Dairy Allergy

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About Dairy Allergy


Dairy allergy can be a severe problem and difficult to live with. Many dairy products are consumed on their own, such as a glass of milk or slice of cheese, but numerous dairy products are hidden components of ingredients in a meal. Because the use of dairy products is so widespread, it is very difficult for a person with this allergy to eat at restaurants without paying very close attention to how the food is prepared. It can be equally difficult to go grocery shopping as the component of milk which an individual may be allergic to could be an ingredient in many processed foods. To understand the complexities of dairy allergy, a breakdown of milk components may prove to be useful.

The Main Components of Milk

The primary components of milk are as follows:

Water - Milk is made up of approximately 85% water.

Carbohydrate - Milk is composed of approximately five percent carbohydrates with the major source coming from lactose. Although there are other sources of carbohydrates, they are in much less significant amounts.

Fat - Generally, milk contains about 4% fat which can be further broken down to 65% saturated, 30% monounsaturated, and 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Protein - Proteins make up just over three percent of milk’s composition. Of this three percent, 76% comes from casein, 18% from whey, and the remaining 6% from non-protein nitrogen.

Minerals - Many minerals can be found in milk although some are found in trace amounts such as copper, iron, manganese, and sodium. Milk is a major source of a few minerals though, including: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium and zinc.

Vitamins - Milk is an important source of many vitamins essential for a body’s health. Fat soluble vitamins found in milk include A, D, E and K. Milk also contains water soluble vitamins: B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C and folate. Milk is not considered to be a major source of all of these vitamins. For one, depending on the type of milk purchased and it’s fat content, there will be varying levels of the above vitamins present in the milk. Additionally, unpasteurized milk contains vitamin C but the pasteurization process destroys most of it so that unless one is drinking raw milk, the amount present is insignificant.

Milk Components That Usually Cause A Problem

The components of milk that usually cause a problem for allergy sufferers are as follows:


Casein makes up seventy six percent of the proteins found in milk. Caseins are normally easily digestible and are very important in the growth and development. It has been estimated that three percent of the population suffer from a casein-specific dairy allergy. An individual with this dairy allergy is unable to break down casein protein into usable amino acids, so he should not only avoid dairy products to minimize the chance of an allergic reaction but also be very cognizant of the ingredients in other foods as casein is common in many processed foods.

Whey (Alpha-Lactalbumin and Beta-Lactaglobulin)

Whey proteins makes up approximately eighteen percent of the proteins found in milk and play a role in growth, development, and transporting nutrients within the body. The two major types of whey protein found in cow’s milk are alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactaglobulin. Whey protein is considered less digestible than casein and when it is not digested fully, the remaining protein in the bloodstream can cause an allergic reaction. It is suspected that the inability to break down the beta-lactaglobulin is usually the cause.


Lactose is a major carbohydrate in cow’s milk and is usually readily digestible. It is made up of glucose and galactose and is added to processed foods for flavoring. Although lactose is usually associated with an intolerance, it can also create an allergic reaction in some individuals. Individuals with this intolerance can purchase milk that has the lactose removed, or they can take a Lactaid pill when consuming milk.

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Dairy Allergy Versus Lactose Intollerance

It is worthwhile to take a moment to explain the difference between a dairy allergy and a lactose intolerance as it would be easy to confuse the two. A dairy allergy causes an adverse reaction when the immune system has been compromised. In a healthy person with no dairy allergy, food proteins will be broken down during digestion into components that the body is able to absorb and use for maintenance. But when an individual suffers from a dairy allergy, the proteins are not fully broken down and can make their way into the bloodstream. The body then reacts to the offending substance, such as casein, and produces large amounts of antibodies to try and battle the allergen. When these antibodies are present in the bloodstream, they produce an allergic reaction when the offending substance is found. The allergic reaction can be mild, such as a rash, or it could be quite significant, such as with anaphylactic shock. Symptoms to a dairy allergy will usually occur within minutes of consumption.

A lactose intolerance on the other hand, may cause an adverse reaction but does not involve the immune system, rather it is an enzyme deficiency. Lactose is the most common food intolerance in North America and is caused by the individual’s inability to digest milk sugar, or lactose. This inability is due to the body’s deficiency of the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose during the digestive process. Without enough lactase, the body cannot completely digest lactose and the remaining undigested lactose is metabolized by colonic bacteria which can result in very uncomfortable and painful symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea. Reactions involving lactose intolerance may not occur for several hours after the substance has been consumed.

Avoiding Dairy Foods

Some may think a simple solution for individuals suffering a dairy allergy is to avoid dairy products. It does sound simple. The problem lies in the fact that many foods are processed with dairy products. This makes the issue much more difficult as individuals need to understand what foods they are purchasing and consuming. It would indeed make things simple if one could simply avoid the dairy aisle in the grocery store. By doing so we could eliminate milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. The problem is that many other products use dairy ingredients.

Soy products, for example, incorporate dairy based proteins to increase the protein content. Even meat products can have dairy ingredients such as lactose added to improve the flavor or to increase the ease of processing the meat itself. What it comes down to is, individuals with a dairy allergy need to be very cognizant of their food choices and read labels carefully to ensure that the product they are considering does not contain a milk component that will initiate their allergic reaction.

Dr. Ellen Cutler, in her book "The Food Allergy Cure," has an informative list of foods that contain milk. That list includes: "Baking powder biscuits, bavarian cream, bisques, blancmange, boiled salad dressings, bread, butter, buttermilk, butter sauces, cakes, candies, cheeses, chocolate, cream, cocoa drinks and mixtures, cookies, cream, creamed foods, cream sauces, curds, custards, doughnuts, scrambled eggs, flour mixtures, foods fried in butter, foods prepared au gratin, fritters, gravies, hamburgers, hard sauces, hash, hotcakes, ice cream, junket, malted milk, margarine, mashed potatoes, meat loaf, milk chocolate, omelets, ovaline, pie crusts, prepared mixes (biscuits, cakes, muffins, etc.), salad dressings, sausages, scalloped dishes, sherbets, soda crakers, souffles, soups, whey, zwieback (pg. 293-294).

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