Food Allergies: Dairy (including recipes)

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This is a guest post by Jill Miles our Team Assistant. To learn more about Jill check out “Our Team” page or her first post about gluten allergies.

Did you know that food intolerances affect approximately 10% of Americans, whereas food allergies are thought to affect 4% of teens and adults and 5% of children?  Cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in American children, affecting approximately 2.5%, however many will outgrow this allergy by the time they reach school age (about 80%).


So, what’s the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?  According to WebMD, a food allergy is an immune system response. It occurs when the body mistakes an ingredient in food — usually a protein — as harmful and creates a defense system (antibodies) to fight it. Food allergy symptoms develop when the antibodies are battling the “invading” food. Milk is one of the eight most common food allergies.

A food intolerance on the other hand is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when something in a food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest or breakdown the food. Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food intolerance.


Symptoms such as nausea, stomach pain and diarrhea are characteristic of both allergies and intolerances.  Additional allergy symptoms may include rash or hives, itchy skin, shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of the airways to the lungs and anaphylaxis.  Intolerances may also cause additional symptoms to those already noted above such as gas, cramps, bloating, vomiting, heartburn, headaches and irritability or nervousness.

Diagnosing milk allergies in adults is not always straightforward since adults can develop them in the absence of any childhood history of allergies.  In addition to clinical allergy tests, many doctors are now recommending elimination diets as an effective diagnostic tool for dairy allergies and intolerances.  They have found that this method is simple, free, highly effective, and tailored to the individual.


So, you or someone you love is dairy free.  Now what?  Some individuals who are lactose intolerant may still be able to consume dairy by using a product such as lactaid. This product is said to help break down the lactose found in dairy products such as milk and cheese to allow digestion without stomach discomfort.  But for those with a dairy allergy or for whom this type of product is not effective, eliminating dairy may be the only option.  That was the case for my husband who, in addition to being gluten free like I mentioned in my last post, is also dairy free.  He has personally chosen to simply eliminate dairy from his diet and add very few dairy alternatives in its place.  The number one dairy free item we use is almond milk.  I have found it to be a great replacement in pancakes, waffles and baking, as well as for smoothies.  I always recommend using the plain, unsweetened variety.  Or, better yet, you can make it yourself as I have recently started doing after reading several articles about some questionable ingredients used in the name brand products.  I have included the recipe below if you’d like to give it a try.

We also use rice milk (again, look for ones made from brown rice and unsweetened), but, much less often.  I find rice milk to be better for cooking as opposed to baking, such as for making dairy free mashed potatoes.

And, finally, I’m sure you’re wondering about butter.  Luckily, my husband has not had a problem with butter and, as such has not eliminated it from his diet.  I couldn’t figure out why that was, but, according to Wikipedia, the butter making process separates the majority of milk’s water components from the fat components and, as such, lactose, being a water soluble component, is largely removed from the butter.  Clarified butter (a.k.a. Ghee) has an even lower amount of lactose and may be an even better alternative.

Living with a dairy allergy or intolerance, especially if diagnosed later in life, does require some adjusting.  But just like everything else, it can be done and still allow you to enjoy a variety of foods.  To help you along the path, I’d like to leave you with a few recipes that are both gluten-free and dairy-free, as well as the recipe for the almond milk.  I hope you will enjoy them.


Almond Milk
  • 2 cups blanched almonds
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Almond Milk Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food
  1. Soak almonds overnight.
  2. Discard soaking water and rinse almonds until water runs clear.
  3. Place almonds, 4 cups water and vanilla extract in blender.
  4. Blend for approximately 90 seconds.
  5. Line fine mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. Pour blended milk through cheese cloth. Squeeze remaining milk through cheese cloth.

    Don’t discard the almond mixture. You can dry it out in a low oven (around 200 degrees) to make almond flour (which is gluten free).


Buckwheat Pancakes
Adapted from Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.
  • ½ cup buckwheat flour
  • ½ cup gluten free old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup (optional)
  • 2 cups almond milk

    Pancake Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food
  1. Mix buckwheat flour, oats, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.
  2. Mash the banana in another bowl, and add vinegar, maple syrup, and milk. Stir and add to the dry ingredients.
  3. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form. Flip, cook another few minutes on the other side.
  4. Enjoy plain or with fruit and maple syrup.


