Is Milk Gluten-Free? What About Flavored Milk?

Plain Milk Is Fine. But Things May Get Dicey When You Add Flavors

plain and chocolate milk
Which milk brands are gluten-free?. Souders Studios/Getty Images

If you're craving a glass of milk, I've got good news for you: the majority of milk products on the market are gluten-free and therefore safe for someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity to consume. That includes flavored milks (yay chocolate milk!).

In fact, you really don't need to worry about plain milk at all — assuming you're not lactose intolerant or sensitive to the milk protein casein (as some of us are), you should have no problem with good old milk (there's one small exception, which I detail at the bottom of this article).

Therefore, I haven't included the various brands of plain milk in this listing, since they all should be just fine.

You should exercise more caution, however, when it comes to flavored milks. Most are considered gluten-free in the U.S. to the legal limit of less than 20 parts per million of gluten, but others are not, and so wouldn't be safe on your gluten-free diet.

Gluten-Free Flavored Milks, Brand by Brand

Here's a listing of the different nationally distributed flavored milk brands you can purchase, plus what each company has to say about the brand's gluten-free status:

• Hershey's Shelf-Stable Milk. You'll find several different sizes and flavors of Hershey's boxed milk on store shelves. These shelf-stable products don't appear on Hershey's gluten-free list because Metairie, La.-based Diversified Foods, Inc., actually makes and distributes them — Diversified licenses the Hershey's name.

Nonetheless, a company representative tells me that all of the company's boxed milk products are considered gluten-free, including: plain milk (which should always be gluten-free), plus chocolate, white chocolate and strawberry flavors.

Also, keep in mind that Hershey's chocolate syrup is considered gluten-free, as well, so you can use it to make your own chocolate milk.

• Horizon Organic. This national purveyor of organic dairy products sells plain milk, along with chocolate and vanilla milk. Horizon Organic's line also includes six 8-ounce shelf-stable boxed flavored milks that you can slip into school lunches or brown bags for work: plain, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla plus DHA omega-3 fatty acids, and chocolate plus DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

However, Horizon sidesteps the question of whether they're safely gluten-free or not: "We make every effort to ensure that Horizon Organic milk products are free of wheat, wheat gluten, rye, oats, barley and malt. While it is virtually impossible to be certain that each carton is 100% free of all gluten, Horizon Organic milk products are suitable for most people with wheat and gluten allergies. People with severe allergies should consult a doctor before introducing a new food."

My take: You can safely consume plain milk from Horizon Organic (I have a quart in my refrigerator right now). You're more than likely to be fine with the flavored varieties, too, but just be careful and watch for any unexpected reactions when trying one of them (or any new food, for that matter).

• Nesquik. Swiss multinational brand Nestlé makes Nesquik, a popular brand that includes ready-to-drink flavored milk along with flavored powders and syrups. The ready-to-drink Nesquik single-serving bottles come in seven varieties, including: chocolate, strawberry, banana and strawberry, vanilla, double chocolate, fat-free chocolate, and sugar-free chocolate.

A Nesquik representative tells me that the seven varieties of Nesquik flavored ready-to-drink milks are considered gluten-free, and that any potential source of gluten would be disclosed on the product label (always check the label of any processed food product before purchasing).

• Organic Valley. Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, which uses small farm co-ops to produce its various dairy products, sells several different plain milk products plus chocolate milk. It also offers plain whole milk, plus chocolate, vanilla and strawberry low-fat milk, in single-serving shelf-stable box containers.

According to Organic Valley, these milk products are all considered gluten-free. Note that the only non-gluten-free product the company sells is its cottage cheese.

• TruMoo Milk. You won't find any boring old plain milk here — TruMoo is all about the flavors. The company, which also makes ice cream, sells chocolate and vanilla milk all year round, plus seasonal and special flavors such as chocolate marshmallow and Orange Scream for Halloween.

Unfortunately, it's those cool flavors that do them in. According to a company representative, TruMoo considers its current milk products to be gluten-free, but the company doesn't test for gluten. In addition, any gluten-containing special flavors — such as Cookies and Cream — will be produced on the same equipment as those that don't contain gluten (learn more about shared lines here: Should You Eat Foods Made In A Shared Facility or on Shared Equipment?). Therefore, I advise you steer clear of TruMoo flavored milks.

One Caveat for the Extremely Sensitive

I said above that milk is fine for almost everyone with celiac or gluten sensitivity, and that's true.

However, over the years I've spoken with a few people who are so exquisitely sensitive to trace gluten that they react to milk from cows that have been fed gluten grains (barley is widely used to feed dairy cows). These folks are fine if they can source milk from dairy cows that are exclusively grass-fed.

This should only be a problem for those who are the absolutely most sensitive among us -- for someone who can eat no processed foods and no grains, for example, and has trouble with some supermarket-purchased fruits and vegetables. The vast majority of people in the gluten-free community (more than 99%) just aren't going to have this problem, and should be able to enjoy their milk.

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