Dairy-free Diet for Milk Allergy

The dairy-free diet is an elimination diet that eliminates all dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt and all ingredients derived from milk.

It is intended for someone who is allergic or sensitive to cow’s milk.

The goal is to eliminate allergens from milk that trigger allergic reaction.

To successfully implement the dairy-free diet and achieve the best results, one has be meticulous with nutrition label reading, and savvy in the kitchen.

There’ll be new behaviors and habits, and new recipes to embrace.

Because milk is such a cheap commodity (as the industry is heavily subsidized by government’s grant), milk and its derivatives can be found in almost anything food products as additives. So you might not recognize these hidden milk ingredients on plain sight.

Fortunately, the US laws requires all FDA-regulated manufactured food products that contain a “major food allergen”, such as milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish and soy, as ingredients to list that allergen on the product label.

For tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish, the specific type of nut and fish must be identified.

The phrase “non-dairy” on a nutrition label indicates it does not contain butter, cream, or milk. However, this does not necessarily mean it does not contain other milk-derived ingredients.

The Kosher food label “pareve” or “parve” almost always indicates food is free of milk and milk products. A “D” on a food label next to the circled K or U indicates the presence of milk protein. These products should be avoided.

Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and luncheon meats, frequently contain milk or are processed on milk-containing lines.

Carefully read all food labels before purchasing and consuming any items. When in doubt, call the manufacturer to find out more.

Avoid foods that contain these ingredients:

Milk in all forms (derivative, dried, powdered, condensed, evaporated, goat’s, from other animals, lowfat, malted, milkfat, nonfat, skim, sour cream, yogurt, cream, cheese, buttermilk, Half and Half™ )
butter, butter fat, butter oil, butter acid, butter ester, ghee
casein, caseinates (ammonium, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium), casein hydrolysate
cheese, cottage cheese, curds
custard, pudding
hydrolysates (casein, milk protein, protein, whey, whey protein)
lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoferrin, lactoglobulin
rennet casein
sour cream
sour cream solids
whey (delactosed, demineralized, protein concentrate), whey protein hydrolysate

Other possible sources of milk or its derivatives:

artificial butter flavor
baked goods
brown sugar flavoring
caramel flavoring
high protein flour
lactic acid starter culture and other bacterial cultures
luncheon meats, hot dogs, sausages
natural flavoring

Many pediatricians and parents automatically raise concern about adequate calcium intake with a dairy-free diet, as milk is a very good source of calcium and other nutrients, as advertised by the Dairy Council.

And according to the various dietary guidelines over the past decades, milk and dairy products has always been represented as one group by itself.

There’s an over-emphasis on the importance of milk and dairy intake in our culture, in the American culture.

First of all, let me point out that many cultures in the world do not consume milk or dairy products on a daily basis. And people from these cultures thrive.

There are many non-dairy food that are rich in calcium.

Check out these non-dairy calcium food sources.

Second, let’s look at the nutrient profile of milk.

The macronutrients in milk are fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Can you get any of these nutrients from other food in your diet?


The micronutrients in milk are mainly calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12. Can you get these nutrients from other foods?

Yes, too.

Can you replace cow’s milk with plant-based milk?

Yes. But here’s the caveat. Plant-based milk is not a compatible replacement. Most plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut milk, has significantly lower caloric and protein content.

Milk By the Number

So, if you’re going to replace cow’s milk with one of these plant-based milk, you need to be sure to increase protein and calorie intake from other food as well.

Another point to remember is that many infant and children who are allergic to cow’s milk are also sensitive to soy protein. About 60% to be exact. In these kids, replacing cow’s milk with soy milk will not solve the problem.

Food Allergies & ADHD

Food allergy is common in infant and young children. It can be frustrating for parents – colicky infants, vomiting and not tolerating formula or sometimes even breast milk. And for the child, the impact is even more so – failure to thrive is common, which may lead to developmental delay as poor nutrient intake or tolerance impairs achievement of developmental milestones. Thus, it is important for parents and pediatrician to diagnose food allergy in a timely manner to avoid long-term detrimental outcomes.

