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dairy intolerance

Dairy Intolerance

There are lots of health benefits commonly associated with drinking milk, and dairy plays a huge role in lots of the nation’s favourite foods. 

However, not everybody can tolerate dairy in their diet. In fact, dairy intolerance is one of the most common food sensitivities among both children and adults. An intolerance can show in lots of different ways. Some people experience a delayed physical reaction after having dairy due to an intolerance. For some, consuming any kind of dairy can lead to a severe allergic reaction. 

Dairy intolerance or allergy symptoms can differ from person to person, and can even appear at different times or in different ways. We’ve put together a guide to understanding some of the most common symptoms and how to work around an intolerance to dairy for the healthiest you.

What is dairy?

Dairy is any food or drink made with animal milk product – or produced in an animal’s mammary glands. This can take the form of cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk and buffalo milk, amongst others. The most common is cow’s milk, which typically forms a large percentage of our diet in the UK. Did you know it’s made up of 87% water and 13% solids which includes proteins, lactose, fats and proteins?

Other dairy products include cheese, cream, yoghurt, butter and more. If you suspect you have an intolerance or allergy, it’s important to check all your food products’ ingredient lists – you might be surprised what contains dairy. Some sauces, meat products, cereals, biscuits and spreads contain dairy, so make sure to plan your diet carefully to avoid trigger foods until you’ve got to the bottom of what’s causing your condition.


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Optimise your lifestyle with our support, knowing which foods you’re reacting to.

  • Discuss your results with a nutritional therapist. One 30-minute consultation included
  • Measures all four subtypes of food-specific IgG
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  • Results listed in easy-to-read traffic light values: high, borderline, and normal reactivity
  • Track your progress with a food and drinks diary
  • This test is not available to customers who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Symptoms of dairy allergy

A food allergy could be fatal, and a reaction is almost immediate, affecting around 2% of the population. Symptoms of a dairy allergy may include:

Difficulty breathing

Skin rashes or hives

Swollen lips or tongue

Chest tightness

Feeling sick

Itchy, red and watering eyes

If you are concerned you may have an allergy to dairy, it is important to consult your GP.

Symptoms of dairy intolerance

The symptoms of a milk protein intolerance (IgG) are wide-ranging, so it is important to discuss your symptoms with your GP before taking a closer look at your diet. Dairy intolerance symptoms could include, but are not limited to:

IBS symptoms:
Abdominal pain
Excess wind

Urticaria (hives)
Itchy skin


Weight gain



Joint pain

Respiratory problems

What Are The Differences Between A Dairy Allergy And A Dairy Intolerance?

Many people think that allergies and intolerances are the same thing. However, the biological processes behind them are, in fact, totally different.

Food allergies are an immediate, potentially life threatening reaction to foods – such as dairy products. Symptoms may come on very quickly, often within minutes of eating the food. Approximately 2% of the UK’s adult population suffer from food allergies, and reactions are usually for life.

With a food allergy, your body produces IgE antibodies. Food-specific IgG (food intolerance) reactions, meanwhile, are usually delayed and are not life-threatening, though they can make life difficult. Food intolerances are also not necessarily lifelong. You can find out more on the differences between allergy and intolerance here.

In addition to dairy allergies and intolerances, milk allergies and lactose intolerance can also incite further confusion.

What Is The Difference Between Dairy Intolerance And Lactose Intolerance?

The difference between lactose and dairy intolerance is significant. While lactose intolerance is caused by a reaction to the sugar in milk, it is NOT the same as a dairy intolerance or allergy.

Lactose intolerance is a digestive issue which is caused by an enzyme deficiency. People who suffer from lactose intolerance don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase and as such are unable to fully digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. There are some dairy products that contain low amounts of lactose – for example butter, some yoghurts, kefir and certain hard cheeses.

There are some similarities between lactose intolerance and both dairy allergies and intolerances. For example, the reaction of a lactose intolerance can be delayed, similar to an IgG reaction to dairy. However, lactose intolerance is for life, much like an allergy. 

