anaphylactic, I feel comfortable eating products that specify this.

Unless the label says “vegan”, you want to read the ingredient label because you don’t want all the hard work you have been putting in to go to waste just because there was dairy in something you assumed could not possibly have dairy. Take those extra 15 seconds – your health is worth it.


Am I missing any key items?

Have you been shocked be a particular product containing dairy?

Comment below and let me know! I would love to continue adding to this list.


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