Hidden Dairy: 10 Foods That You Didn’t Know Contain Dairy

Hidden dairy

Over 40 million Americans are lactose intolerant, with the majority of them suffering from stomach aches, headaches, and other unpleasant symptoms every time they eat dairy or lactose. That’s in addition to the millions of Americans who are allergic to milk, which is one of the eight most common food allergies in the U.S.

If you’re on a dairy-free diet or a lactose-free diet, then you’re probably used to scouring supermarkets for foods that are dairy-free or lactose-free. There are obvious foods you need to avoid like cheese, cow’s milk, and dairy yogurts, but what about all the other surprising healthy foods that contain dairy? There are actually many foods that contain dairy that you don’t know about! So if you’re on a dairy-free diet or a lactose-free diet, here are 10 foods to watch out for that you didn’t know contain dairy—we’ll call these the hidden dairy foods.

1. Store-bought crackers:

Many store-bought crackers actually contain butter or milk powder, so you might not think to double-check the ingredients of store-bought crackers.

If you want to eat dairy-free crackers, then your best bet is to check out the natural or organic aisle, as many natural and organic companies have dairy-free cracker alternatives.

If you check the kosher aisle in your local grocery store, they usually have a lot of dairy-free crackers (look for a “pareve” label, which means dairy-free).

2. Granola mixes:

Another healthy food that’s easy to mistake as dairy-free are granola mixes, which often contain butter to sweeten the different tastes.

Instead, you want to buy an oil-based granola mix, which is perfect for your dairy-free or lactose-free diet. To make granola mixes even healthier—and to ensure they are dairy-free—make them yourselves!

3. Soy cheese:

This is definitely a surprising food that might actually contain dairy. Here’s why: many cheese producers still use some type of casein or whey protein when they’re making soy cheese. If you want to ensure your cheese is dairy-free and lactose-free, then look for a “vegan” label.

4. Canned tuna:

I never used to check my canned tuna to see if it was dairy-free, until I noticed that some tunas actually do contain dairy! The hidden dairy in canned tunas comes in the form of hydrolyzed caseinate, made from the casein protein and derived from fresh skin milk!

5. Instant potatoes:

Ever wondered how instant potatoes turn out so smooth and creamy? Many instant potatoes contain milk, cream, or a milk derivative to give you that creamy taste. Double-check the ingredient list to find one that is dairy-free and lactose-free.

6. Salad dressings:

Even the healthiest salad dressings contain butter or milk to add some thickness to the dressing, so if you’re on a dairy-free diet or a lactose-free diet, then you should choose vinegar-based dressings instead. Better yet, make your own (we’ve got four healthy salad dressing recipes here).

7. Semi-sweet chocolate:

So you naturally avoid dairy or milk chocolate when you’re on a dairy-free or lactose-free diet, of course, but do you check the label of semi-sweet chocolate?

Many semi-sweet chocolate bars and chocolate chips have hidden dairy, so read the labels carefully, even on dark and semi-sweet chocolate.

8. Spice mixes:

If you love adding spices to your food, don’t fret, but do watch out for the hidden dairy. Many spice mixes contain whey powder, which you need to avoid when you’re dairy-free or lactose-free.

9. Flavored chips:

While you definitely shouldn’t be eating too many flavored chips to begin with, know that many flavored chips contain dairy (usually ketchup and salt and vinegar chips are dairy). Avoid this hidden dairy and eat regular chips instead (or just avoid chips altogether).

10. Drugs and Medications:

If you’re popping pills, whether they’re everyday vitamins, iron pills, or prescription medication, chances are they contains dairy. Lactose makes up the base for more than 20% of prescription drugs and six percent of over-the-counter vitamins and medications, so talk to your pharmacist about dairy-free alternatives and avoid this hidden dairy!

If you’re on a dairy-free or lactose-free diet, you need to watch out for the hidden dairy in everyday healthy foods. Always double-check labels and ingredient lists.

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Karimi, S., “Non-dairy foods that contain lactose,” Yahoo! Health web site, June 10, 2009; http://voices.yahoo.com/non-dairy-foods-contain-lactose-3470407.html, last accessed June 13, 2013.
“Hidden dairy: Foods, medication, and beyond,” Go Dairy Free web site, May 18, 2006; http://www.godairyfree.org/food-and-grocery/food-label-info/hidden-dairy, last accessed June 13, 2013.