Going dairy-free may be considered a fad or passing trend, by some. It’s right up there with going organic or gluten-free. However, there are two very real reasons why you may want to consider a dairy-free diet. One is that you have an allergy to dairy and the other is that you have an intolerance.

Firstly, let’s consider allergies. An allergy to cow’s milk basically means that your immune system reacts to one of three proteins in it: album, casein or whey. That means if dairy is consumed, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms: a significant digestive or skin reaction, breathing problems or inflammation.

A dairy intolerance, on the other hand, is the inability to properly digest the sugar in cow, goat and sheep’s’ milk, which is known as lactose. The reason is, usually, that not enough lactase, an enzyme in the gut which breaks down lactose, is being produced. If you have a dairy intolerance you may experience milder symptoms than a full-blown allergic reaction; such as skin inflammation, breakouts or digestive issues. These issues, while not that serious, go to our quality of life and can certainly make things uncomfortable, even miserable, for a lot of people.

Of course, not everyone is the same. Allergies and intolerances can vary greatly. Some children who might have had a milk allergy will grow out of it and some adults may develop a temporary or even permanent intolerance later in life. Some people who have a dairy allergy or intolerance are able to consume sheep or goat products. An elimination diet and trial and error are both great ways to get to the root of the problem.

Incidentally, the reason many of our clients choose to ‘go dairy-free’ is because of skin inflammation and breakouts. Once you have determined that dairy really is the root cause and eliminate it, you should be able to see an improvement in your skin in two to six weeks.

Once you decide to ‘go dairy-free’, here are some tips that may help…

What can I eat and drink instead?

The truth is it’s never been as easy to go dairy-free, as it is now. Years ago we simply didn’t have the choice we have today. Try replacing your milk with almond, cashew, coconut, soy, hemp or rice milk. Yogurt and ice-cream also have lots of alternatives including coconut milk and soy milk varieties. You can even have lactose free butter. However, a note of caution: you must make sure that you are choosing the best alternative. There may a trade-off or two to be made along the way—such as with soy milk. While being lactose-free, it’s high in isoflavones which is a phyto-estrogen. Some people suggest it may even behave like the hormone estrogen in the body. Also some alternative milks are clearly higher in sugar. So you need to do your homework to see what is right for you.

Be sure to include the following to continue a healthy diet if you are not eating dairy foods.

Calcium

Calcium deficiency is the key issue with a dairy-free diet. Look out for other sources of calcium, like the calcium fortified milk substitute, oat milk or even tofu and, of course, leafy greens.

Protein

Make sure you get enough protein: it’s an essential. Combine different protein sources and you won’t miss out on a crucial nutritional element. Meat and fish are the traditional sources of protein; however you can also find protein in tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that we should ideally consume daily. Find it in seafood like mussels, oysters, lobsters and crabs. Zinc also appears in many other common foods including beef and fortified breakfast cereals.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are needed for cell metabolism. Milk is especially high in B12. Pak choi contains folic acid, while chicken is great for niacin(B3), vitamin B6 and B12.

Phosphorus

Milk is a great source of Phosphorus, a little known, but important mineral. It can however be found in pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, fish (especially salmon and carp), scallops, Brazil nuts, pork, beef, tofu, beans and lentils.

Vitamin D

Foods high in vitamin D include fish oils (cod liver oil), fatty fish, mushrooms, tofu, caviar, pork and eggs.

What to watch out for

Quite obviously, butter, ice cream, cheese and whey protein are all dairy products. But, also check labels on the following:

Bread – Believe it or not, some enriched breads can also contain milk, butter, cheese or even yogurt.

Sauces – if making sauces at home, substitute milk and butter with well-researched alternatives.

Actually, any other processed food purchased at the store may have hidden dairy components. So be vigilant and always check the label!

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