Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

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Following a dairy-free lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular. Although low-carb dairy products provide health benefits and can be included on keto diets, some people do best with minimal dairy, and others must avoid it altogether.

Read on to learn why going dairy-free makes sense in certain cases, and check out our guide to living a healthy, dairy-free ketogenic lifestyle that includes a dairy-free keto food pyramid and easy-to-follow diet plan.

Reasons for Eliminating or Reducing Dairy

Dairy Allergy

About 3% of people (mainly children) are allergic one or more of the proteins in dairy, most commonly casein. After consuming dairy, their immune system reacts to the protein(s) by producing antibodies that cause the release of histamine.

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Dairy allergies typically develop in early childhood and often disappear by adulthood. However, some people remain allergic to dairy products throughout their lifetime, and in rare cases a dairy allergy may develop in adulthood.

Symptoms of dairy allergies include rash, hives, swollen lips, digestive distress, and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock. Obviously, people with dairy protein allergies must avoid dairy altogether.

Lactose Intolerance

Unlike allergies to dairy protein, lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest and absorb lactose, the sugar found in dairy.

People with lactose intolerance don't produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks lactose into smaller sugar units that can be absorbed. Without lactase, lactose passes into the colon, where it typically causes bloating, gas, pain, and diarrhea within minutes to an hour after consumption.

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Lactose intolerance is quite common, especially in certain ethnicities. In fact, it's estimated that about 65-70% of people worldwide don't produce lactase after early childhood (1, 2).

Native Americans and people of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent are usually lactose intolerant in adulthood, whereas most Northern European populations continue producing lactase throughout their lives if they continue consuming milk.

Some individuals with lactose intolerance may be able to eat cheese and yogurt because most of the lactose has been fermented into lactic acid. However, others may experience symptoms when exposed to even tiny amounts of lactose.

Being at High Risk for Type 1 Diabetes

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Although controversial, some research suggests that dairy may trigger type 1 diabetes in those with a genetic predisposition to develop it (3).

People with type 1 diabetes produce antibodies that can gradually destroy their pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin. Individuals whose parents or siblings have type 1 are at increased risk for the disease if they have certain genetic markers.

Interestingly, bovine (cow) insulin and A-1 casein have both been implicated as potential substances that may trigger type 1 diabetes (4, 5). However, a recent study of more than 2,000 infants at high risk for type 1 found that those who received casein-free formula were just as likely to develop diabetes as those who consumed conventional milk-based formula (6).

Additionally, although it hasn't been studied much, if at all, some people with type 1 diabetes have reported that they achieve much better blood sugar control on a dairy-free or near-dairy-free diet.

Having Certain Types of Cancer

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Research on dairy and cancer is mixed. Some studies suggest that dairy fats may potentially provide anti-cancer protection (7). Based on the most recent evidence, consumption of dairy is associated with lower risk of developing breast, colon, bladder, or stomach cancer (8, 9).

However, in women who already have hormone-sensitive breast cancer, dairy may actually lead to worse outcomes due to the estrogen present in milk (10). Similarly, men with prostate cancer who frequently consume large amounts of dairy may experience a more rapid disease progression compared to those who avoid dairy or consume it less often (11).

Struggling to Lose Weight

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Most weight loss studies have found that low-carb dairy seems to have neutral or positive effects on weight, and many people who include it on a keto diet experience good results. However, there are also plenty of reports from people who were able to achieve their weight loss goals only after removing dairy from their diet.

Cheese is notorious for being easy to overeat because of its delicious taste. And although most cheese is low in carbs, it is also high in calories.

Persistent Acne

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

Dairy may increase your susceptibility to acne breakouts or exacerbate existing acne, although this seems to vary from person to person. Dairy whey has been shown to increase insulin and insulin-like growth factor, both of which have been implicated in acne (12).

Other Reasons

Additional reasons for going dairy free include troubleshooting digestive issues, rashes, or other skin problems. Finally, you may just want to see if you feel better without dairy in your diet.

For a complete overview of the pros and cons of dairy consumption and how it fits into the ketogenic lifestyle, have a look at the article I wrote about Dairy on a Ketogenic Diet.