Fruit Crisp
Adapted from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
  • 4 cups fruit of your choice (I try and use what’s in season, but apples and peaches are the ones I use most often)
  • 4 tablespoons almond flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter (if you can not tolerate butter you can use a non-dairy alternative such as coconut oil)
  • ¼ cup gluten free rolled oats
  • ½ cup pecans
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Peach Crisp Recipe from 100 Days of Real Food
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Peel and cut fruit. Toss with 1 tablespoon almond flour and dot with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
  3. In a food processor, combine oats, pecans, remaining 3 tablespoons almond flour, salt, muscovado sugar, granulated sugar, remaining 3 tablespoons melted butter and vanilla. Process until crumbs form.
  4. Sprinkle topping over fruit and bake for 20 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown on top (note: I usually bake the apple crisp a bit longer to get the apples to soften more).
  5. Serve warm. You can also serve with vanilla ice cream for those that can have dairy.


Almond Butter Brownies


Lisa has been raving about these brownies to me and I have yet to try them (although I plan to).  Here is the link to the recipe if you’d like to give them a try:  They are both gluten and dairy free.

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95 comments to Food Allergies: Dairy (including recipes)

  • Emily

    My son is allergic to Milk so the whole family switched to Almond milk… I noticed that you mentioned butter was different – could yogurt possibly be okay for him to eat as well…?

    • Stephanie

      My mother has a lactose intolerance and eats yogurt just fine! There are also cheeses which are naturally lactose free (usually whiter cheese, and block forms are better. Check the back of the package). However, if it is a dairy allergy instead of a lactose allergy this would be different.

  • Danielle

    This sounds awesome! How much does this make? And, how long does it last for?

  • Sarah

    How much almond milk does the recipe make? How long does it last?

  • Michelle

    Hi I can not find where anyone replied to say the amount of almond milk this makes and how long is it good for? Thanks

  • Adrianne

    We are dairy-free, too. It’s not just the lactose that bothers myself and my kids, but the casein, which is often found in dairy-free cheeses, etc. We just cook foods that normally wouldn’t require cheese anyway, and we do use butter as that doesn’t bother any of us. For our mashed potatoes, they are really good if you put a good amount (2-3T) of butter in them and then add in some of the cooking water. I prefer that to using any type of milk alternative. Olive oil would be a good substitute for someone who couldn’t do butter/ghee (which is easy to make – just google it!)

  • Sara

    How do you make the almond flour from the milk left overs?

  • rachel

    bummer … I made the almond butter brownies and was so unbelievably psyched to eat them. I followed the recipe to a “T”. They were such a disappointment and barely edible at first (we got used to them) – and they were totally crumbly (couldn’t cut them into squared, just a bunch of crumbs we had to eat with a spoon) but not because they were dry, they were actually pretty moist. We did choke them down over the course of a couple of weeks because I did not want to simply waste all of those good, expensive ingredients! (on a positive note and to give props, Food Babe’s Kale tacos are-to-die-for!!!).

    • Judy

      In my research, I have read that you cannot use too much almond flour/meal in a recipe because it won’t hold together as you experienced. In my experience, if more than HALF of the “flour” in a recipe is almond meal, you will end up with crumbly, but moist results. I find using it half & half with another flour works very well, and yields “normal” results. :) I love it in baked goods & pancakes! I hope you have better luck in the future!

  • Cindy Hornickel

    I came to find this recipe via your email that you sent me. How long does this Almond milk stay good for? Thanks!

  • [...] for her husband after he started experiencing some sensitivities. Check out her posts on both dairy allergies and gluten allergies for more information. Also, my daughter is in a nut-free class at what used [...]

  • My husband has a lactaid allergy that causes him to have serious migraines. For years doctors didn’t believe him, but we eliminated milk and the frequency of the migraines went way down. He has cluster migraines which are horrible. He did finally visit with an allergist that said milk allergies may start mild with tummy problems but can evolve to more serious issues such as the headaches. We love almond milk, lactaid free, and soy, but I am excited to try making our own almond milk. He also has tomato allergies, he can’t eat red ones, but the yellow are fine, and heritage ones seem fine. Happily we like to garden and can, so we just serve yellow spaghetti and pizza!

  • rachel

    So… What alternatives other than nutmeg could be used when you are allergic to cinnamon… I notice more and more recipes are using it now days and substituting nutmeg just doesn’t cut it.

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