The good news is most of these allergies in young children will resolve by 4-5 years of age. However, before that happens, the child has to stay clear of the offending allergic foods as each accidental exposure to the offending will strengthen the immune reaction. Thus, the more a child is exposure to the offending before his outgrowing of the allergy, the immune response becomes stronger and stronger, which means it will take longer for the child to outgrow the allergy.

Children with ADHD frequently have hidden food allergy or intolerance. The reason why I use the word “hidden” is because these allergies or intolerances are difficult to identify. Most of the time we don’t even know they exist because when we think of food allergy we are thinking of the very obvious ones, like some who is allergy to seafood, and ate something with shrimp, and within minutes reacted with full body hives, facial swelling, itching mouth and throat, etc.

However, these are not what we’re seeing in children with ADHD or even autism. Their reactions are a lot more subtle and slow. In fact, the food reactions we frequently suspect in children with ADHD or autism are Food Intolerance. Food intolerance and food allergy shares many similar signs and symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, runny nose, nasal congestions, hives, rash, etc. However, they are very different physiologically.


We frequently refer to any food reaction as food allergy. However, most of these reactions are food intolerances instead of allergies. Food reactions are common, but most are caused by a food intolerance rather than a food allergy. Food allergy and food intolerance share very similar signs and symptoms, which is why many people are confused between the two.

Food allergy triggers an immediate immune response, usually involving the immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE-mediated response activates a cascade of systemic reactions, involving multiple organ systems. That is why this is the more severe form food intolerance. Fatal peanut allergy usually falls into this category. Even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause an immediate, severe reaction or anaphylactic shock, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.

An anaphylaxis is characterized by systemic responses, such as difficulty breathing due to swelling of airway, hives along with itching, flushed or pale skin, weak and rapid pulse, dangerously low blood pressure, nausea/vomiting or diarrhea, dizziness or fainting.

An anaphylactic event requires emergent medical treatment, and delay of treatment may result in death. People with severe food allergies are usually prescribed and “epi” epinephrine pen that they carry around in case they consume or come in contact with their allergen by accident.

With a true allergy, the offending food needs to be avoided completely, especially in young children. Food allergies are common in the first years of life. With every repeated exposure to the offending food, the immune system becomes better in attacking that allergen, which means the response will become more and more intense each time the body is expose to the allergen. Children usually outgrow their allergies by 4 or 5 years of age. However, repeat exposure may prevent or delay the time to outgrow the allergy.

Food intolerance, on the other hand, usually does not involve the immune system, and reaction also comes on a lot slower – usually after two hours of ingestion of food, and up to 48 hours – and more subtle presentation. The individual usually is able to tolerate a small amount of the offending foods without much adverse effect.

Symptoms of food intolerance are generally less serious, less obvious and appear very subtly and slowly. That’s why that trouble food is seldom identified. Some common signs and symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, constipation, diarrhea, asthma, eczema (atopic dermatitis), etc. Food intolerances may also result in behavioral symptoms frequently seen in ADHD and autism.

Causes of Food Intolerance

There are many causes of food intolerance or food allergy. There may be a lack of enzymes to fully and efficiently digest a nutrient, as in lactose intolerance, where the body does not produce enough lactase (enzyme that breaks down lactose into glucose and galactose). People frequent thought they are allergy to milk. If you are allergy to milk, you cannot have any diary product at all – milk, cheese, yogurt, and anything made with or contains dairy ingredient. If you are lactose intolerant, on the other hand, you can tolerate small amount of milk with your morning cereal or coffee, enjoy yogurt, cheese, or ice cream without problem. But you cannot tolerate drinking a lot of milk by itself.

Your child may be sensitive to food additives, such as preservatives, food coloring, etc, which is basis of the Feingold diet, introduced by Dr. Benjamin Feingold in 1975 to treat children with ADHD. Autoimmune conditions, such as Celiac disease, may trigger adverse reaction to foods.

Milk protein allergy, common in infants and young children, may cause projectile vomiting, constipation, blood in stool and failure to thrive in young children.


Food Allergy (IgE) – Immediate Response

1. Usually only allergic to one to two offending foods.

2. Only trace amounts of offending food is enough to trigger an immediate intense allergic reaction.

3. Allergic reactions usually appear within minutes up to two hours of ingesting offending foods.

4. Primarily affects multiple systems, such as the skin (hives, rashes, and eczema), respiratory (asthma, throat swelling, and runny nose) and digestive tract (vomiting, diarrhea or constipation).

