If you are sensitive or allergic to milk protein or milk sugar (lactose) in dairy products, you may need to identify small amounts of these ingredients that sneak into your diet. Finding these dairy-based ingredients requires some close attention to ingredient lists.

Make sure you read food ingredient labels carefully to spot some of these hidden sources of dairy. Milk is one of the eight most common food allergens (the others are eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans). So anything derived from milk has to be clearly labeled.

Byproducts of milk protein include

  • Casein (or caseinate): Find it added to nondairy creamers, nutrition bars, salad dressings, whipped toppings, breath mints, and some soy cheeses.

  • Lactalbumin: Find this protein added to baked goods, snack foods, textured vegetable protein products, and other processed foods.

  • Whey: This liquid plasma portion of cow’s milk is used in crackers, breads, processed cheeses, and other processed foods.

Other milk byproducts are made from the milk sugar lactose. They include saccharum lactin and D-lactose, which are used as a culture medium to sour milk. They’re also used in processed foods, such as baby formula, desserts, and other sweets. In addition to foods, you also may find these ingredients in medicines, such as diuretics and laxatives.

A large number of processed foods contain dairy products or byproducts. The following list shows you some of the less-obvious foods that may contain dairy:

  • Baby formula

  • Baked goods

  • Baking mixes

  • Bircher muesli (Swiss granola cereal made with cream)

  • Biscuits

  • Breading on fried foods

  • Breads

  • Breakfast cereals

  • Breath mints

  • Candy

  • Caramel

  • Chocolate

  • Chocolate drink mixes

  • Coffee creamers (even some nondairy varieties)

  • Cookies

  • Crackers

  • Cream liqueurs

  • Ghee (clarified butter)

  • Granola bars

  • Gravy

  • Instant potatoes

  • Margarine

  • Reduced-lactose milks, such as Lactaid

  • Sherbet

  • Soy cheese

  • Whipped toppings

In general, where food labels are concerned, short is good. That’s because foods with short ingredient lists tend to be foods that are less processed and closer to their natural states. In other words, they tend to have fewer additives and byproducts that may be derivatives of dairy. Usually, though not always, a short ingredient list also means that figuring out what’s inside the package is easier.