Is Vegan Dairy Free? Understanding the Differences Between Plant-Based and Animal-Based Products

The definition of vegan food is that it does not contain any animal-based or derived products. Therefore, vegan food cannot contain dairy since dairy products are derived from cows, goats, and sheep.

Consequently, lactose-free dairy products are also not vegan because they contain milk. They become lactose-free by adding enzymes that help break down the lactose.

Additionally, it’s essential to know that dairy-free food is not always vegan since many products may contain foods from other animal sources like eggs or honey. Therefore, a food can only qualify as vegan if it has no ingredient derived from animals and is completely plant-based.

Understanding the Differences Between Plant-Based and Animal-Based Products

There are some significant differences between plant-based and animal-based products.

What Does Plant-Based Product Mean?

A plant-based product is precisely what the term describes – a product that contains no animal products, making it compliant with a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet or lifestyle.

The compounds that provide nutritional benefits contain only items grown in the ground and have no meat products and harmful additives like antibiotics or hormones used for their production.

Therefore, plant-based foods contain only fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. People who follow a plant-based diet are not always vegan or vegetarian, but they primarily eat plant-based foods, sometimes adding dairy, eggs, fish, or meat.

Vegans eat only plant-based foods, while vegetarians may add some animal-derived products like eggs, milk, and cheese.

What Does Animal-Based Product Mean?

Animal-based products include anything sourced from animals, including meat, dairy products, poultry, eggs, and materials derived from animal hides or wool. The vegan diet excludes eating or using anything of animal origin, while other diets exclude only specific animal-based products. These include vegetarianism, kosher, and halaal.

Veganism vs. Dairy-Free Diet

Veganism encompasses a lifestyle where one avoids animal products or products exploiting animals. Therefore, vegans won’t eat meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. They also never consume animal-derived products like eggs or honey. Vegans also exclude other consumer products like clothing and cosmetics that have animal-derived ingredients, packaging, or have been tested on animals.

On the other hand, a dairy-free diet may include eating other animal foods but excludes all dairy products. Therefore, a person on a dairy-free diet won’t consume butter, cheese, cream, milk, or yogurt.

People follow a dairy-free diet for several reasons, including ethical reasons or lactose intolerance.

Therefore, on a vegan diet, people exclude all animal-based products. A dairy-free diet only excludes dairy products. Therefore, vegan food is always dairy-free, but dairy-free is not always vegan.

Distinguishing Between Plant-Based and Animal-Based Products

Here’s what to look out for when shopping to distinguish between plant-based or animal-based foods, especially if you want to know whether the products you choose are vegan or dairy-free.

Always Check the Label

Often products suitable for a particular diet choice will have a label indicating whether it’s vegan or dairy-free. Some vegan products may also have a certification seal, indicating they have been approved as products containing no animal-based products or byproducts.

Products suitable for ethical diets will also have a seal indicating whether they are kosher or halaal. However, not all kosher or halaal products are vegan.

Study the Ingredient List

If a label isn’t marked clearly, you can check the ingredient list to ensure it doesn’t contain any ingredients you want to avoid or have an allergy to.

If vegan food is manufactured in a facility that handles non-vegan products, the manufacturer may have a disclaimer that there is a risk of cross-contamination.

Finally, a product containing no milk or its derivatives will say dairy-free.

Dairy Alternatives for Vegans

All vegan products are dairy-free, but plenty of vegan dairy alternatives exist. These include non-dairy milk and dairy-free cheeses.

Here are some popular dairy alternatives that you can find on most food market shelves:

Cheese: You can find cheese slices or shreds made from plant-based products like almonds, coconut, cashews, soy, or pea protein.

Milk: Most food stores have a wide range of dairy-free milk. These ingredients include oats, rice, hemp, soy, almonds, coconut, peas, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, or cashews.

Cream cheese and sour cream: Most cream cheese and sour cream alternatives have cashews or beans.

Butter: Vegetable oil, pea protein, or cashews form the base of vegan butter.

Ice cream: Delicious non-dairy ice cream alternatives may include soy, cashews, oats, or coconut milk

These are non-dairy alternatives ideal for a vegan or dairy-free diet.

Maintaining a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet

Veganism and plant-based diets have significant health benefits because they help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers. Furthermore, they help people manage the symptoms of metabolic syndrome and improve mental and physical function. These healthy diets also help improve the symptoms of depression.

Whether you consume dairy products on a plant-based diet depends on you. However, on a vegan diet, you must create a meal plan that provides enough plant-based proteins, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy. Consuming some healthy fats in a vegan diet is essential, so you must remember to add avocados or vegetable oils to your foods.

Vegans often struggle to get enough B vitamins and calcium, which are more available in animal products. If you cannot get enough of these on a plant-based or vegan diet, you should ask your doctor to prescribe a supplement. Some vegan products, especially plant-based dairy milk, are calcium-fortified.

A healthy plant-based or vegan diet should consist of at least 50% vegetables, 25% whole grains, and 25% of lean protein or plant-based protein. Of course, you can include some fruit, but vegetables are healthier and have less sugar.

Final Take

Whichever form of a plant-based diet you prefer, you are likely to exclude all forms of animal products or reduce them to a minimum. On a dairy-free diet, you will permanently exclude dairy products. These three vegan, dairy-free, and plant-based diet forms share many similarities and differences.

You may think it’s challenging to determine which foods you can eat, but it’s easier than you think. Read all labels to ensure your food is free of animal products or dairy. Furthermore, remember that vegan dairy alternatives suit vegan and dairy-free diets.


Is vegan food always dairy free?

Yes, vegan food is always dairy free since it excludes all forms of animal products. However, dairy-free does not necessarily mean vegan; a person on a dairy-free diet may still consume other animal foods.

What should I look for when shopping for vegan or dairy-free foods?

Always check the label to see if the product is marked as vegan or dairy-free, and study the ingredient list to ensure no ingredients you want to avoid or have an allergy to. Additionally, some vegan products may have certification seals indicating that they are approved as containing no animal-based products or byproducts.

Are there vegan dairy alternatives?

Yes, you can find several vegan dairy alternatives such as cheese slices and shreds made from plant-based products like almonds, coconut, cashews, soy or pea protein; non-dairy milk including oats, rice, hemp, soy, almonds, coconut peas, or macadamia nuts; cream cheese and sour cream with cashews or beans; butter with vegetable oil or pea protein base; and ice cream using soybeans, cashews or coconut milk. ​​​

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