milk - food allergies

Got Milked?

The Got Milk Campaign

Developed for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993, Got Milk? was a campaign to help sell more milk.  It was apparently successful in California but not so much in the rest of the country.  It was a cute campaign with a lot of celebrities painted in milk mustaches among other visuals. It appeared both as magazine ads and television commercials.

Allergic to dairy?

The concept of “got milk?” takes on a different connotation when you can’t have milk or dairy products.  Similar to those who can’t have gluten and have significant health problems when they get “glutened,” for those who are sensitive to dairy or any of its parts consumption can be very dangerous. 

Lactose intolerance

There are different issues related to consuming dairy products. One is Lactose intolerance. This is where the body does not produce enough of a particular digestive enzyme, lactase, to break down the lactose (milk sugar). Most people lose their ability to produce lactose in early childhood. That leaves a lot of people who struggle with the symptoms of lactose intolerance when they eat yogurt, milk, cheese, ice cream, or any other dairy product. Symptoms can include

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • farting
  • gas
  • stomach cramping or upset

Milk protein allergy

Another issue with dairy consumption is the protein in the milk. There are two different types of protein, whey and casein.  Whey is made by removing the milk protein solids. It’s often found in protein beverages or athletic recovery formulas and may be listed as either whey protein, whey protein concentrate, or whey protein isolate. Whey is rapidly absorbed into the system. Depending on how lactose intolerant you are, when consuming whey you may also have lactose intolerance issues going on as there is a small amount of lactose in whey.

The other protein, casein, is also sometimes found in protein beverages. The body responds more slowly to casein and because of this slower breakdown tends to promote fullness longer. Some people are allergic to either casein or whey, some people are allergic to both.   

Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance and milk protein allergy are the same. However, over time the milk protein allergy can worsen. For those who are allergic to whey or casein, it can even be fatal.  Because these allergies can pose significant health problems it is important to work with an allergist for testing and support if you suspect there is a problem. Allergy symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Behavioral health changes
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hives or rash
  • Joint Pain
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing

Know your dairy ingredients

It’s important to note that just because a product is labeled lactose free that does not mean that it is dairy-free.  When there’s an allergy it is a matter of concern about whether or not there is dairy in what you are eating.  On packaged food labels there are a lot of ingredients to watch out for that are derived from milk. If there is a lactose intolerance or a milk protein allergy, these need to be avoided:

  • milk
  • butter
  • casein
  • casinate
  • cheese
  • cream
  • curds
  • whey
  • lactalbumin
  • lactoferrin
  • lactose
  • lactulose
  • yogurt

Surprising places for dairy

In addition to these ingredients, there are a number of surprising items that are derived from dairy or that may contain dairy.  It’s not always clear and you may not be aware of what to watch out for:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • baked goods (many of these are unlabeled)
  • bath products
  • breath mints
  • candy
  • canned tuna fish (may contain hydrolyzed caseinate)
  • caramel
  • chewing gum (may contain milk protein)
  • medications (if this is a concern talk with your pharmacist)
  • hot dogs
  • lunch meat (cross-contamination may also be an issue)
  • margarine (while these are not butter, they may not be dairy-free)
  • potato chips
  • soy cheese (some of them still include dairy)
  • spice mixes (may contain whey powder)
  • whipped topping (these are marketed as “non-dairy” but often contain casein)

Food allergy labeling

While that’s a lot to keep track of, for those who have a significant, life-threatening allergy to dairy it is critical that they are aware of what’s in what they are eating.  Because dairy is one of the seven top allergens in this country it does need to appear on the label as an allergy statement like the example below where the allergens are listed in bold

Food allergy label






Another labeling example is when foods do not necessarily have dairy (or other top food allergen) products in them but are made in a facility that also processes a food allergen such as the example below. This statement is also in bold type.

Food label allergen





Eating away from home

While labeling might show if there’s dairy in packaged foods, this all goes out the window when eating out at a restaurant or at someone else’s home.  

It is possible to ask if there’s dairy in a product and be told no but to discover that it’s finished with butter. Or to have someone not be aware of what’s in a dish.

Even for those who are not allergic but have a food intolerance or delayed hypersensitivity, accidental exposure may cause a heightened reaction as the body reacts more strongly to the substance it’s trying to clear.

For those with life-threatening allergies to dairy any exposure poses a dangerous situation.  Be aware of your setting and the possibility of exposure.  It’s important to ask if your food allergen is in the meal that you are being served.  It can also be helpful to use a Food Allergy Buddy Card (available for free download).

About Mira

Mira Dessy is The Ingredient Guru. A holistic nutrition professional, author, and a popular public speaker, she knows that it's not just what you eat, but what's in what you eat. She is the author of The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in their food. Dessy is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner whose mission is to educate and empower consumers. She curates the Lean Clean Green Subscription box, the premier, organic, earth-friendly, healthy, sustainable subscription box which can be found online at