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Step-By-Step Guide to Dairy-Free Keto Diet

1. Get Plenty of High-Calcium Foods

Dairy is rich in calcium, but there are plenty of other low-carb foods that are great sources as well:

Food Serving size Net carbs Calcium
Almond milk fortified with calcium 240 ml (8 fl oz) 1 gram 200-350 mg
Canned sardines with bones 100 grams (3.5 oz) none 275 mg
Canned salmon with bones 100 grams (3.5 oz) none 325 mg
Sesame seeds 28 grams (1 oz) 3.3 grams 275 mg
Spinach, cooked 100 grams (3.5 oz) 1 gram 135 mg
Broccoli rabe 100 grams (3.5 oz) 0.5 grams 120 mg
Kale, cooked 100 grams (3.5 oz) 3.5 grams 120 mg


The recommended daily allowance for calcium (RDA) is 1,000 mg for men up to 70 years of age and for women up to 50 years of age. The RDA for men over 71 and for women over 51 is 1,200 mg.

2. Use Dairy-Free Substitutes

There are many dairy-free alternatives available for purchase, as well as recipes to make at home. Admittedly, the flavor won't be identical to your favorite dairy products; however, they are all tasty, healthy options that you'll quickly learn to love.

Swap for
Butter Ghee, lard or coconut oil (make your own ghee)
Heavy whipping cream Coconut milk (make your own coconut milk)
Mascarpone Coconut cream (make your own coconut cream)
Kefir Coconut milk kefir (make your own coconut milk kefir)
Yogurt Coconut milk yogurt
Cream cheese Dairy-free cheese (make your own dairy-free cheese)
Parmesan Nutritional yeast
Milk Nut, seed milk or coconut milk (make your own nut or seed milk)


Note: Ghee is clarified butter, which has had casein and lactose removed. Although most people can tolerate ghee, some people need to avoid it altogether.

3. Watch Out for Hidden Carbs

Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet

In addition to checking for dairy ingredients, make sure any items you purchase don't have added carbs. For instance, almond and other non-dairy milks often contain syrup or other sweeteners.

Some also contain additional ingredients, such as rice milk, soy milk and thickeners. Fortunately, there are many unsweetened types available as well.

4. Have Dairy-Free Snacks on Hand

Most people find that they don't get hungry between meals when following a keto or low-carb way of eating. However, it may happen occasionally. Here are some keto-friendly dairy-free snack options:

You can find even more dairy-free keto snacks and appetizers here (use the filtering options to find recipes that suit your preferences).

5. Dairy-Free Keto Diet Food List: What to Eat and Avoid

Here's our Dairy-Free Keto Food Pyramid to help you make the right choices. Feel free to pin, share and print it!

Check out our keto diet food list for a complete overview of what to eat and avoid on a ketogenic diet

Complete Guide To Dairy-Free Keto Diet: What to Eat and Avoid Pin itFollow us 71.5k

6. Kick-Start Your Diet with Easy-To-Follow Keto Meal Plans

To help you follow a balanced dairy-free keto diet, there are hundreds of dairy-free keto recipes on the KetoDiet Blog and even more in the Keto Diet App.

If you are new to low-carb eating, try one of our keto diet plans, including two that are dairy-free:

7. Use the KetoDiet App to Track Your Macros

Whether you are new to a low-carb diet or want to track what you are eating for optimal weight loss, the Keto Diet App will help you track your macronutrients. It has been designed specifically for low-carb diets and will help you keep your carb intake low and your protein intake moderate.

Simply choose from 300 recipes found in the KetoDiet Meals section, and over 700 recipes shared via our KetoDiet Blog and add them to the Planner. We realize that no one diet plan fits everyone, so we've made it easy to copy and modify any of the meals shared via the KetoDiet blog.

To make shopping for ingredients easy, use the Basket and print or export your shopping list for instant access.

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Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE
Registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and creator of LowCarbDietitian.com

Franziska Spritzler

Franziska Spritzler, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, is a strong proponent of carbohydrate restriction for people struggling with diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and PCOS.

She follows a very-low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet for blood sugar control and has experienced many improvements in her health as a result of making this change.

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