Dairy Foods, Wheat, Gluten - Do I have to avoid them?

Signs of problems with dairy foods

Signs of problems with wheat or gluten
Some symptoms associated with gluten intolerance
More information

Keywords: diary, wheat, gluten, irritable bowel, coeliac disease



It is common for naturopaths to recommend avoidance of dairy foods and gluten. Research shows that these are the foods least likely to cause food intolerance problems. See table below for very approximate percentages of children with behavioural problems likely to react to each challenge. Figures are roughly similar for other symptoms such as headaches, itchy rashes and irritable bowel symptoms. (from RPAH researchers Loblay and Swain, 1986) - see scientific references.

  • 75% - salicylates
  • 65% - preservatives
  • 55% - colours
  • 40% - MSG and other flavour enhancers, natural glutamates
  • 40% - synthetic antioxidants such as BHA 320
  • 40% - amines
  • 20% - dairy foods
  • <1% - gluten (figures are higher for other symptoms, up to 20% for irritable bowel). However, many people with food intolerance are affected by wholegrains and do better on white bread than wholemeal, puffed rice or rolled oats than e.g. weetbix.

Most people react to between 3 and 6 challenges, not just one. Of these, salicylates and additives are the main culprits. In the past, avoidance of dairy foods and gluten meant avoiding nasty additives too and would often appear to be successful, but it is now possible to buy gluten free and dairy free foods with as many nasty additives as their gluten and dairy counterparts. However, if you ARE sensitive to dairy or gluten, it is important to avoid them because they are eaten so many times a day every day. When food intolerance symptoms of any kind are severe, RPAH trained dietitians generally recommend going dairy free and gluten free as well as avoiding salicylates, amines, glutamates and additives.

Signs of problems with dairy foods

  • pale face and/or dark circles under eyes
  • a history of lactose intolerance as a baby
  • frequent ear infections as a baby or toddler, or grommets later on
  • crave dairy foods, unwilling to give them up
  • love dairy foods, would live on them if allowed
  • or the opposite - don't like milk


(3.1Mb, 1:22)

How to avoid dairy products

When avoiding dairy foods during your elimination diet you need to avoid not only milk but also other dairy products e.g.

  • yoghurt
  • ice cream
  • cream cheese and all other cheeses
  • butter
  • milk powder
  • milk and other dairy foods in products such as bread, biscuits, etc

Dairy Substitutes

  • soymilk - from failsafe ingredients - no raw sugar, kelp, synthetic antioxidants, RPAH recommend calcium fortified [Warning: Some people who are sensitive to dairy foods are also sensitive to soy, see the reader story below]
  • oat milk - not suitable if you are avoiding gluten, RPAH recommend calcium fortified if possible
  • rice milk - not suitable for infants, RPAH recommend calcium fortified
  • Darifree potato milk -
  • Nuttelex margarine (from failsafe ingredients - so not the one with olive oil)

Ice creams & yoghurt substitutes

  • Ice cream e.g.
  • Sanitarium So Good Vanilla Bliss
  • Soylati ice cream Crème Caramel flavor
  • soy yoghurt (no annatto 160b) e.g.
  • Soygurt natural
  • Soygurt vanilla
  • soy cream, soy sour cream

See more information /failsafe-shopping-list/dairy-and-non-dairy

How to get children to like soy, oat or rice milk

  • always serve milk substitutes VERY cold - half frozen or adding some iceblocks - because the cold numbs the taste buds.
  • add a little sugar or maple syrup at first - or better still invite them to add their own sugar/maple syrup - you can wean them off this later.
  • or start by diluting soy/oat/rice milk with A2 milk at first, gradually decreasing the amount of A2.


If you have to avoid dairy foods in the long term - that is, you fail your dairy challenge and can't get away with occasional small amounts of dairy foods - you can discuss nutrition with your dietitian/nutritionist at the end of challenges, that is, when you know exactly what it is you need to avoid.

A2 milk

Technically A2 milk is not dairy free. It contains a different protein that may be tolerated by some people with dairy-related symptoms. While people with physical problems such as rashes, rhinitis, irritable bowel or migraines may do well on A2 milk, children with behaviour problems may do better on a dairy free diet. A2 milk can be very helpful as a stepping stone to disliked milk substitutes such as soy, rice or oat milk. If trialling A2, you need to avoid all forms of A1 dairy products including yoghurt and ice cream.

The only A2 alternatives so far available are:

Recipe: Icey ricey ice-cream (low fat)

So Good Vanilla Soy Bliss is failsafe and very popular. However, if you can't manage soy, this is a surprisingly good ice-cream substitute. Although vanilla has been omitted from most of the recipes in the Failsafe Cookbook it may be necessary in this recipe, should be okay if not eating it every day.

2 cups cold rice milk (Vitasoy Rice Milk works well and tastes best)
½ cup caster sugar
1 tbsn pure maple syrup or 4 drops pure vanilla essence
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 egg

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender, or alternatively beat well with a whisk or mixmaster. Pour mixture into ice-cream machine, leave till thickened and icy, approximately 15 minutes. Spoon into container and place in freezer till set, usually a few hours. If you don't have an icecream machine, pour mixture into a container and freeze for 1-2 hours. Remove, beat mixture well, and return to freezer for another 1–2 hours. Repeat another two times, then leave till set. Can be sserved in 'milkshake' with a spoonful of carob powder, drizzled with carob sauce, or with a little pear puree.