5. More common in children, rare in adults. But we’re seeing more adults developing new allergies as they age.

6. Children tend to avoid these foods on their own. Addictive cravings and withdrawal symptoms are rare.

7. Offending food is self-diagnosed due to the immediate appearance of allergic reactions.

8. A few food allergy may not be outgrown, especially peanut allergy, which is the more fatal allergy.

Food Intolerance (IgG) – Delayed Response

1. More food may be involved.

2. Accumulation of the offending foods over a period of time to trigger a reaction.

3. Reaction usually appears at least two hours after ingesting offending food, and up to 24-48 hours

4. The tissue organ affected depends on the cause of food intolerance.

5. Very common in both young children and adults.

6. Addictive craving and withdrawal symptoms are common.

7. The offending food is difficult to identify due to involvement of multiple foods and delayed onset of symptoms.

8. Allergic foods are frequently favorite eaten foods in larger amounts, such as milk and wheat.

9. The food intolerance may be resolved after three to six months of complete elimination.


So now we know your child most likely have food intolerance and not food allergy. This explains why the food allergy test usually comes back clean. The allergy tests that your pediatrician use – RadioAllergoSorbent Testing (RAST) and skin prick – only identify allergic reaction caused by the immunoglobulin E (IgE). Remember, the reactions we see in food intolerance do not involve the immune system, thus, RAST and skin prick will pick up nothing.

The focus of food allergy has always been on the physical manifestations. We frequently forget about that fact that the intestine is our biggest immune organ, blocking all kinds of foreign substances from entering our body. However, when our body is reacting to certain foods or chemicals in the foods we eat, and is showing associated GI symptoms, that means the GI tract is being attack. Chronic exposures to these insults may weaken the gut barrier that is supposed to be selective. Over time, this lead to leaky gut, where the intestine being so permeable and porous that it is allowed more foreign substances and semi-digested protein to enter the blood steam.

This feeds into a vicious cycle of offending food irritating the intestinal wall, the intestinal become porous and allowing undigested food particles (from poor digestion) into the blood stream, triggering allergic reaction. Along with all these, the undigested food, especially carbohydrates, creates an ideal environment for the yeast and bad bacterial to thrive, making the intestinal more susceptible to insults.

The best we have is observation and keeping a food and behavior log. Sometimes you maybe able to pinpoint a few food that your child reacts to. Some parents would swear that every time their child eats or drinks anything with red coloring, will act up after. You’ll probably notice when your child’s eczema worsens with eating dairy products. Or your child starts acting silly and not able to focus after eating a lot of wheat product.

There is another interesting point to make – many children with ADHD or autism, crave foods that they are intolerant to, such as dairy and gluten. They are the ones who are usually big milk drinker and eats mainly bread and crackers, and love mac n’ cheese.

Get this home food sensitivity test kit and test your reaction to 96 common food allergens

Possible Causes of ADHD in Children Explored


There are so many variables and interactions between every factors. It is very difficult to tease out the exact causes of ADHD. But one thing for sure is that there is no one simple solution to the treating ADHD. That is the reason why many children with ADHD do not response well to the medications. Most ADHD medications target only a few biochemical pathways to improve the symptoms. However, it does not completely remove the root cause of the problem, whatever it is.

A simple analogy to illustrate the idea of medication for ADHD is stepping on a piece of broken glass. You can take loads of pain killer to numb the pain on your foot, but as long as the piece of broken glass remains in your foot, the pain remains.

Same in the case of ADHD, you can try all kinds of ADHD medication. But if the root cause remains, and so will the symptoms. Unfortunately, the root cause of ADHD is not as clear-cut or obvious as the piece of broken glass. Some detective work is required in more cases along with some experimentation.

Children with ADHD are known to have nutrient deficiencies such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc and selenium and others.

