What You Need To Know Before Going Dairy Free
Over the past decade it seems that dairy products have become a controversial topic in the food and health industries.
On one side dairy is touted as an essential element for overall health, specifically for bone health. The other side of the argument states dairy should be avoided at all cost due to its alleged negative health implications.
Rather than spending hours attempting to determine whether you should cut out dairy or boost your dairy intake we thought it pertinent to look at what dairy free really means. Before making the decision to go dairy there are some important factors to consider.
What is Dairy Free?
In today’s modern food culture going dairy free typically refers to cutting out cow’s milk-based foods, beverages, and food additives that are dairy based. This can be quite a significant process as dairy can be found in many foods and food items from shelf-stable to frozen foods and everything in between.
This dietary pattern requires the dairy free dieter to remove common dairy items from their diet such as ice cream, milk, yogurt, cheeses, and even most protein powders along with several processed foods. This can seem challenging at first considering the high priority today’s modern diet places on cow’s milk, however, it is not impossible and can lead to some significant benefits.
Who Benefits From Dairy Free?
There are two specific groups that can benefit from going dairy free and they are those with a cow’s milk protein allergy and lactose intolerance. These two are not interchangeable conditions, but rather they are two immune responses to different components in dairy.
A dairy allergy is caused by an allergy to whey and casein, the two proteins in dairy. While someone with lactose intolerance lacks the enzyme, lactase, to digest the sugar in dairy which is lactose. The individual with lactose intolerance, 75% of the world’s population, may still be able to eat dairy, just lactose free dairy.
Others who can benefit from dairy free are those with autoimmune conditions that result in inflammation. Often these individuals are more prone to becoming inflamed as a result of certain foods like dairy or gluten. Anyone with high cholesterol may want to consider removing full-fat dairy, or all dairy, from their diets as it may drive up their cholesterol count.
Consuming dairy products provides health benefits – especially improved bone health.
Dairy products provides health benefits – especially improved bone health.
Benefits of Dairy Free
Dairy has the potential to be a pro-inflammatory food both as an ingredient or when eating dairy products as a whole. This inflammation can lead to many health conditions and range from nuisances to significant chronic illness.
Some of the more well-known and reported side effects of dairy include acne and other skin conditions, nasal congestion, ear infections, fatigue, chronic headaches and pain, and potentially weight gain. Research continues to move forward in the areas of dairy’s connection to heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease
Removing dairy from the diet has been shown to be so effective in reducing skin conditions that some dermatologists are suggesting removing dairy as the first step in their acne treatment regimen.
There is a segment of the population that experiences chronic conditions on a daily basis ranging from headaches to pain with no discernable cause. Removing dairy could resolve these issues which often impact quality of life.
Disadvantages of Dairy Free
While they may be few there are some disadvantages to not eating dairy and are commonly associated with nutrient deficiencies. However, they are avoidable if the dairy-free dieter takes the time to consider these potential nutrient deficiencies and how they can substitute them in their new diet pattern.
Women seem to experience the greatest health concerns with non-dairy diets specifically regarding bone health. Most dairy products contain and are fortified with calcium and vitamin D which are essential for adequate bone health in all stages of life. Eating a diet high in calcium from plan sources and foods fortified with vitamin D is a simple solution for this disadvantage to dairy free dieting.
A non-health related disadvantage to a dairy-free lifestyle is the extra time and resources it takes to find foods without dairy as an ingredient. This is also a simple fix and becomes second nature once you’ve followed the diet pattern for even a short period.
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Dairy Free Alternatives
Dairy is not necessary to meet calcium needs if the dairy-free dieter takes care to implement other calcium sources in their diet. Some high calcium foods that are dairy free include artichoke, kale, baked beans, almonds, broccoli, and blackberries.
Alternatives to traditional cow’s milk include a wide range of plant sourced milks; rice, soy, oat, coconut, almond, cashew, flaxseed, and hemp. Yogurt can easily be replaced by plant-based options as well. Cheese would need to be substituted as well and can be done with many soy and vegan cheeses. Butter can be replaced with plant-based cooking oils like coconut or vegetable oil.
When replacing dairy products with non-dairy it is important to watch out for added sugars and fillers which can have similar poor health side effects. Nutrient content such as B12 and protein are also important considerations to ensure you are replacing the same nutrients that may be lacking from removing dairy.
Final Thoughts on Dairy Free
Whether you are considering a dairy-free life for potential health reasons or due to allergies or intolerances it is important to do so once you are well educated on the pros and cons of such a change. Dairy is not essential to health, but many of the nutrients it provides are and can be easily replaced through other food sources if you are intentional about implementing them. Not all non-dairy alternatives are necessarily healthier making it important to carefully read the nutrition and ingredients labels.