Reader suggestion: 'Dairy free' yoghurt alternative

Add 1/2 teaspoon of guar gum or xanthan gum to 1/2 cup of rice milk, or other milk substitute. My son has never had yoghurt so he doesn't know that his version is any different to his sister's as it looks the same. I put both of them in the same containers so his doesn't look different. (caution: as with other vegetable gums, guar or xanthan gum can have a laxative effect in some people - but is very useful for regularity)

Reader stories - intolerance to dairy, gluten, soy

[1020] Effects of dairy foods (May 2011)

There is no doubt at all in my mind about the great effect that foods have on my children although it has taken me about 3 years to accept it. But I still cannot get my head around why dairy foods cause such a behavioural response with my daughter. When eating dairy foods, she gets dark rings around her eyes, and is not just bad, she is impossible to live with. I just can not understand how a food can affect her in this way. Her oppositional defiance is incredible. It is also as if she is completely deaf. Her voice becomes so loud it makes me cringe and it also becomes a lot higher in pitch. She is not affectionate at all and is very serious as well. It is as if she has complete focus, driven, locked in, intense, not able to snap out of her bad behaviour. It is only now (she is 5 1/2 years of age) that I am starting to bond with my daughter in a calm and loving way, before this it has been a desperate, lost love.

Since she has been dairy-free she listens, talks more quietly and without intensity, she lets me cuddle her, she does not get locked into bad behaviour and we can negotiate together. She has always been strong willed and very smart but now I can enjoy it. I am so happy now. I guess if there was a logical explanation for this huge behavioural response I would stop questioning my judgement so much. Because it is just behavioural, you can tell our peer group think it is our parenting and they also question the failsafe food idea as a bit odd. I guess what I am trying to ask is how can food affect the voice, make you deaf, fearless, and completely oppositional? - reader, Qld

[1063] Another soy intolerance story: "Wow, wow, wow – a different boy" (July 2011)

My son is eight and daughter six years old respectively. We have been failsafe for approximately 7 years of that time. I thought I had it pretty much down what they could and couldn't have.

Last week however I stopped buying soy milk as my son was using so much of it, it wasn't funny. I have always tried to steer them to rice milk, which my daughter loves! thank goodness. The soy milk was for others in the home but our son loves it and stopped having the rice milk when soy was around. I cut this out last week. I seem to have a different boy. We have always just thought that removing what we did know was causing problems was as good as it got. That he would always be a LOUD ACTIVE HYPER BOY. It was much worse if he ate things he shouldn't. He reacts quite badly to amines, salicylates, colours are atrocious for him etc.

Can it really be the soy? Can it really be this simple? My son is now receptive, loving, easy to talk to, to explain things to, has stopped whinging, being aggressive, doing annoying things to his sister and to us. Even stopped all the repetitive things as well.

As I write this he is sitting watching some tv, his room is clean, he is dressed for school, his jobs are done ie take the dog for a walk, feed the chickens etc. He is not 'in my face', he is not running around annoying his sister (she doesn't know what to do with this as she is so used to it, she is even trying to get his attention to be how he always is with her).

Wow, wow, wow. If it is not the soy milk then I am at a loss as to what it could have been. I now have a son that is sooooo easy to love and cuddle AND it has been a quiet house too, not just from him, but I don't feel the urge to yell to get my point across for the 15th time. The lesson here is - never give up trying to find what may be happening with your child. It probably is not normal, and you may be missing something. - Cathryn - and see more 

Signs of problems with wheat or gluten

A relative with coeliac disease or irritable bowel is a warning sign or problems with wheat or gluten. One mother had been doing the diet with what she considered success for two years but still received complaints from school. When her sister was diagnosed as a coeliac, she removed gluten from her son's diet and he became a completely different person.

(3.4Mb, 1:32)

Some symptoms associated with gluten intolerance

  • low-key stomach aches and ill-health
  • unexplained low iron levels
  • female infertility
  • patchy baldness or Alopecia Areata
  • a range of neurological dysfunctions including behaviour and depression
  • insulin-dependent diabetes

If you have a family history of some of these, you may want to consider coeliac disease. There is a blood test which can indicate whether you are likely to have it.

Coeliac and non-coeliac gluten intolerance: you don't have to be a diagnosed coeliac to have problems with gluten. People with severe food intolerance symptoms of any kind are normally advised to do the gluten-free version of the elimination diet.

How to avoid gluten

Gluten is the most difficult of all food components to avoid and most people make numerous mistakes. This is a common cause of diet failure.

You have to avoid:

WARNING Most gluten free breads are NOT failsafe due to preservatives 280-283, propionates in preservatives such as cultured dextrose, cultured rice or cultured whey, and other non-failsafe ingredients such as apple juice, linseeds and many others. See /failsafe-shopping-list/bakery

Some people react only to wheat, and can eat rye, oats and barley. Consider wheat or gluten intolerance if your irritable bowel symptoms started suddenly after a gastrointestinal infection such as rotavirus or giardia, or if someone in your family has to avoid either of those.

More information

Introduction to food intolerance

Dairy free section in our shopping list

Soy intolerance factsheet

Gluten free section in our shopping list

Gluten free Cooking chapter in Sue Dengate's Failsafe Cookbook

Checklist of common mistakes

IBS factsheet

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update February 2013