Premature or underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex

I remember going to a parent orientation at my daughter’s school prior to start of the school year. And one of the topics discussed was that at 7th grade, children’s prefrontal cortex is still not fully matured. I found this really interesting. I completely did not expect to hear “prefrontal cortex” as a topic during a 7th grade parent orientation. Well, of course, this is one of the most prestigious school in Honolulu and dealing with demanding parents, the school has to be ready for the parents’ high expectations. The school is also very into child development.

At the same, I have to wonder are we, as a society, over-diagnosing ADHD without giving any considerations for the child’s natural personality.

The other day I saw a boy for his picky eating behaviors. According to parents, he prefers to eat only junk foods – chicken nuggets, pizzas, hot dogs, etc. Well, you got the idea. His parents also told me the child is recently diagnosed with ADHD. During the visit, dad raised his voice at the 5-year-old for him to sit still, and complaining that he did not take his medication this morning. To me, the child seems like a normal 5-year-old boy squirming in a chair. He did not get out of his chair during the 30-minute visit or run around the room like other children with ADHD that I’ve seen before. I feel sorry for the boy being scolded by the dad for just squirming in the chair, and being labeled as ADHD because he has super strict parents.

Related article: ADHD Brain

Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins are everywhere. We live in a giant pool of pollution everyday. The air is filled with smoke, fog, smog. And if you live in Hawaii like me, you’ll also have “vog” (a special blend of volcanic smoke and fog). Just thinking of it takes my breath away (as in my asthma symptoms). Water contaminated with industrial waste and sewer. Food tinted with toxic preservatives, colorings, flavorings. If your child takes medications, that’s another form of chemical assault. This is tough enough environment for anyone with great detoxification and immune system. Children with autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders have a generally below par immunity and detoxification system. Thus, these environmental toxins affect them more than others.

Don’t forget these children are exposed to many toxic chemicals even before they take their first breath outside their mother’s protective bodies. In fact, one of the risk factor of ADHD is prenatal tobacco and pesticide exposure. Children born to mother who smokes or exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Don’t forget mercury and lead poisoning also increase chance of ADHD and other comordities. Buildings constructed before 1978 maybe contaminated with lead paints and pipes. Check with your local planning permit branch or check with your condominium association to find out more.

Food Allergy and Sensitivity

Children with ADHD frequently have hidden food allergy or intolerance. The reason why I use the word “hidden” is because these allergies or intolerances are difficult to identify. Most standard blood tests for allergy do not detect these. Symptoms of these hidden allergies do not show up right away. Days later when symptoms finally do show, it’s too late to figure out which food you’ve consumed had triggered the symptoms.

With some probing, investigation and mom’s instinct, you may be able to figure out a few culprit.

My daughter has always complained of stomachache, and frequently she’ll ask questions like “Mommy, what does it mean when your poopy is green?” Hmmm…She loves milk, but the most she’ll drink is 3 cups, that’s all. But I started to notice that every time she has 3 cups of milk, she’ll complain that she bottom hurts and burns. So I cut out milk from her diet. Of course, she is not happy about that. She loves eating Oreo cookies with milk. She would ask for cow’s milk after we took it out from her diet. Finally, she admits that her belly does not hurt as much as when she stopped drinking milk.

With milk out of the picture, she is still having stomachache despite taking probiotics diligently for years. My instinct tells me she is sensitive to gluten too, just like me. She loves noodles in any form and shapes, except rice noodle, the one that is the gluten-free. She’s not big sandwich person. I still have not remove gluten completely from her diet to see any changes. But I know it will.

Related article: Gluten and ADHD Connection

You see how the child with ADHD started with less than perfect detoxification system, sensitivity to food due to poor immunity, a premature prefrontal cortex that is not regulating well, and, of course, the not so bright nutritional status because of limited food choice. All the child needs is the environmental flip to tip things over, which manifests itself as hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, impulsiveness, learning disability. You name it.

The way I look at it is that everything we’re born with we cannot change. And just because you are born with disadvantage on your side, does not mean that is your destiny. There are still many things you can do to change your fate. There are ways to improve your child’s nutritional status, ways to improve immunity and detoxification, and avoid toxins as much as possible by choosing organic products. All you need is an open-minded and explore what works for your child. You are your child’s advocate, not your child’s teacher or your child’s pediatrician.

Related article: ADHD Symptoms or Something Else?