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Are Eggs Dairy?

Have you ever had a friend make an unwarranted comment about your dietary choices? Maybe you had opened up to them about how your vegetarianism or lactose-free diet was going so far, and as they looked across the brunch table at your omelet, they, in so many ways, accused you of being a fraud.

As they exclaimed, "that's great and everything, but you know you can't eat eggs then, right?". At that moment, you put your fork down and wondered, wait a minute...are eggs dairy?

Don't worry, your friend was not so right after all, even though your concern likely wasn't so much about who was right or wrong. That said, you're entitled to adhere to any diet you choose without having to explain it to anyone else. You can still call yourself a vegetarian and eat eggs. Heck, you can even eat some meat and call yourself some form of vegetarian (a semi-vegetarian or flexitarian if you want to get specific).

At any rate, what you do care about now is having the right answer. Because there are reasons behind your new dietary choices that you want to uphold, and to do so, you cannot be misguided.

So, are eggs dairy? We want to give you (and any of your friends who should know) the answer to this question once and for all. It's more frequently asked than you might think!

What food group is an egg?

Eggs are a part of a food group called the Proteins Food Group. Also on this list of high-protein foods with eggs are:

  • seafood
  • meat
  • poultry
  • beans
  • peas
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • soy products

Eggs are included in the Proteins Food Group because they contain one of the highest percentages of protein than any other food. In one average-sized egg, you'll find a little over six grams of protein.

However, cheese, yogurt, and milk are also at the top of the protein list - so what does that mean for eggs? Well, the fact that cheese, yogurt, and milk are dairy foods high in protein doesn't change anything about the simple fact that eggs are not one of them. Here's why:

Eggs are not dairy because eggs are not produced from milk. Eggs are not classified as dairy because dairy products come from the milk of mammals with mammary glands, like cattle, as well as sheep, goats, and buffalo. Eggs, on the other hand, come from birds. Whether an egg is laid by a hen, duck, or a quail, eggs have zero correlation with milk, and therefore, with dairy.

The definition of dairy is "all fluid milk products and foods prepared or derived from milk," according to the USDA.

Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar in human and cow's milk, present in most dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream. Though butter and cheese are lower in lactose, they are still considered dairy.

What is an egg classified as?

Eggs are often mistaken for a dairy food product because they are derived from animals. But in reality, eggs are classified as animal products - along with meat, fish, and poultry.

Why do people think eggs are dairy?

There is no single reason to explain why people often falsely assume eggs are in the same category as milk (and yogurt, cheese, etc.). There could be many different reasons this is so, from not being properly educated on dietary choices or nutrition to perhaps even a lack of education on what an egg actually is.

But the reason for this lack of education, or rather miseducation, could be thanks to our longtime friend, the USDA food pyramid. You know, the triangle with all the cute cartoon foods, where the egg is always grouped so closely with the milk carton and cheese wedge? Yes, that's the one. This is true, at least for the most outdated versions of the pyramid, but the point is most of us had these images ingrained at a very young age. It’s easy to make assumptions or not ever even think twice about it after that point.

Apart from the fact that eggs and dairy products are both high in protein and come from animals, there may be another reason for the confusion over the "are eggs dairy" question. Grocery stores may also be to blame, as they put eggs and dairy together just as closely as any obsolete food pyramid.

Although, one could argue that there are several dairy products in the world today. From string cheese to shredded and greek yogurt all the way to Icelandic, logistically speaking, maybe there's not much refrigerated space left for the lone eggs when it's all said and done. We may never have the answer to this, but what matters is that you know everything you need to know about your food.

Is mayo considered dairy?

Mayonnaise is not considered a dairy product, as it does not contain milk, lactose, or any other added milk by-products.

So if you avoid milk or dairy for allergy reasons or lactose intolerance, you can eat mayonnaise, just as you can eggs. Just note that some eggless mayonnaise recipes use condensed milk instead of eggs - in which case you would want to avoid mayo if you are avoiding lactose.

A few other ingredients you are likely to see in mayonnaise includes:

  • Salt & sugar
  • Eggs or egg yolks
  • Soybean oil
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Lemon juice concentrate
  • Spices and herbs, like paprika
  • Preservatives and food additives

So, what exactly is mayo? Mayonnaise is created by emulsifying egg, oil, and an acid, generally vinegar or lemon juice. Emulsification is the process of mixing two or more liquids that typically cannot be mixed.

Do you know how there are certain salad dressings like vinaigrettes (made of oil and vinegar) that you need to shake before putting them on your salad? Food products like vinaigrettes are considered temporary emulsions, but there are also permanent emulsions; mayonnaise is a permanent emulsion. The egg yolk contains lecithin, an emulsifier that allows these ingredients to mix well and stay together. That's how you get the white, creamy texture of mayonnaise that many often mistake for dairy.

The bottom line is that you can eat mayo if you don't eat dairy. But mayonnaise is not vegan because it has egg in it. And if it doesn't, then it may have condensed milk instead. If you are on a vegan diet and looking for a mayonnaise substitute, some store brands substitute eggs with aquafaba, a thick, starchy liquid that comes from soaking or cooking chickpeas.

Who can eat eggs?

People with allergies to eggs cannot eat eggs, and people on a vegan diet would also avoid eggs as they avoid all animal and animal-derived products. But for everyone else - whether vegetarian, flexitarian, or pescatarian - whether you eat eggs or not is up to you to decide!

It’s worth exploring the ingredients of what you’re eating, especially if any of it seems questionable. And as long as it aligns with your dietary needs and beliefs, it’s also worth looking into the incredible nutritional value of eggs to see how they could add value to your health and wellbeing.