Allergic to Milk? How to Spot Hidden Ingredients

Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo on November 14, 2020

If you have a food allergy, a package label can be your best friend. Read it closely and you'll keep yourself safe.

Food labels tell you if the product has common allergy triggers like eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, or soybeans. You'll also learn if it contains anything with milk.

Words to Watch For

If you're allergic to milk protein, you need to look for a bunch of different words that could spell trouble for you. When you're at the store, check if any of these things are on the ingredients list:

  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Casein, casein hydrolysate, and caseinates
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream
  • Curds
  • Diacetyl
  • Ghee
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactoferrin
  • Lactose and lactulose
  • Milk (all types)
  • Recaldent
  • Rennet casein
  • Sour cream
  • Whey (in all forms)
  • Yogurt

Where Milk Hides

If you're trying to avoid milk, you need to keep your guard up. It lurks in some surprising foods. Be on the lookout for dairy that's tucked away in these items:

  • Baked goods and cake mixes
  • Hot dogs and deli meat
  • Indian food, where ghee (a form of butter) is very common
  • Gravies
  • Battered and fried foods
  • Vegetarian cheese and soy cheese
  • Protein powders
  • Granola bars
  • Cereal

How to Choose Safe Foods

Stick with packaged and labeled foods. Avoid the temptation to try things from salad bars, deli counters, and bakeries. They're more likely to accidentally have your allergy triggers in them.

Read food labels every time you buy a product. Stay on your toes even for stuff that you buy every week. Food companies change ingredients all the time. Just because something has been safe for you in the past doesn't mean it always will be.

Use caution if you see an ingredient you're not sure about. Look it up first. You can also contact the manufacturer if you need more info.

Be careful when you buy a different-size container. When your favorite food comes in a package that's larger or smaller than you usually get, check the label extra-carefully. The same goes for low-fat or reduced-calorie versions. They may have very different ingredients than your old stand-by. Also, some products may have different ingredients in other parts of the country.

Check labels on medications and toiletries. You may not realize it, but food allergens can show up in drugs, cosmetics, shampoos, soaps, and lotions.


Speak up for yourself. At restaurants, let the staff, servers, managers, cooks, or chef know about your food allergy. Don't be afraid to ask how a dish gets prepared. Sometimes the menu doesn't list all the ingredients. Plain, simply prepared foods are your best bet.

Avoid processed foods that are high in protein. They could contain milk proteins, casein, or whey.

WebMD Medical Reference



Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network: "How to Read a Label for a Milk-Free Diet," "Milk."

Kids with Food Allergies: "Grocery Shopping for a Child with Food Allergies," "How to Read a Label for Milk Allergy."

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