Does vegan mean dairy-free?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Does vegan mean dairy-free?” and will discuss the difference between vegan and dairy-free.

Does vegan mean dairy-free?

No, vegan doesn’t mean dairy-free. While vegan and dairy-free diets have certain commonalities, they aren’t synonymous. A vegan diet eliminates all animal products, including dairy, eggs, meat, and fish, while a dairy-free diet forbids all milk products but not necessarily any other animal items. While all vegan meals are fundamentally dairy-free, not all dairy-free foods are vegan.

In 2016, the global market value of vegan cheese amounted to approximately 2.06 billion US dollars and this is predicted to increase to 3.90 billion dollars by 2024 while sales of vegan cheese in the USA increased by 43% from 2009 to 2018. Plant-based cheese alternative might also fit into the diets of people with special dietary needs such as those with cow milk allergy or lactose intolerance, and those with concerns about cow milk hormones (5).

What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet may be described as the absence of animal products in one’s diet. Veganism is a way of life as well as a diet. When someone chooses to become vegan, they do their utmost to avoid items that utilize or abuse animals.

Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and grains comprise a vegan diet. Dairy, eggs, and other products produced from animals are not permitted in the diet. Veganism may be chosen for a variety of reasons, including environmental, animal welfare, health, and/or ethical considerations. Animal-derived components or goods that have been tested on animals tend to be excluded from vegan diets. Cosmetics, apparel, and personal care products all fall within this category.

The Vegan Society, the first Western organization to coin a definition for veganism, emphasizes how veganism is a long-term commitment, defining it as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose”. In Australia, Vegan Australia leans on the UK definition but instead the focus is on social justice: “veganism is a social justice movement that is striving to bring about a world where animals are not exploited for food, clothing, entertainment or any other purpose” (1).

What is a dairy-free diet?

A dairy-free diet does not include any dairy products. Dairy-free dieters avoid all forms of dairy in their diet. Dairy products like cheese, yogurt, butter, and cream are all included in this category since they are all manufactured from milk.

Although this eating pattern allows individuals to consume other animal products like meat and fish (as well as shellfish), it does not prohibit them from consuming eggs.

Lactose intolerance, a disease in which your body cannot digest the lactose sugar lactose, leads to diarrhea and flatulence following dairy consumption, is a major reason people choose dairy-free diets. Dairy-free eating is also popular among those who do so for moral grounds.

In some people, milk ingestion causes symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhea that can  be severe enough to prompt avoidance of all dairy foods. The symptoms are caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase (the lactose-digesting enzyme that breaks down lactose into galactose and glucose for absorption) causing undigested lactose to increase the osmolarity in the small intestine (causing diarrhea) and enter the colon where it is fermented by the resident microflora, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms. However, lactose intolerant people are allowed to consume dairy products that do not contain lactose, such as hard cheese and yogurts and lactose-free dairy products (2).

Another reason to avoid dairy products is milk allergy. Milk allergy, which is characterized by an allergy against milk proteins, occurs in 3% of young children and is a frequent cause of self-reported food allergy in adults (3).

What meals to eat and how to choose them?

You may want to know whether a product is vegan or lactose-free before you buy it.

See if there is a label on anything.

Vegan or dairy-free are common labels for products that fit either diet. Additionally, certain items may bear the label “certified vegan,” indicating that they have not been subjected to animal testing and do not include any ingredients or by-products derived from animals.

If you are looking for dairy-free products, look for the kosher label pareve (also known as parve). This Yiddish phrase denotes vegetarian or vegan cuisine. Not all pareve foods are vegan, even if they bear the label “vegan.” This is because some pareve meals include eggs and other animal-derived components.

Because of the potential allergenicity of milk, labeling is necessary for products containing milk. An example is dark chocolate. A study investigated the presence of milk contaminants in dark chocolate. The highest percentage of dark chocolate bars had an advisory statement for milk alone, with phrases such as ‘‘may contain milk,’’ ‘‘processed on shared equipment with milk,’’ ‘‘made in a facility that handles products containing milk”; and ‘‘traces of milk”. However, results showed that 58% of the dark chocolate samples contained milk in different quantities (3).

