Everything You Need to Know Before Going Dairy FreeBy: Bob's Red Mill | November 18 2017
There is a ton of new information floating around about cutting certain foods from your diet. If you have been thinking about going dairy free, specifically, then you be wondering what the truth is about milk–will it help you lose weight? Is milk good for your bones? Is milk causing my digestive stress? These questions are common when you are thinking about making the switch to a dairy free diet for any reason, and we are here to help you answer them (and a few more, too!). Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about your new dairy free diet and to determine the best way to go dairy free for you!
Why Go Dairy Free?
There are actually a bunch of different reasons why you may be considering going dairy free–and maybe a few more that you should know about before making the switch. The four main reasons people go dairy free are: because they have to due to an intolerance or allergy, for moral reasons, to lose weight, and for other health reasons. We should explore all four of those options.
Intolerance or Allergy
The two forms of this are either a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. These are not exactly equal terms, but both can be treated by avoiding dairy and milk altogether. Lactose intolerant people simply lack enough of the enzyme lactase needed to properly break down lactose, a sugar found in milk. Though not typically life-threatening, lactose intolerance can cause digestive discomfort, which can be avoided by limiting the amount of dairy in your diet. Those with a milk allergy are allergic to the protein casein in milk and have a stronger, usually more dangerous reaction to consuming milk. In most cases, eliminating dairy from your diet is the best way to avoid a severe allergic reaction.
If you are a vegan or planning to go vegan, then you are going to need to cut out dairy as it comes from an animal. Even if you are not fully vegan, many people object to the treatment of dairy cows on farms. You can look for milk or dairy products that are produced on smaller, local farms to help avoid any morality issues, or you can avoid dairy altogether if you object to the consumption of all animal products.
To Lose Weight
Milk is definitely high in fat and sugar, that is no question. Many people are cutting dairy out of their diet to maintain a low fat, low-calorie diet. We will discuss this a little further, as it may not be quite as cut and dry as you think!
Other Health Reasons
As with any food, there are many different health factors that come into play with milk. As mentioned above, milk is high in fat and sugars, so you may be cutting out fatty foods or sugary foods as part of your new health plan. Milk is lacking in some nutrients, like fiber and iron, and contains a good amount of saturated fat, which can be worse for you. If you are hoping to eat more healthy in general, then cutting out dairy is probably at least on the list of options you are exploring. We will delve deeper into this one as we go!
No matter what your reasoning, there are always several considerations to take into account, and it is important to look at the whole picture to understand what is best for your diet.
How to Go Dairy Free
Going dairy free simply means that you will stop consuming milk or anything made from milk. This includes, but is not limited to, popular items like butter, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and cream. Most of the time, you will likely be able to tell if an item has dairy in it, but sometimes it may surprise you. If you are mostly cooking at home, this will be easier, because you can pick and choose your ingredients with the knowledge of your diet. Make sure you pay attention to the labels on every ingredient so that you can be 100% sure there is no milk or milk product included.
Depending on your reasoning for going dairy free, there may be other considerations as well. For instance, you may be going dairy free due to an allergy. If you pick up a "lactose free" milk, then that would be fine for lactose intolerant people, but if you are allergic to milk, then the protein that causes the allergy are probably still in lactose free milk, so this may still cause an allergic reaction. If you are going dairy free because you are vegan, then make sure the ingredients of your dairy substitute are not other animal byproducts.
When you eat outside of your home, you will need to be extra careful to pay attention to what you are eating. Tell your hosts if you are eating at someone else’s home, and give them as much notice as possible–if you make your plans a week in advance, let them know upon acceptance that you are dairy free. It never hurts to offer some recommendations of dishes that are more suited to no dairy or even to bring over a dairy substitute if you know they are cooking for a large crowd.
If you are eating at a restaurant, just be extremely clear with your server that you are eating dairy free, and potentially ask to speak to the manager or chef about it as well. Do not be afraid to call ahead and discuss menu options with them if you are not sure. Butter will be the tough ingredient at most restaurants, as it is used to cook eggs, veggies, meats, and half of the other menu items! You can typically ask that your foods not be cooked in butter, though, so just be firm and do not hesitate to ask any questions that will help you stick to your diet. You can use apps to help you find local restaurants that are more diet-friendly as well!
The most common substitutes for milk are things like soy milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. You will probably see products made from all of these types of milk, as well as a few others. Nutrient-wise, you will want to keep an eye on your consumption of these products and balance your diet between a few of them for the best results. Too much of any one product will leave you high in some nutrients and lacking in others, so consuming a variety of types of milk will give you a more balanced diet and be better for you in the long run. There are a few other considerations to going dairy free.
Calcium is the most commonly toted benefit of milk, so you may be wondering how going dairy free will affect your ability to “build strong bones.” Dairy is one of the top sources of calcium, but that does not mean it is the only source. You should concentrate on eating a lot of leafy greens like kale and collards, which have relatively high calcium content. You can also take a daily calcium supplement with vitamin D, both of which will help your overall bone health. Most alternative milks are also fortified with calcium and may be a great way to get this essential mineral.
Acne and Dry Skin
What? Milk triggers acne? Maybe, studies have shown recently that there may be a correlation. It has something to do with the testosterone-like hormones in milk, but there is a chance that it stimulates oily skin and further acne breakouts. Cutting milk out of your diet may help combat acne problems.
Eczema and psoriasis are common symptoms of a milk intolerance, so if you find that you have extremely dry, itchy or rashy skin, dairy may be the culprit. An elimination diet will help you find out for sure.
Protein and Fat
It is true; milk is high in protein and fat, which has its pros and cons. You may want to cut all fatty foods out of your diet, but the benefit of fats is that they make you feel full, and milk is also a good source of protein, which helps with that as well. In some cases, studies have shown that people who dropped milk out of their diet actually gained weight due to turning to even worse alternatives. If you are dedicated to cutting out all fatty foods, then you will likely be fine, just make sure you are not replacing your milk with extra empty calories from bread or sugary juices.
Many people turn to soy after giving up milk, as it's one of the most common substitutes–soy cheese, soy milk, soy ice cream, etc. However, soy has its own health negatives, including being tough to digest when you first start eating it. This can leave you feeling bloated and gassy, so keep an eye on your soy intake, and try to vary your milk substitutes like we talked about earlier.
Overall, cutting milk out of your diet is much like cutting or adding anything else–it is a multi-faceted issue. There are a few different schools of thought, but the most important thing is that you keep your diet balanced and pay attention to any nutrients that you may need to add now that you are not consuming as much (or any) dairy.