Find out what whey is, what it’s made from, if it’s considered a dairy product, and how it fits into a dairy-free diet.
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If you like to make protein shakes for breakfast or for a post-workout snack, you’re probably familiar with scouring the protein powder aisle and seeing “whey” on the front of so many bottles at your grocery store or supplement shop.
Whey is a popular high protein supplement that is used for building muscle. It’s a good option for people who are trying to lose weight or get stronger.
However, if you are avoiding dairy for your health, you may want to think twice about picking up a bottle of whey protein powder next time you’re shopping. Find out in this post what whey is, what it’s made from, and if it’s dairy-free.
Even some snack foods contain whey, so whether you’re kicking back those protein shakes or just wanting to buy some chips that have whey in the ingredients list, find out how whey fits into a dairy-free diet.
What is whey?
Whey is the liquid protein that comes from separating cheese. There are two proteins in cow’s milk: casein and whey.
Whey can be separated from casein, when cheese is made. The casein turns into curds, where the whey stays liquid. You can also find whey naturally in yogurt, sour cream, or other dairy products. If you’ve ever opened a fresh container of one of these foods from the store and found liquid on the top, that’s whey.
What is whey made from?
Whey is a protein found in cow’s milk that can be separated when undergoing the process of cheesemaking. Casein (solids) are separated from whey (liquid) to make cheese.
This whey is often dehydrated and turned into a whey protein powder that’s used as an ingredient that goes into shakes, protein bars, or meal replacement options.
You can also find whey in processed foods with “high protein” on the label, as this ingredient can add a good amount of protein without much change in flavor.
What is dairy?
Dairy is a term used to describe any food that comes from animal milk, such as cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
Though dairy is the term for ANY animal milk products, most folks reference dairy in relation to cow’s milk products. Sheep’s milk or sheep’s milk cheese is a dairy product, but we don’t often think of that when discussing dairy in the U.S.
Is whey dairy?
Whey is considered a dairy product, because it is derived from cow’s milk. Since all animal milk (including all its different proteins, sugars, and other parts) are considered dairy, whey is also considered dairy.
Is whey dairy-free?
Whey protein is a milk derivative, which means it contains dairy and is not considered dairy-free. If you’re looking for a protein powder that doesn’t contain dairy, opt for a plant-based option like pea protein or other plant protein brand, like Vega or Orgain.
You might find whey as an ingredient in some processed foods too, like chips or cheese flavored snack foods. These are not good options for a dairy-free diet and you’ll want to avoid them.
Is whey gluten-free?
Whey protein itself does not contain gluten and is gluten-free. There is no wheat in whey. Whey protein is safe on a gluten-free diet when listed as whey concentrate, whey hydrolysate, or whey isolate on ingredient lists.
That said, some whey protein powders do contain gluten, so you’ll want to read ingredients lists before purchasing. Flavorings or stabilizers that contain gluten may be added to the ingredients.
Look for hidden names of gluten and/or a gluten-free label on every whey protein powder you buy to tell you if it’s safe for a gluten-free diet.
If you are following both a dairy-free and gluten-free diet, you should still avoid whey in any protein powders or processed foods.
Read on: Is whey gluten-free?
Read on: Is Ensure dairy-free?
Read on: Is Muscle Milk gluten-free?
Read on: Does Premier Protein have dairy?
If you’ve been wondering if whey is dairy and how it fits into a dairy-free diet, I hope this post has helped you get the information you need to make an informed decision. Whey is considered a dairy product and should be avoided on a dairy-free diet.