Bariatric Surgery Success

Bariatric Surgery Success

#60 Non-Dairy versus Dairy-Free: What You Need to Know

August 11, 2021 for free samples. Use Code: Susan10 to save 10%

Did you remember to download the new freebie I mentioned last week? Go get the freebie and try the three tips to help you cut down on added sugars in your food. Freebie: 3 Ways to Crack Down on Added Sugars 


Liz posted this question: “I see a lot of protein drinks that are casein-based advertised as Non-Dairy. How can they do that when casein is dairy?” I’ll explain the labeling which is confusing.

Hi, I’m registered dietitian nutritionist Dr. Susan Mitchell. You’re listening to the Bariatric Surgery Success podcast episode number 60. Most of my career I’ve worked in some type of media, particularly radio where I did morning drive nutrition spots for over 18 years. That’s what lead me to start podcasting and ultimately to you. I created Bariatric Surgery Success to provide you with life-changing information based on science along with simple strategies and tools to help you be successful in your transformation and your entire journey. So happy you’ve connected with me. You’re in the right place and I’m glad you’re listening.

Today I want to give a shout out to Jill who posted on Facebook: “I love supporting anyone who has had surgery. It’s a tricky road to navigate. I love listening to your podcasts.”

Right back at your Jill. Your kindness caught my eye right away. In a world of bullies and mean-spirited words, we need more of your attitude. And thank you for listening to the podcast.

Ok, let’s get back to Liz’s question about protein drinks that are casein-based advertising as Non-Dairy. The rest of her question was: “How can they do that when casein is dairy? They always say with an asterisk that casein is dairy, but really, it’s not just a tiny amount, it’s the main source of protein for the drink.”

There are a lot of us dietitians who feel your pain and frustration. Actually there are two terms for us to look at closely. Dairy-Free is one, and Non-Dairy is the other. You’ll see both of these terms on food packaging and labels. One point to put in memory right now: the terms don’t tell the whole story. What does? The ingredient label. And remember, the ingredient label in the United States lists the ingredients from most to least.

In order to get clear on these terms, let’s talk about what they mean on a label. Starting with Dairy-Free. This one might shock you. There is NO regulatory definition for the term Dairy-Free. What that means is the Food & Drug Administration or FDA has not set rules or regulations for the use of the term Dairy-Free on labels. Bottom line, no definition means that food labeled Dairy-Free may or may not be free of milk proteins. So you and I become the label sleuths I talk about regularly. We need to go from the package label to the ingredients and see what’s what.

Where this really matters from a health standpoint is if you’re allergic to milk. If you are truly allergic, please go straight to the ingredients. If the product contains milk derivatives like whey or casein, often in the forms called caseinates, they’re a potential problem for milk allergies.

Hold on, I’m climbing on my soap box. This term Dairy-Free reminds me of the term "natural", which also has no legal definition. Basically “natural” means anything you want it to mean. So you can see why the term “Dairy-Free” should turn on a light bulb and send you straight to the ingredient label if you have a health concern.

Switching to the term “Non-Dairy”. The FDA does have an older regulatory definition for the term Non-Dairy. But, the interesting, ok frustrating, part is that the definition allows the presence of the milk protein, casein. The term, Non-Dairy, is commonly used on coffee creamers made from caseinate, a milk protein, rather than milk or cream, but now you see the term “Non-Dairy” on labels for protein drinks. This feels like misleading advertising when casein, which is a milk protein and a milk allergen, is the main ingredient. However it is currently allowed, but the term caseinate must be followed by an explanation with wording such as milk derivative. Non-Dairy definitely does not mean that the product is milk-free so if you have a true dairy allergy, you need to read the ingredient label carefully for this term too.

Stay focused on your journey, you’re worth it.