Six Reasons to Consider a Dairy-Free Diet
There are several important health reasons to consider going on a dairy-free diet, including to help control inflammation and to balance hormones. This article includes six important reasons to consider cutting out dairy products from your diet.
What is Dairy?
Milk is made by mammals to feed their young. Milk is a rich source of protein and growth hormones to develop a baby from infancy.
Humans are the only mammals that consume the milk of other animals. We are also the only animals to drink milk in adulthood. While dairy products can be a great source of protein, there may be other problems that come with consuming dairy.
This article outlines six health reasons why you might want to consider an elimination diet where you cut out dairy products for at least several weeks. Monitor your symptoms and see if you feel better on a dairy-free diet (see my tips for how to go gluten-free and dairy-free).
Why Go Dairy-Free?
While dairy isn’t necessarily troublesome for all people, it can be inflammatory. Additionally, up to 50 million Americans may be lactose-intolerant, which means that they lack the enzyme to properly digest the natural sugars in milk (lactose).
Here are six more specific health reasons to consider going dairy-free.
1. Conventional Dairy May Contain Antibiotics & Growth Hormones
If you are American, then you certainly are familiar with the “Got Milk?” campaign. This is the conventional dairy industry’s campaign to convince us that milk is healthy for everyone.
And, while we do need some of the vitamins and minerals found in milk (but are widely available in other foods other than dairy), we don’t need to be exposed to the added antibiotics and hormones used in conventional dairy products.
The sad truth is that antibiotics are given to most dairy cows in mass quantities to help prevent infection. These antibiotics are ending up in conventional dairy products, meaning that we end up being exposed to those antibiotics as well. The use of antibiotics in the dairy industry may be one of the causes of antibiotic resistance.
In addition to the antibiotics given to cows that end up in their milk, humans are also being exposed to growth hormones when we consume conventional dairy products.
Conventional dairy operations give dairy cows a synthetic version of Bovine growth hormone (BGH) known as rBGH to stimulate milk production, further increasing the levels of IGF-1 in the milk supply. Higher levels of IGF-1 in humans have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
2. Dairy Products Can Raise Insulin Levels
Insulin-like growth factor is in milk to help fatten babies. Therefore, consumption of dairy products raises insulin levels. For this reason, drinking milk is not recommended for those who need to avoid excess insulin exposure, such as those with diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and other serious metabolic disorders.
Dairy products of all kinds, as well as yogurt, cheese, and anything with casein and whey, can elicit a significant insulin response. At least severals studies have looked at milk consumption and its effect on insulin levels and disease.
So, if you have blood sugar issues, then it might be worth considering a dairy-free diet to see if it helps. You might also want to check out my article on how to do a sugar detox.
3. Dairy Products Can Be Estrogenic
If you are trying to balance your hormones, you might want to consider going dairy-free. Dairy consumption promotes excess estrogen in the body due to it containing estrogen from female cows. Consuming dairy can account for up to 80% of dietary estrogens if are eating a lot of it. This is not good since excess estrogen from any source has been linked to an increase risk of female cancers.
Read my related article on how to eat for your menstrual cycle.
Men aren’t off the hook, either. Men are more at risk for developing testicular and prostate cancer when they have excess estrogen in their bodies. This hormonal imbalance can also cause mood swings and lead to unwanted reactions like acne.
4. Dairy Can Cause Digestive Upset
An estimated 70% of the world’s population may be lactose intolerant. Even people who produce lactase, the enzyme needed to break down the lactose in dairy, can experience digestive upset when consuming dairy.
Common complaints from those who consume dairy (whether allergic, intolerant, or not) include bloating, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gas and malodorous flatulence, nausea, and chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Also, dairy is also on the list of the eight most common allergenic foods. For this reason, you might have negative health symptoms after eating dairy or foods containing dairy products.
Check out some of my homemade nut milk recipes that are great for when you need a creamy liquid base (like for my Coconut Matcha Latte), but without the dairy:
- Cashew Milk
- Macadamia Nut Milk
- Oat Milk Creamer
- Pumpkin Seed Milk
- Vanilla Coconut Milk Beverage
- Vanilla Hemp Milk
5. Dairy Can Cause Other Medical Issues
Besides digestive upset, it is a known fact that dairy causes excess mucus production in the respiratory tract. This means that it may also be an asthma trigger. Avoidance of dairy may benefit people who have asthma or are prone to upper respiratory infections.
People have also reported dairy as a trigger for arthritis symptoms, rashes, acne, migraines, narcolepsy, and/or unexplained inflammation. Avoidance of dairy in these individuals can greatly reduce their symptoms. Again, please consult your healthcare provider to see if going dairy-free is right for you.
6. Dairy Can Cause Increased Inflammation
As a result of all of the possible reactions listed above, consuming dairy can lead to an increase in inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is most definitely not healthy, and can result in troublesome symptoms such as join pain, headaches, and others.
Dairy consumption isn’t the only way to get its beneficial vitamins and minerals into your diet. Some excellent sources of calcium include kale (24% DV), sardines (21% DV), broccoli (9% DV), almonds (8% DV), and bok choy (7% DV). You can also obtain calcium from fortified dairy alternatives or from calcium supplements. See my list of the best vitamins for women in their 30s and the best vitamins for women over 50.
If you do decide to supplement with calcium (I take this one), then be sure to find a quality calcium supplement that also includes K2 and vitamin D3, which all help direct calcium to be deposited in the bones, and not in the soft tissues.
If you know you can tolerate dairy and you don’t want to avoid it completely, make sure you are consuming dairy from certified organic, grass-fed sources. Raw and fermented milk from trusted sources is a great option to consider.
Make sure you opt for the full-fat version for some extra health benefits. Milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, ghee, and kefir from other animals such as goat, buffalo, sheep and camel are other alternatives as well. Be cautious of whey and casein protein powders, even if they come from certified organic and grass-fed sources (see my list of the best clean protein powders).
Going dairy free means that you avoid any animal-based milk or milk products, including milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, or ice cream. Choose non-dairy options of these products, often readily available at natural health food stores. Eggs are not dairy products, even though they are often kept in or near the dairy section at grocery stores.
You don’t need to feel limited if you are on a dairy free diet. You can eat animal protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, healthy fats, and eggs. See my full list of clean eating foods and my list of the best dairy-free snacks. You might also want to check out my dairy-free recipe index.
No, eggs are not considered dairy. They are sometimes kept in the dairy section at grocery stores, but eggs do not have milk in them and are naturally dairy-free. In other words, you can eat eggs even if you are on a dairy-free diet.
Not 100%. Most of the milk solids have been removed from ghee, but it is not safe for people who have severe dairy allergies. Ghee is sometimes used in dairy-free diets, though, but it may have trace amount of dairy protein.
There are significant reasons to consider going dairy-free. If you suspect that dairy may be causing health issues or troublesome symptoms, then consider cutting out dairy for at least a few weeks. Monitor your symptoms and see if you feel better once you stop consuming dairy.
Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.