Dairy Free Diet
What is dairy?
Dairy is simply any food made from or containing milk.
What is the difference between a dairy (milk) allergy and lactose intolerance?
A milk (casein or whey) allergy is different to lactose intolerance. When someone has an allergy to dairy, it is the proteins (casein or whey) that trigger an immunogloben antibody response in the body, leading to symptoms like skin rash or laboured breathing. Lactose intolerance is when the body can’t digest the lactose found in dairy produce properly, causing symptoms like bloating and diarrhoea.
What does a dairy-free diet entail?
When switching to a dairy-free diet, the most obvious foods to avoid are dairy products, like milk, cream, cheese, as well yogurt, sour cream, butter, buttercream and margarine (unless it’s made from pure vegetable). Also, check ingredients to see if there are any dairy derivatives listed, like milk-derivative. The clotted curdled casein protein (curds) and remaining liquid (mainly whey protein) that milk is made up of are also ingredients to look out for (normally listed as ‘creamcurds’, or ‘curds’ and ‘whey’ – think Little Miss Muffet!) You probably want to avoid lactose and its derivatives as well.
What are the benefits of a dairy-free diet?
Although concerns over pasteurized, homogenized, pesticide and hormone ridden milk can be overcome by the consumption of raw, whole, organic milk and dairy, it is also important to examine dairy consumption from an evolutionary perspective. Dairy wasn’t a normal part of human diet until the domestication of animals 10,000 years ago and most humans stop producing lactase (the enzyme needed to break down lactose) during early childhood. If you are lactose intolerant or have irritable bowel syndrome that is triggered by milk products, cutting dairy out of your diet will quickly alleviate your symptoms.
A massive benefit of eating dairy-free is that you are cutting out a lot of saturated fat from your diet, one of the major causes of heart disease. Proponents for the consumption of dairy as part of a healthy, balanced diet cite it as an important source of calcium, historically believed to be essential for healthy bones. However, studies have shown that a high calcium intake doesn’t necessarily lower the risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures. Instead it is vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium that is emerging as the champion for healthy bones. Furthermore, some people argue that dairy products are acid forming after being metabolised, forcing the body to battle harder to retain it’s delicately balanced blood pH level of 7.35-7.45. One of the mechanisms our bodies use to do this is through the release of calcium from our bones (which is ideally then replaced). Proponents of the alkalizing diet will argue that, because of this, consumption of dairy actually weakens bones rather than strengthens them, and researchers have argued that the animal protein in dairy causes bone loss. Furthermore, there are more effective and nutritious ways of ensuring your body has the correct level of calcium and vitamin D than by consuming dairy.
In children, there is evidence that links incidents of anaemia with a high dairy intake. Dairy is also suspected of aggravating allergies and congestion problems like sinusitis and ear infections, as well as chronic constipation. Type 1 diabetics are advised to avoid it completely.
What are the risks of a dairy-free diet?
Studies have shown that a moderate consumption of calcium via dairy can reduce the risk of colon cancer, although high consumption doesn’t seem to reduce it even further. Many people view milk and dairy as a convenient source of calcium. However, it is unclear what the optimal method is for the consumption and absorption of calcium so cutting dairy out of your diet doesn’t necessarily lead to calcium deficiency. There are plenty of supplements out there and it is easy to subsidise your calcium intake by eating foods naturally high in calcium, such as dark green leafy vegetables like kale, as well as legumes and beans.
Milk and dairy are also a good source of protein, as well as vitamin A, but it is relatively easy to include these nutritional essentials in elsewhere in your diet.