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May 20, 2019

Thinking about reducing dairy or going dairy-free? Here’s what you need to know

Healthy Eating Dairy

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Salmon and avocado with nuts JulijaDmitrijeva/iStock.com

The “Got Milk? ” posters that plastered classroom walls in the late 1990s and early 2000s boasted milk’s irreplaceable ability to promote strong, healthy growth, all while making milk look “cool.” But as nutritional science evolved, along with the progression of more accurate food allergy testing and the growing popularity of veganism, dairy’s position as a nutritional diet staple has sharply declined. The U.S. Department of Agriculture places the average milk consumption per person at about 18 gallons a year — a stark contrast to the 30 gallon average in the 1970s.

The dairy industry’s decline has left many people wondering if cutting cheese, yogurt, milk, and ice cream from their diet would be beneficial for their health. While there are plenty of reasons to consider going dairy-free, the most common reasons include milk allergies, lactose intolerance, ethical or moral reasons, and the desire to cut extra calories and shed weight.

If you’re considering reducing or eliminating dairy from your diet, it’s important to understand the differences between these varying motivations:

Going dairy-free due to an allergy or intolerance

Lactose intolerance is not the same as having a dairy allergy. While this condition can be debilitating, it’s not life threatening. Lactose intolerance occurs when your body has difficulty digesting lactose, resulting in symptoms such as cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. A dairy allergy , however, can be life threatening. Topping the list of the eight most common food allergens, a dairy allergy can cause rashes, hives, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

Knowing the difference is key to buying the safest and most appropriate dairy alternatives. Someone with lactose intolerance can still consume lactose-free dairy products, while someone with a milk or dairy allergy could experience a severe allergic reaction to the same product. This is why it’s important to have a discussion with your doctor to ensure you’re going dairy-free in the healthiest way possible.

Going vegan

Many people cut meat, dairy, and all other animal products from their diet in an effort to lower their carbon footprint and protest animal cruelty, but this dairy elimination comes with health benefits as well. In 2009, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported people with dairy and meat free diets have lower body weights, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. It also found that people eating these diets consumed more fiber, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and much less saturated fat.

If you are considering going vegan, some vitamins and minerals will require a more pointed effort to consume, particularly Vitamin D and calcium. Good dairy-free replacements for these nutrients include leafy greens, beans, calcium-fortified soy milk, and calcium set tofu.

Cutting dairy to lose weight

It’s no secret that dairy can hinder weight loss. Because dairy is so high in lactose (the sugar compound in dairy), its consumption can elevate insulin levels and cause weight gain, leading to long term issues like obesity and diabetes. According to USDA guidelines and a Nurses' Health study, full fat dairy and a high intake of dietary fat raises the risk of heart disease. Eating less dairy (especially full-fat dairy) naturally decreases the number of calories and extra sugar consumed, aiding in weight loss. Avoid overcompensating for the lack of dairy products by overeating something else.

Regardless of your motivation behind embracing a dairy-free diet, it’s important to listen to and honor your body. Check in with a doctor before you cut dairy from your diet to ensure your body is getting all the fuel it needs.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information on this web site is for general information purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider on any matters relating to your health.

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