Casein is the principal protein found in fresh cow’s milk and is often used in many processed foods, including cheese products, infant formula, and coffee creamer. The casein salts, usually labeled caseinates, are water soluble and found in many other processed food products. For individuals suffering from milk allergies, the culprit may be the casein which is found in dairy and some non-dairy products.
Most people suffering from milk allergies are lactose intolerant, which is not the same thing. Lactose is the sugar in milk and casein is the protein. Casein-free foods may still contain lactose.
An individual with a milk allergy who would react to casein must learn to read labels on nearly everything. The word non-dairy does not mean the product is a casein-free food. Other terms listed on a label that indicate it contains casein may be milk proteins, milk solids, caseinates, fortified proteins, and curd. Finding casein-free foods to incorporate into the diet takes some research and learning.
If you discover you are sensitive to casein, you can avoid dairy products altogether. Naturally casein-free foods are of vegetable origin. Fruits and vegetables are casein-free foods, and nuts can also be considered in the diet if there are no restrictions. However, some processed foods containing fruits, vegetables, or nuts may not be casein-free foods. Casein is an excellent binding agent and may be used in spreads, dressings, and other processed products. It is also found in some chewing gums.
In some cases, such as kidney failure, it may be medically necessary to restrict or eliminate protein from the diet. Casein-free foods are free of milk protein, but may not be free of all proteins. If you are placed on a restrictive diet for allergy or other medical reasons, your doctor will provide you with a list of acceptable foods.
If you choose to avoid certain foods simply for dietary reasons or if you must avoid foods for medical reasons, casein-free foods can be found at many retailers who specialize in organic foods, health foods, and other specialty items. Substitutes for many dairy products can be found, but they are less prevalent and more expensive. In cases of severely restricted diets, it is best to consult with an expert nutritionist.