Fact Sheet – Dairy, Lactose and Casein

Milk and dairy foods are a good source of calcium and other nutrients. However, dairy is also one of the most common food allergies and intolerances. Milk contains the sugar lactose and the proteins casein and whey, all of which may be problematic for some individuals.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest milk sugar. It is very common in some cultures. As babies, our bodies produce lactase in order to digest mother’s milk. After the first year of life, the production of lactase slows down. This may result in an inability to digest milk and dairy products beginning in childhood.

Casein is one of the main proteins found in milk and dairy products. Some children are unable to digest casein and need to avoid all dairy products. Casein is found in foods containing milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, cream, ice cream, etc – be it from cows, sheep, goats or humans.

Hidden sources of dairy include the following foods, so check before consuming:

  • bread and crackers
  • cakes and other baked goods
  • cereal bars
  • cold cuts
  • mashed potatoes
  • non-dairy spreads
  • salad dressing
  • scrambled eggs
  • soup
  • sweets and candies

Casein is also sometimes used as a binding agent in medication tablets.

Interestingly, ghee and clarified butter are casein free and can be used for cooking on a casein free diet. However, lactose free products are not suitable.

Worried about calcium intake? Check out our fact sheet on non-dairy foods naturally rich in calcium.