Understanding the Difference between Dairy-Free & Veganism

With the rising popularity of alternative diets, we look at the dairy-free and vegan diets whilst exploring the difference between them.

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"Plant-based kinds of milk are also extremely good"

Alternative diets seem to be all the rage nowadays, with those such as dairy-free and vegan really paving the way.

There is something to cater for everyone and their personal tastes.

Companies are also buying into the opportunity of offering alternatives on their roster of products. Dining has never been such a flexible and inclusive experience.

However, many people often fail to understand the difference between being vegan and then being dairy-free.

Many consider these words to be different descriptions of the same thing.

This is a very common misconception. Although it can be a light-hearted mistake, confusion about these terms can actually lead to some harmful consequences.


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To be considered a ‘vegan’ is to not indulge in any products that derive from an animal.

This includes the obvious meat, dairy, eggs and fish. However, it does extend further given there are a lot of flavourings and other food products that are taken from animals.

These include honey, carmine (colouring taken from beetles), gelatine and isinglass (fish guts used to filter beer and wine).

Aside from the obvious diet choices, veganism extends beyond what is consumed.

It is also considered a lifestyle choice, in which individuals aim to protect animals and their welfare. It is part of a movement that seeks to abolish cruelty to animals in every way.

Therefore, being a vegan can often influence one’s decisions as well as purchase behaviours.

For instance, vegans will only buy cruelty-free products. This is when brands have used no form of animal testing at any point throughout the creative process.

This also extends to the products themselves and their ingredients. Vegans will avoid anything containing lanolin, taken from sheep’s wool to beeswax.

In addition, the avoidance of purchasing leather or silk given that they both derive from living specimens.

Vegans will also avoid partaking in activities such as going to a zoo or aquarium as the ethics of these can often be questioned.

With animal wellbeing at the forefront of their reasoning, vegans will consider this highly in the decision-making process.

Many also choose the vegan diet for its environmentalism. The overgrazing of cattle, in particular, to feed the ever-growing world population is said to be the number one cause of climate change.

According to an article by The Independent, writer Olivia Petter stated that: “Veganism is the single biggest way to reduce environmental impact on the earth.

“Cutting meat and dairy products out of your diet could reduce carbon footprint by almost 73%.”

With many trying to help the planet, many also struggle to maintain a strictly vegan diet. Therefore, flexible veganism has been explored under the terms ‘flexitarian’ and ‘plant based‘.

These do not necessarily mean cutting anything out of a diet, but simply reducing or limiting consumption.

With the rising popularity of people choosing milk alternatives over a standard dairy option as well as companies buying into the diet, people are happily opting for the vegan choice where they can.


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Dairy-free does not necessarily mean ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’. Many people choose to be dairy-free and continue to eat meat, poultry and fish.

This differs massively from veganism in the sense that it is solely a diet choice. It is often followed due to intolerance or allergies to dairy.

Bupa Healthcare stated that: “1 in 10 older children and adults are thought to have lactose intolerance. It’s also more common in certain places/areas of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia.”

Dairy allergies tend to be more common amongst babies, with lactose allergies being very common in adults.

It is important to note, that there is also a difference between dairy-free and to be lactose intolerant.

Lactose is a sugar that is naturally found in dairy, therefore the individual can still consume dairy products that are lactose-free.

On the other hand, dairy allergy is an intolerance to dairy products as a whole. Therefore, those who suffer from this have to be extremely careful with the food they consume.

For a dairy allergy sufferer, the separation of products is imperative as well as the area in which their food is prepared.

It is very important that the products are manufactured in places where there are absolutely no traces of dairy.

Wherein veganism labels such as ‘may contain traces’ are often of no harm to the consumer, for dairy-free, it is quite the opposite.

There have been cases of deaths caused by the unknown consumption of dairy.

In 2017, Owen Carey passed away after eating buttermilk chicken at UK chain Byron Burger.

Despite informing the staff of his allergies, he was misled into believing that the burger was okay for him to eat.

Owen suffered anaphylactic shock and passed away. Upon investigation, the restaurant failed to declare the allergens under the burger that Owen had ordered.

Consequently, it is not only the individual’s responsibility but companies are also equally responsible for declaring allergens and correctly marketing their products and services.

Aside from allergies, some choose to give up dairy for skin reasons. It is normally the first port of call for dermatologists to suggest this.

Dr Harshna Bijlani, a Mumbai skin expert told Vogue magazine: “As children, our systems are designed to secrete enzymes that digest milk, but as we grow up, our ability to digest milk reduces.

“The quality of milk is also different nowadays, as the demand for it has grown. As a consequence, cows are being injected with various hormones in order to boost milk production and satisfy needs.”

Unfortunately, these hormones are then in the end product that is consumed. Dr Bijlani then explained how these hormones such as insulin-like-growth-factor-1, are then absorbed by the human body.

It can cause the overproduction of sebum, resulting in spots and skin inflammation.

Therefore, many are recommended to cut down on their dairy consumption when trying to clear their skin.

Vitamin Deficiency

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Concerns are often raised when an individual chooses to omit products from their diet. This is fear that they will not get their recommended daily dose of vitamins and fall deficient.

This issue resonated more with the vegan community, particularly with B12 which is rich in meats, calcium from dairy and protein from meats, fish and eggs.

Upon interviewing Dr Mohammed Qasim, a GP from the West Midlands, he set to clear these hesitations: “By assuming a diet such as vegan or dairy-free, it does not necessarily mean that you will be deficient in vitamins.

“However, when omitting any traditional source of the vitamin from your diet, it is important to remain aware and slightly more mindful of your food consumption.

“Saying that, many people, regardless of diet choice, can struggle with maintaining vitamin levels if they are not consuming a varied diet.

“Before switching, I would recommend some research be done surrounding alternative foods that you can source these vitamins from.

“I would also recommend taking a daily supplement to complement this. There are many great ones on the market specifically targeted at vegans and dairy-free.

“Plant-based kinds of milk are also extremely good nowadays as they are fortified with calcium and other vitamins. Vegans, as well as dairy-free, will not struggle within this department as they have in the past.”

Undoubtedly, with companies constantly introducing new products and catering for different diet choices, being vegan or dairy-free is quite easy to maintain.

These diets are very different in terms of what they constitute.

For those within industries working closely with food, in health or just knowing someone who maintains one of these diets, it is beneficial to be aware.

The differences are quite significant, and in some cases could cause a life or death situation.

Naomi is a Spanish and business graduate, now turned aspiring writer. She enjoys shining light on taboo subjects. Her life motto is: "Believe you can and you’re halfway there."

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