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.
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.
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.
Why Go Dairy-Free?
Going dairy-free is one of the ways that we can reduce inflammation, balance our hormones, and manage other troublesome symptoms. There are several reasons why dairy products can cause problems, and this article includes six reasons to consider going dairy-free.
1. Conventional Dairy Is Not Natural
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. One study showed that in some people, dairy products were even more insulinogenic than white bread. Obviously, that’s not good if you’re trying to stay off a blood sugar roller coaster or trying to lose weight.
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.
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.
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.
If I don’t consume dairy, how will I get my calcium?
Dairy consumption isn’t the only way to get its beneficial vitamins and minerals into your diet. Dairy is often touted as a good source of calcium. However, there are better sources of calcium besides conventional dairy products full of hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.
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.
If you prefer to make your dairy-free milks at home, you might like my recipes and tutorials for:
- Cashew Milk
- Homemade Unsweetened Almond Milk
- Macadamia Nut Milk
- Oat Milk Creamer
- Vanilla Coconut Milk Beverage
- Vanilla Hemp Milk
Calcium supplementation should be carefully considered as well. Please seek the help of a medical professional if you decide to use a calcium supplement. Improper use has been shown to increase calcification of the arteries and lead to an increased risk of some cancers. As always, it’s best to get your nutrients, such as calcium, from properly prepared, whole-food sources.
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.
What about raw and fermented dairy products?
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.
What does it mean to be dairy-free?
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.
What can you eat on a dairy-free diet?
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.
Are eggs dairy?
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 dairy-free.
Is ghee dairy-free?
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.
If you’re unsure whether or not you should go dairy-free completely, try an elimination diet. By cutting out dairy for a minimum of 3 weeks (some health practitioners recommend up to 6 weeks), then you can get a very good idea if you feel better going off dairy.