If you have a dairy intolerance (defined by yorktest as a food-specific IgG reaction), your body reacts negatively to a protein within dairy – often casein, albumin, whey or a combination. This means that you should look to remove all animal milks – such as cow, sheep or goat – from your diet, unless each is separately tested for.

If you suspect you might have a lactose intolerance, please consult your GP as a first port of call. They may perform certain tests which could diagnose the deficiency, such as a hydrogen breath test.

Can You Outgrow A Dairy Intolerance?

Yes, it is possible to outgrow a dairy intolerance, since this is an intolerance to the dairy protein (IgG). However, please note that you cannot outgrow lactose intolerance as diagnosed by your GP, but its effects can sometimes be helped by taking digestive enzymes.

How Long Does It Take For Dairy Intolerance To Show?

Unlike an allergy, a food intolerance usually involves a delayed biological reaction. It is thought that an IgG reaction to dairy can take between 2 to 72 hours to show. This does sometimes mean that dairy intolerances are mistaken for reactions to other, more recently consumed ingredients, which is why it can be useful to do a dairy intolerance test to eliminate other causes.

How Do You Test For A Dairy Intolerance?

Once you’ve ruled out an allergy or another underlying condition, there’s an easy way to determine if you are dairy intolerant. yorktest, Europe’s leading provider in food intolerance testing, has been providing IgG food tests, which include dairy-specific IgG antibody reactions, for over 35 years.

It is estimated that around 45% of the population suffer from a food intolerance. yorktest has found that the average person reacts to 4 to 5 different ingredients. Our Premium Food & Drink programme, for example, can assess the level of anti-dairy antibodies in the blood, reacting to ingredients such as cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. This specific testing can help narrow down your triggers and provide a more detailed look at your gut health – for example you may find you react to cow’s milk but can tolerate other animal milks. Therefore, it’s always worthwhile to consider an IgG food intolerance test before jumping into an elimination diet by yourself.

Please note that yorktest’s programmes do not measure the levels of lactase, and therefore do not diagnose lactose intolerance. If the food intolerance test results indicate that you may have a dairy intolerance, it does not mean that you have lactose intolerance, although you may wish to consult your doctor for further tests, as it is possible you may have both.

dairy-free Easter platter

Foods To Avoid With A Dairy Intolerance

There are many products which contain dairy – even ones that might not seem obvious. If you’re following an elimination diet or have identified your trigger food, you’ll need to pay special attention to the foods you consume and their ingredients. 

Some of the common items to avoid if you have a dairy intolerance:

  • Milk (whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed, UHT, condensed, powdered)
  • Cream (single, double, soured, whipping, aerosol)
  • Cheeses (hard, soft and spreadable)
  • Butter
  • Buttermilk
  • Crème fraiche
  • Fromage frais
  • Ice cream
  • Yoghurt

Dairy-Free Foods To Try

If you do have a dairy intolerance, you don’t need to worry too much about cutting out your favourite dishes and treats from your diet. These days there are plenty of dairy-free options available in major supermarkets, coffee shops, and restaurants. To ensure you maintain a balanced diet which provides protein, calcium and fat-soluble vitamins, you can supplement your diet with a variety of dairy alternatives. These include:

  • Coconut milk
  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk
  • Sunflower or olive oil spreads
  • Soya cheese
  • Nut cheese
  • Almond or hazelnut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Soya milk


Will I Get Enough Calcium If I Follow a Dairy-Free Diet?

In general, dairy is one of our main sources of calcium, so cutting it out is obviously a big step. Many people worry that without their regular intake of milk and cheese that they won’t be consuming enough calcium, which can lead to things like osteoporosis and vitamin deficiencies. 

However, if your test results show that you have a dairy intolerance or allergy, yorktest’s Nutritional Therapists will provide advice, tips and recommendations for your long-term health. Your consultation is a great chance to discuss dietary options and alternatives, and figure out a plan for taking control of your gut health in the long run.

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Pop 2-3 drops of blood into the lancet and post your sample to our laboratory.


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Review your reactivity levels and book your appointment with one of our qualified nutritional therapists.


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