Dairy foods are foods containing milk from mammals such as cow, goat, sheep, camel or buffalo. Milk is comprised mostly of water, then sugar in the form of lactose, protein in the form of casein and whey, fats, vitamins and minerals. While there are a lot of beneficial nutrients in dairy, there is mixed evidence on its benefits and potential drawbacks. Some individuals who have dairy-related disorders may need to completely remove it from the diet.

composition of dairy foods


Dairy foods are normally derived from cow’s milk, however sometimes sheep, goat or other mammal’s milk are used.

Examples of Dairy Foods

  • Full cream and skim milk
  • Ice cream
  • Soft and hard cheese
  • Yoghurt
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Custard
  • Buttermilk
  • Powdered milk
  • Ghee
  • Whey protein
  • Casein protein
  • Kefir
  • Milk-based desserts

How can I tell if a product contains dairy?

As dairy is a common allergen, milk and milk derivatives should be bolded on a product’s ingredients list, or say ‘contains milk’ in the allergy information.

how to spot dairy foods


Lactose Intolerance

Dairy foods contain a sugar called lactose, which is metabolised in the body by an enzyme called lactase which is secreted by the cells in the small intestine as the dairy foods pass through the gut. Lactose is broken down to galactose and glucose, which are smaller sugars that can be absorbed by the body and used for energy. However, if the body doesn’t produce lactase, lactose is not broken down and travels down the intestines in tact where it is fermented by the bacteria that live in our large intestine, This over fermentation leads to uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhoea. This is called lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance can be caused by genetics, digestive issues that cause damage to the cells that produce lactase in the gut (e.g. chronic diarrhoea) and gastrointestinal surgeries that may interfere with lactase production. Genetic causes of lactose intolerance involve gene mutations. Interestingly, it is a mutation in our genes that causes people to remain lactose persistent, and no mutation means not enough lactase will be produced, leading to lactose intolerance. About 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant.

Casein Allergy

In a casein allergy, also called milk protein allergy, the body mistakes the casein proteins in milk as a threat, and produces an immune reaction. IgE antibodies are released, causing typical allergy symptoms such as vomiting, hives, itching, runny eyes and nose, difficulty breathing, stomach pain and in a severe reaction, anaphylaxis. In individuals with a casein allergy, dairy products containing casein need to be completely avoided. Milk protein allergies are common in young infants.

Casein Sensitivity

A casein sensitivity is driven by IgG antibodies and complement proteins. This reaction causes an inflammatory response in the body. This inflammation can manifest itself in many different ways such as:

  • Digestive issues – diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, indigestion, heartburn etc
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Skin issues such as acne, psoriasis and eczema (see below)
  • Fatigue and lack of wellbeing
  • Persistent blocked nose, respiratory disorders and asthma
  • Hormone imbalances
  • A wide range of chronic health issues.

Although not life threatening, consuming dairy when an individual is casein sensitive can cause many health issues which may be detrimental to quality of life.

Is the type of casein protein important?

Casein proteins come in many variants, but the two most common are A1 beta-casein and A2 beta casein. Regular milk contains both A1 and A2 proteins. However, some individuals that have a casein sensitivity or lactose intolerance state their symptoms are reduced when consuming milk that contains only A2 protein.


A majority of the evidence base agrees that milk can trigger acne. Milk increases insulin, and subsequently, insulin growth factor 1, which increases the production of sebum from the sebaceous glands in the skin. This leads to more blocked pores and acne. Evidence suggests dairy products can be a trigger for eczema and psoriasis. Allergies and sensitivities drive inflammation in the body. Eczema and psoriasis are both inflammatory conditions. When there is inflammation in the body, the skin is the part that you see the most. Inflammation through the gut, joints etc can manifest in skin conditions.

Dairy and Mucous Production

Consumption of dairy products has been linked to increased mucous production and thickening of mucous in the throat and nasal passages. Some individuals find that their persistently blocked nose or ongoing cough improves on a dairy free diet.


Depending on what dairy-related disorder you have (protein or lactose), or if you have chosen to not consume dairy or go vegan, there are different options available.

Lactose Free Foods

If you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to tolerate lactose free dairy products. To make these products, the manufacturer has added in the lactase enzyme to remove the lactose. Most supermarkets have a good variety of lactose free milk, cheese and yoghurts available. These options are a good source of protein, but watch out for high sugar content.

Dairy Free Foods

If you have a casein allergy or suspected sensitivity, dairy foods will need to be avoided completely, even lactose-free varieties. Dairy-free options include:

  • Unsweetened almond, soy, oat, macadamia, hemp or coconut milk
  • Soy, almond, coconut or oat-based yoghurt and ice cream
  • Plant-based protein powders such as pea, rice, hemp etc.
  • Plant based cheeses such as soy, almond, cashew etc.

Try this simple dairy free cream cheese recipe or dairy free cashew sour cream from Simple Veganista.

what to look out for in non-dairy alternatives

Non-Dairy Calcium-Rich Foods

As dairy foods are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, it is important to make sure we are consuming enough of these nutrients from other sources. The following table contains different sources of some of these important nutrients:

other sources of nutrients we get from dairy

It is important to work with a nutritionist to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need in a dairy-free diet. Supplementation may be necessary.


See my dairy free meal plan to make going dairy free easy. My meal plans are full of family friendly and easy recipes to help you eat a well-balanced, dairy-free diet.

Going Gluten and Dairy Free

Taking both gluten and dairy out of your diet can be very tricky as there are a lot of foods you will have to avoid. It is important to work with a nutritionist to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need and choosing healthy gluten and dairy alternatives. Check out my gluten and dairy free meal plan, or book a consultation with me.


Fiona is one of my all time favourite people. After high school, I weighed in at 99kg. At 174cm, I have been overweight by 15-20 kgs for all my adult life. Until, at age 53, I met Fiona. She immediately diagnosed my primary problem and by following her dietary coaching, I lost 16 kgs in 5 months. More importantly, I have maintained this for more than a year now. Now, well into the second half of my life, life is good, very good. As I said, Fiona will always be one of my all time favourite people. Thank you Fiona.

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Charlotte Carlish
Indigestion, stomach pain and abdominal cramps, were an every day occurrence for me. I was quite desperate by the time I found Fiona. With the help of some supplements and allergy testing, Fiona Took me on a journey of discovery. Thanks to her professional and kind guidance, I now  know which foods to avoid and which ones will help my gut to stay healthy.  For the very first time in a long time, my tummy now feels quite normal and I no longer suffer any of the above conditions. To say Fiona has change my life may sound rather dramatic but it is completely true and I will be forever grateful to her.

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I have been working with Fiona at Physical Nutrition for about 10 weeks through a corporate program run my employer.  Losing weight and making some real changes to my dietary lifestyle has been a game changer for me.  Through her weekly tutorials, Fiona has taught me about the food I eat, what is best for my body and to gauge how I feel after each meal.  Combined with a sensible exercise routine of walking and cycling, I have managed to drop my weight by 7kgs during this period.  My energy levels are up, I’m feeling fitter and I’m eating much more balanced meals and now know which foods to avoid and which to eat more of!  It’s been a great experience and I would highly recommend Fiona’s program.

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