There are many reasons why one may need to avoid dairy products such as following a vegan lifestyle, having an intolerance to dairy or even an allergy or perhaps for other health reasons. However, it can be hard to distinguish what does and does not contain milk ingredients when there are so many ready-made and boxed foods so easily accessible to us. Sometimes when reading the labels it is important to understand foods will have alternative names when listed in the ingredients section. Along with milk and modified milk ingredients some other dairy fillers to look out for include whey, butter flavor, casein, caseinates, hydrolysates, lactose, lactalbumin phosphate and so many others.

Although it may be effortless to avoid easy-to-spot dairy foods such as milk, cheese and butter there are some foods that you may have never thought contain dairy. We have discovered some surprising foods that may contain dairy that you should avoid if you are following a dairy-free diet. Keep in mind the contents of dairy in the following may vary depending on the brand so always make sure to read the labels and use google, your best friend if you notice an unknown ingredient.

1. Hot Dogs

When I think about hot dogs I don’t think about a creamy or the slightest milk flavor but in fact, some brands do have modified milk ingredients within their hot dogs.

The modified milk ingredients in hot dogs aren’t used for flavor or to boost their nutrient value but instead are used as a filler. Using these milk ingredients allow the manufacturer to use less meat overall which would be a cost-effective business decision. Make sure to read the label the next time you pick up a package of hot dogs.

2. Processed Meats

Similar to hot dogs processed meats such as sliced ham, turkey, prosciutto may all contain milk proteins as well. For the same reasons as hot dogs, processed meats may also contain dairy as a filler ingredient.

Once again always make sure to read your labels when avoiding a certain food especially for medical reasons.

3. Sherbert

Don’t be fooled like me and think Sorbet and Sherbert are the same. This might be my own ignorance but for a long time, I truly thought sorbet was just another fancy way of saying sherbert. But in fact, they are much different.

Sorbet generally is a frozen shaved fruit dessert. Although it has similar qualities to sherbet such a the flavors the major difference is sherbet contains either heavy cream or other milk ingredients to make it more similar to ice cream. Stay clear of sherbert if you’re trying to avoid dairy.

4. Canned Tuna

It might be common to find milk ingredients in tuna salad or mixed tuna for sandwiches. It is pretty well known that some mayonnaise and cream sauces contain milk but did you know canned tuna itself can contain dairy?

Usually labeled as casein (a milk protein) is what you can find in your canned tuna. If you’re trying to avoid dairy you may want to take canned tuna off your list of foods you can eat.

5. Instant Mashed Potatoes

Well it’s common to make homemade mashed potatoes with butter and milk it isn’t always assumed that the instant kind may contain real dairy ingredients, but in fact, they just might.

Instant potatoes are essentially dehydrated potatoes. However, some manufacturers will add butter and milk ingredients before the mixture is dehydrated. This generally is added for extra flavor but when in doubt don’t forget to check the ingredients!

6. Nutella

Whether Nutella’s presence on this list surprises you or not you may just want to stay clear of it when avoiding dairy. Some associate this tasty spread as a chocolatey dessert that you can put on bread while others may associate it with any other nut butter.

Don’t be mistaken, Nutella is closer in relation to a chocolate bar than a nut butter. It may be delicious but it does usually contain skim milk powder as well a whey powder so put it back on the shelf if you’re trying to avoid dairy.

7. Boxed Granola bars

Many packaged granola bars, including breakfast bars and protein bars, contain some variety of milk ingredients. In some cases, the modified milk ingredients are used to enhance calcium and protein nutrients while others it is simply used to help extend the shelf life of the bars.

You can consider reading the labels everytime you go to the grocery store or better yet you can make your own granola bars, breakfast bars and protein bars at home. Visit HERE for a delicious granola bar substitute recipe that you can joy in the morning or anytime in between your meals.

8. Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

Although it may be clear that salad dressing such as ranch or caesar flavor contain milk ingredients when purchasing a vinaigrette salad dressing it isn’t always obvious.

Many vinaigrettes will use cheese’s to enhance the flavor or texture. Make sure to read the labels when purchasing salad dressing because their name and description may not always make it obvious that they contain dairy.

9. Tomato Sauce

When I don’t have the willpower to make my own tomato sauce I will always look to the grocery store for an easily accessible kind. When purchasing tomato sauce you may think it shouldn’t contain more than pureed tomatoes and spices, but don’t be fooled by many manufacturers will include dairy ingredients within the sauces.

It may be straightforward if you purchase a tomato sauce blend such as “three cheese”, or “parmesan and tomato” but some brands labeled as original will still contain cheeses. In most cases dairy is used in tomato sauce for flavor but once again when in doubt don’t forget to read the label. Try to purchase brands that contain minimal ingredients (about 4 or less) to make sure you getting optimal nutritional value.

10. Flavored Potato Chips

Flavored potato chips actually shocked me as I just newly discovered that some kinds contain milk ingredients. While it is obvious that flavors such as cheddar, bacon and cheddar, sour cream and onion would have milk ingredients there are other flavors that may shock you.

Some flavors such as ketchup, barbeque as well as dill pickle usually contain modified milk ingredients. Make sure to read the ingredients if you’re trying to avoid dairy, or better try making your own chips at home for a healthier option.

11. Bread

Not all types of bread contain milk ingredients but there is a large variety that does. A classic bread recipe may include an ingredient list such as flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and water. However, some manufacturers also include dairy ingredients such as butter, whey powder or skim milk powders.

It is always important to read the labels when buying bread especially if you’re trying to avoid dairy. Most bread found in the fridge section doesn’t contain dairy but it is always good to double check. When in doubt there are many easy bread recipes available to make your own at home.

12. Dark Chocolate

If you’re a chocoholic there are varieties available out there that do not contain dairy and you can enjoy too when avoiding dairy. However, make sure that you don’t assume all dark chocolate won’t contain dairy ingredients.

It is obvious that milk chocolate contains dairy but dark chocolate was a little more shocking. Milk helps enhance the flavor and the texture of the chocolate and that is why so many manufacturers still include in dark chocolate. Make sure to read the labels and if avoiding dairy is very serious for you to not take the message “may contain milk ingredients” lightly.

13. Chewing Gum

Chewing gum may be one of the most shocking when it comes to food items to avoid when avoiding dairy. Some brands include milk proteins amongst their ingredients.

There are a large variety of brands that make chewing gum so make sure to read the ingredient list to find one suitable for your diet.

14. Crackers

It may not be very shocking that crackers such as Cheez-it’s or Goldfish crackers contain dairy as their flavoring is, well, cheese! It is certainly surprising that some of your “original” flavored crackers contain dairy as well.

Some manufacturers use modified milk ingredients to extend the shelf lifespan as well as in some cases use it to improve the texture of the cracker. Always be sure to check the ingredients especially when the cracker isn’t named after a dairy flavoring.

15. Baby Cereal

When transitioning your baby into solid foods it is well known that a lot of mothers start with some form of baby cereal. Typically these cereals are known as oat cereals and rice cereals. Beware that often baby cereals will contain dairy too.

It is usually common for mothers to transition their babies from formula or breast milk into dairy milk, however, there are some cases where your baby has an intolerance or you have chosen to not include dairy into your diet, for that reason make sure to always read the label when purchasing cereals for your infant.

16. Frozen And Boxed Chicken/Fish Nuggets

Make sure when purchasing your next box of chicken nuggets or breaded anything for that matter to read the ingredients label. Although it is usually obvious that they’ll contain eggs to bind the batter to the actual meat it is not always obvious that they contain dairy.

You’ll be surprised to find out many breaded frozen foods contain dairy within the bread mixture usually labelled as modified milk ingredients and the like. Consider making your own breaded nuggets at home to avoid dairy altogether.

17. Protein Powder

Whether you drink or bake with protein powder to encourage muscle growth or for additional nutrition beware when purchasing protein powder. Many varieties actually contain dairy.

Most protein powders that contain dairy will have ingredients such as whey (the water portion of milk that remains after the curds form) listed. There is, however, a good selection of protein powders that do not contain dairy, try and look for one that is certified as vegan, often made from a pea protein.

18. Coffee Creamers

It is important to know that some coffee creamers that state they are lactose-free still contain dairy. Having a lactose intolerance is not the same as having a dairy allergy.

Many creamers that are lactose (the sugar found in milk) free still contain dairy ingredients such as casein (the main protein found in milk). It is very important when looking for creamers to put into your coffee to make sure you read all the ingredients instead of just the front packaging.

19. Cereal

There are a large variety of sugary and healthy labeled cereals that contain dairy. They may be sweet and tasty and some may be full of good nutrients but take extra precaution if you are seeking non-dairy options.

Some cereals that are corn, rice or oat based don’t generally contain dairy ingredients but some manufacturers will still mix it in so always read the labels. You can also consider other breakfast options such as making your own oatmeal with a dairy-free milk.

20. Prepackaged Seasoned Rice

Prepackaged rice was a shocking find to see dairy again on the ingredients list. Although you won’t typically find dairy in the rice itself the dairy is often within the flavorings. The convenience of the prepackaged rice variety is easy and flavorful but it’s important to take precaution when avoiding dairy.

Some packaged rice will also require butter to be added in when cooking, this helps the rice not stick together. So take extra precaution when buying flavored rice and being served it at someones home. Try to stick to white, brown or wild rice and flavor it yourself.

21. Margarine

You may have thought “margarine is not butter, it’s essentially made up of oil, there is no way it could contain dairy”. Don’t be fooled, margarine can in fact still contain dairy.

A large variety of margarine contain ingredients such as dairy casein, and whey making them not dairy-free. There are many vegan kinds of butter available that will ensure you are getting a plant-based product without the risk of a dairy contamination.

Clarissa Vanner

Clarissa loves experimenting with food of all cultures to make unique healthy dishes. When she’s not browsing Pinterest for new recipe inspiration she likes to pick up a DIY project and use her creative hands to make art or crafts. In her down time you can find her watching the latest documentaries on Netflix or going for nature walks.

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