Take a look at the list of ingredients.

Check the ingredient list if the label isn’t clear. In terms of allergies, milk is right up there with nuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish as well as peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. It is the responsibility of manufacturers to properly identify them in their ingredient lists so that customers are aware of their existence. They are often shown in large types.

If a product is dairy-free, it means it doesn’t include any milk or derivatives of milk. It’s vital to study the ingredient list even if a product claims to be vegan since vegan goods shouldn’t include any animal products.

In certain cases, vegan goods are made in facilities that also process non-vegan ones. To avoid cross-contamination, you may notice a warning stating that the item may contain traces of animal products such as milk, shellfish, or eggs.

Cross-contamination or cross-contact can occur through the transfer of dairy during processing or handling, such as when dairy-containing and non–dairy-containing foods or ingredients are produced in the same facility or on the same processing line and dairy controls are not properly implemented. Some causes for cross-contact during manufacturing include improper use of product rework, incomplete cleaning of food contact surfaces, and contamination of non-dairy foods with airborne dust and aerosols created during production of dairy foods (2).

Can You Eat Dairy-Free and Be a Vegan At The Same Time?

A vegan cannot eat steak and eggs for breakfast, smoothies with honey and bee pollen for lunch, and fish tacos with citrus aioli for supper while still adhering to the dairy-free diet guidelines. Any of those items are off-limits to vegans.

While all vegan diets exclude dairy products, a dairy-free one is not. Dairy-free individuals who are not allergic to or sensitive to any other animal products may eat all other animal products. Besides, most individuals with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 12 g of lactose (250 ml of milk, representing 300 mg of calcium and 30 % of recommended calcium intakes) without suffering gastrointestinal symptoms, although symptoms become more prominent at doses above 12 g and are appreciable after 24 g of lactose. People with lactose intolerance may obtain the health and nutritional benefits associated with dairy products such as yogurt or hard cheese, or smaller portions, and lactose-free varieties of dairy products (1). 

Seeing “dairy-free” on a product at the grocery store leads people to believe it’s vegan. This is particularly true when it comes to items like ice cream, which we generally identify with dairy. Likely, dairy-free dessert doesn’t include meat, but there’s a chance it contains eggs or honey instead of those two ingredients. Carmine, a dye created from crushed insects, is thought to be the source of the hue. 

It’s prudent to presume that a product isn’t vegan unless the label makes that clear. When you’re on a tight diet and can only eat specific things, knowing the components of everything you purchase is critical.

In the European Union, the term vegan is currently not regulated. However, the recommended definition of vegan products to carry a vegan label is that the ingredients must not be derived from animals and that the product must not be produced using any animal-related components. Thereby, all production and processing steps must be taken into account. The two most widespread labels in the European Union that meet these requirements are the V-Label and the Vegan Trademark. The former label is the most common vegan label for food, while the latter is also often found on non-food products (4).

No matter what your dietary needs are, learning to read food labels is a useful skill to have. For optimal health, learn to identify fake chemicals and needless additions in your food before consuming it. Start paying attention to the ingredients on the label, such as protein, carbs, added sugar, vitamins, and minerals. By reading labels, you give yourself the ability to make better choices.

Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.

Is a vegan diet low fat?

How is vegan ice cream made?

How is vegan leather made?


In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Does vegan mean dairy-free?” and discussed the difference between vegan and dairy-free.


  1. North, Madelon, et al. How to define “Vegan”: An exploratory study of definition preferences among omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. Food Qual Prefer, 2021, 93, 104246.
  2. Rozenberg, Serge, et al. Effects of dairy products consumption on health: benefits and beliefs—a commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Calcified tissue int, 2016, 98, 1-17.
  3. Bedford, Binaifer, et al. A limited survey of dark chocolate bars obtained in the United States for undeclared milk and peanut allergens. J food protect, 2017, 80, 692-702.
  4. Stremmel, Gesa, et al. Vegan labeling for what is already vegan: Product perceptions and consumption intentions. Appetite, 2022, 175, 106048.
  5. Mefleh, Marina, et al. Legumes as basic ingredients in the production of dairy‐free cheese alternatives: a review. J Sci Food Agric, 2022, 102, 8-18.