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Along this journey towards being dairy-free, a lot of questions have come up around what is truly dairy and what isn’t. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that the idea of being dairy-free can actually seem to different to different people. To me, being dairy-free is eating no dairy whatsoever. But to others, this might mean taking out milk or cream while still eating cheese or goat’s milk products.

The truth is there isn’t a right or a wrong way to be “dairy-free” and how I choose to be dairy-free is simply just that – my way. But however you choose to cut out or cut back on dairy is great – as long as you’re serving your body how it needs.

I mean, despite running a “dairy-free” blog, I’m not really out to save the world by hoping everyone I know cuts dairy from their diets. The main purpose of even being here, writing to you every week and sharing my experiences, is to contribute to the conversation in this sometimes overwhelming and complicated world of living with food intolerances or digestive disorders. If you read this blog post – or any of my others for that matter – just know that I’m 100% cool with whatever diet you choose.

Just because I don’t eat a certain food doesn’t mean that it should be “off-limits” to you or that I know better than you do about something. At the end of the day, you know your body best and you’ll know what you can tolerate better than I could tell you any day of the week. Follow your instincts, trust your gut, and listen to what signs your body gives you as it pertains to any food, not just dairy.

Alright, stepping back off my giant soapbox

Let’s get to what I’m really here to say today. I want to tell you the definitions of what it means to be “dairy-free” and some of the different terms that dairy-free gets mixed up with by those that are either just getting started, or simply just don’t know the details of what dairy is and is not. So let’s clear all that up, shall we?

First up, Dairy.

Dairy is…

Dairy is a general name for ANY food that is made from milk. Technically this is any food made from cow’s milk or goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. Any animal milk is dairy. However, mostly when we’re talking about dairy, we’re talking about drinking cow’s milk, because that’s what most of our population consumes. Dairy-free products should contain NO dairy whatsoever, and that includes lactose, casein, and whey.

Some people ask me “Well, do I really need to go dairy free? Is it the same as going lactose-free or casein-free? Or do I need to look for whey products? There’s a lot of confusion around this because, they all seem to be important words that we need to know and yet no one seems to really know what they mean. So let’s clear up the differences.

If dairy is ALL the components of animal milk, then that means it includes lactose, casein, and whey.

Lactose is…

Lactose is the sugar that’s found in milk and just one component of dairy. So if you think about dairy as the all encompassing umbrella, lactose is one of the things underneath it.

Casein is…

Casein is a protein found in milk and one component of dairy.

Whey is…

Whey is another protein found in milk and one component of dairy.

Some people have said to me, “Well I am going dairy free but I still drink lactose free milk.” And my response is, “Well, you’re not really dairy free, then you’re going lactose-free and there’s nothing wrong with going lactose free if you can tolerate the rest of the components of the dairy, but that isn’t exactly dairy-free.”

So you can see that while being dairy-free or lactose-free or casein-free or whey-free all have their own unique definitions, and they aren’t exactly interchangeable. If you’re dairy-free, you can expect to also be lactose-free, casein-free, and whey-free – but it doesn’t go the other way. If you’re truly hoping to go dairy-free in its entirety, lactose-free milk or other products won’t work for you. But again, you know your body best and listen to that over anything I can tell you through a blog post.

I hope that this information has been useful to you and now you’re equipped with the knowledge to help explain yourself to any friends or family members who ask if lactose-free milk is good for you or not. Or if you simply just needed to understand the differences in a little more detail.

If you found this blog post useful, I hope that you’ll pass it along to a friend who could use it and share it out on Pinterest too.

And I’d love for you to check out my free 4-part workshop all about getting started with a gluten-free dairy-free diet, GFDF Made Easy. Be sure to enter your details below for quick and instant access.

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