“Tallene, I’m trying to eat dairy free… but what can I eat?!”
We get this question a lot. Dairy can be hiding under multiple disguises, especially when it comes to processed or pre-prepared foods. Once you get familiar with the different names of dairy derivatives and relatives, you’ll be able to spot them immediately!
Please note this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice and is for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about your PCOS symptoms, suspect you have a food allergy or underlying health condition, or wish to start a new diet/lifestyle/supplement plan, please consult your doctor first. Neither the author(s) nor the publishers of this content take responsibility for any potential health consequences or side effects experienced by any person following this educational content.
The difference between dairy-free & lactose-free
Whilst lactose is one of the proteins that PCOS Cysters may want to avoid, it’s not the only culprit of inflammation.
The difference between lactose-free products and dairy-free products is that lactose-free foods are still made from dairy, but the lactose enzyme has been removed.
Foods labeled ‘dairy-free’, meanwhile, contain no dairy at all. They’re usually made from plant or nut extracts, like coconut, soy, or almond milk. Dairy-free ice cream, for instance, is typically made from oat or nut milk.
If it’s not clear if something contains dairy, check the label and read the ingredients:
There are a few ingredients to scan the label for if you’re trying to eat dairy-free for PCOS.
Here are a few that pop up most often:
- Casein and caseinates – (ammonium caseinate, calcium caseinate, hydrolyzed casein, iron caseinate, magnesium caseinate, potassium caseinate, sodium caseinate, zinc caseinate). Casein is what makes milk white and there are high levels of it in cow’s milk.
- Ingredients that start with “lac” – Lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactate solids, lactitol monohydrate, lactoglobulin, and lactulose. These are all forms of lactose (otherwise known as milk sugar), the dairy protein.
- Rennet – Often found in cheese, but used in other food products too, rennet is an animal product that’s found in a cow’s stomach.
- Whey protein – Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
Labeling laws require that food labels identify the food source of all major allergens and intolerances to make the food (e.g. the ingredients list may state something along the lines of “whey (milk)” to make the allergen clear). Consumers may also spot advisory allergen labeling (e.g. “may contain milk products” or “produced in a factory that also uses dairy ingredients”) to indicate the potential risk of cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
What’s the difference between a dairy allergy, dairy sensitivity, and lactose intolerance?
If you’ve ever asked for your food to be dairy-free in a restaurant, you may have been asked if it’s because you’re lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy.
People who are lactose intolerant simply can’t digest dairy and it gives them unpleasant side effects, similar to those experienced by some PCOS Cysters. A dairy or cow’s milk protein allergy, however, is much more dangerous. Contact with dairy can cause a severe allergic reaction. Milk is the third most common food – after peanuts and tree nuts – to cause anaphylaxis, which causes the body to go into shock and can be life-threatening.
As for dairy sensitivity, that’s the category where I and many Cysters fall under. This is when our body treats dairy as an invader and has an inflammatory response, resulting in cystic acne, bloating, moodiness, and so on. What’s more, dairy spikes insulin levels because it contains a hormone called ‘insulin-like growth factor 1’ (IGF-1). We PCOS Cysters are already doing the best we can to keep our insulin hormone stable, so dairy certainly isn’t helpful!
Are Eggs Dairy-Free?
Eggs are completely dairy-free, milk-free, and a great source of protein! You’ll often find eggs as the binding ingredient in gluten and dairy-free foods. If you suspect that your body cannot tolerate eggs, try cutting them out for 30 days and see how you feel.
Some surprising foods contain dairy. A while back, I discovered that Pamela’s gluten-free flour contains dairy! I forgot to read the label when I saw “gluten-free flour”…whoops!
But that’s not all, folks! Dairy traces and ingredients can also be found in chewing gum, deli meats, bread, canned fish, chips, and even alcohol!
What can we do? Always read labels and look for the part that says “Contains: Milk.”
But don’t get overwhelmed, Cyster. We can help!
If going dairy-free is something you’re planning on doing for your PCOS… then you can find support from The Cysterhood!
Not only will you learn about the impact of dairy on PCOS in our 5 Stage Success Path, but you’ll also get access to some delicious dairy-free recipes like our dairy-free chicken Alfredo recipe, and 14 Products to Help Heal PCOS.