Whether you’re giving up dairy for medical reasons or you want to adopt a vegan or plant-based diet, it is often one of the hardest things to say goodbye to. And not only for reasons of simply loving the taste.
It can be really difficult to know which foods secretly contain dairy. Because it’s not just the word ‘milk’ we need to look out for. There are plenty of milk derivatives with sneaky names, lurking in some foods.
But we’ve done some digging to help you identify which foods commonly include dairy so you can avoid them during your next shop.
First off, the easy stuff. Milk, cheese, chocolate, yoghurt. There are dairy-free alternatives to them all. (Whether you like them or not is down to you!)
The easiest way to ensure you don’t accidentally buy dairy products is to stick to dairy-free brands. Brands such as The Coconut Collective or Rebel Kitchen have great dairy-free products. You can buy them absolutely safe in the knowledge that nothing cow, sheep or goat-related has been sneaked in.
The downside is that these products are usually more expensive. Plus, you’re limited to whatever range your supermarket has in stock. Although most of the big ones have extensive ranges now.
Giving up Dairy the DIY Way
Another option is to make your own dairy-free alternatives. For example, you could try these recipes for dairy-free cheeses. The upside of making your own dairy-free products is that you could save on costs if you made enough. And knowing exactly what has gone into your food is another huge benefit.
The downside is that this is probably only viable for those who are a deft hand in the kitchen and have plenty of spare time.
Going Rogue and Learning Labels
Branded dairy-free products are expensive and you can’t face the prospect of making your own. What’s the alternative, I hear you cry? One answer is shopping around for products free from dairy “by accident”.
The trick is becoming an expert label reader. There are a few key ingredients you should keep an eye out for on food labels. Ingredients, such as butter, milk and cheese, are easy to spot. But there are other ingredients that contain dairy, even if their name doesn’t suggest so.
Beware of the following ingredients which are all made from dairy:
- Casein – a milk protein
- Sodium caseinate – a derivative of casein
- Lactose – a milk sugar
- Lactitol – a sweetener derived from lactose
- Whey powder / whey protein / whey solids – all made with whey, another milk protein
- Lactalbumin – a derivative of whey protein
Usually, dairy-containing ingredients are highlighted in bold on the food’s packaging. So a quick skim over the ingredients list should tell you whether a product is dairy-free. But it’s still good to be familiar with these names as they might not always be in bold. This can be the case if the food has been produced outside of the UK.
The Pitfalls of Packaged Foods
It’s great to know which ingredients to avoid if you’re giving up dairy. But it also helps to know which products tend to contain hidden dairy.
Packaged, processed foods, takeaways and ready meals are fairly likely to contain hidden dairy. This is usually because it’s cheaper and easier to make mass-market products with milk, rather than investing in non-dairy alternatives.
Some common culprits include:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Baked goods
- Chocolate, even some dark chocolate
- Crisps, such as Doritos
- Snack bars
- Soy meat alternatives (for example some Quorn products contain milk but they are beginning to ‘veganise’ the range)
Not every item on this list will contain dairy. Dark chocolate doesn’t always contain milk or butter, and not all crisps have ingredients such as milk powder. It’s always best to check the label before you buy to avoid any hidden surprises when you get home.
Try not to get complacent either. Food manufacturers have a habit of changing recipes without warning. But of course this could also mean a dairy-containing food could suddenly become dairy free!
Managing Dairy-Free Doubters
But what about calcium? You might hear this a lot.
Granted, dairy products do contain essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D. They’re also a good source of protein. Many dairy-free milks are fortified with these vitamins so that you don’t miss out. Also, eating a healthy, balanced diet will usually ensure you get enough of everything. Dark leafy greens such as kale, broccoli and white beans are all good sources of calcium.
Kids are also able to thrive on a dairy-free diet. If you’re concerned about their calcium and vitamin D levels then you can always consider a supplement. If in doubt, have a chat with your GP next time you’re there.
It can be challenging to know which products to buy and which to avoid when you start removing dairy from your diet. But if you get used to reading labels and recognising which products tend to have hidden dairy, then your shopping experience should get easier each time.