Dairy-Free Lifestyle

What the Dairy: Non-Dairy Does Not Mean Dairy Free

You read that right: When you see a product labeled Non-Dairy that is not the same as dairy free.

Process that for a second.

Food items that are labeled Non-Dairy on the front of the package can, and in many cases do, contain cow milk protein, usually in the form of whey, casein or other derivatives.

Rule number 1 of being dairy-free…Repeated it every day, several times a day: You MUST read EVERY single label! The good news is that most Non-Dairy items are regulated by the FDA so their labels must clearly state whether the product contains milk in the ingredient listing.

How exactly does a non-dairy label mean dairy is in there?

Non means not of the kind or class described. Dairy means containing or made from milk. So shouldn’t non-dairy mean not of milk? One would think so, but it is not that simple.

The issue started a few years ago after dairy-alternatives started becoming readily available to consumers, i.e. almond, coconut, soy, cashew milk. These plant-based milks began to be perceived as healthier than their mammal-based counterpart. Their rise in popularity meant a huge decline for the dairy industry.

In an effort to thwart their pitfall, the dairy industry began lobbying congress for a change in labeling procedures. They wanted to make sure that any product that was traditionally a dairy product but did not actually contain pure cow’s milk would include the term “non-dairy”.

They also began to fight back in the health war arguing that alternative “milks” are not as nutritional as cow’s milk. Many alternatives use a variety of additives including massive amounts of sugar (let’s repeat: read those labels!). Cow dairy advocates also point out that their milk has nine essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and potassium and up to eight times as much protein as almond milk.

Now that you understand the background, it probably still doesn’t make sense why Non-Dairy products contain dairy since the label was intended for dairy alternatives.


In the midst of this cow vs plant conflict, the “others” got pulled in. These are products that don’t necessarily fall into the pure cow or pure vegan category.

Take Non-Dairy coffee creamer for instance which usually comes in a powder form. The typical ingredients of this product are corn syrup solids, soybean oil, Sodium Caseinate (A Milk Derivative) along with a host other 10-plus letter words. Non-dairy creamer is cheaper to make and therefore cheaper to buy. It’s not trying to be healthier than cow’s milk or plant-based drinks. It’s unapologetically cheap and delicious, non-dairy with a hint of cow’s milk.

It’s worth saying again: read those labels.




7 thoughts on “What the Dairy: Non-Dairy Does Not Mean Dairy Free

  1. This is really helpful information. I have been considering going dairy free and was wondering about this. Good to know that I shouldn’t just take the label at face value.

  2. I was just talking to someone about this today! It makes it so much more difficult to ensure that my dairy free boys don’t accidentally get something that can make them sick when stuff is labeled like this.

    1. So Delicious makes amazing cashew milk ice creams! My personal favorites are the salted caramel cluster and snickerdoodle!

  3. My husband was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and we found that dairy was one of his triggers. Man, I never knew all the hidden places dairy was in (as well as gluten and sugar) until that time! Yikes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *