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Dairy Free Diet: Why To Try It And How To Do It Right

Are you trying to figure out whether you should adopt a dairy free diet? Perhaps you are committed to the attempt, but not sure how to go about it.

We get it. Don’t worry—we’re here to help you figure it all out.

Why Go On a Dairy Free Diet?

Milk, cheeses, yogurt—why would someone want to give these up? Discover why my family chooses to be dairy free by reading about my son’s story here.

The Dairy Free Market Is Growing Steadily

Dairy has been a staple in the western diet and even seen in stone carvings dating back to 3000 BC. Genetic scientific discoveries have found (1),

The ability to digest milk was slowly gained sometime between 5000-4000 B.C.E. by the spread of a genetic mutation called lactase persistence that allowed post-weaned humans to continue to digest milk.

This genetic mutation didn’t pass to everyone; it passed mostly to dairy farmers and their offspring. So some still have a lactose intolerance. In fact, from a 2016 PNAS.org study (3),

Approximately 75% of the global human population is lactose mal-absorbers. In the United States, it is estimated that up to 80 million Americans are at risk for lactose intolerance.

A dairy free diet remains “uncommon” in the west outside of vegans. Why is that? (Could it have to do with advertising?) This article isn’t about an argument or opinion. It is about sharing research and discoveries.

This isn’t about being the only known species to regularly drink another species milk beyond adulthood. That is simply a statement to get people talking. Yes, we know there are random cats, baby pigs and other wild animals doing what they need to do to survive. Those are so few occurrences compared to the amount of milk found in almost everything.

This is about a marketable good that isn’t so great for everyone. If you do not have adverse effects from lactose, chances are you may have ancestors that have this genetic mutation

In the same 2016 study done by The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, it was also proven that (3):

Consumption of dairy foods by lactose-intolerant individuals may result in clinical symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, and abdominal cramping.

So, yes, lactose intolerance is real and more than you realize have it. Or in their case, suffer from it. In a world of dairy products, it can feel lonely when you must remain on a dairy free diet. We feel your pain.

Try ordering a “no cheese white pizza” (Please do not try this at an actual Italian restaurant, or in general).

Just know you are not alone and several companies have stepped up to create tasty dairy free foods for the 80 million Americans that may be lactose intolerant. (If only more dairy free restaurants would take root?)

Should I Try A Dairy Free Diet?

If you feel like you may have reactions, allergies or intolerances to dairy or lactose, you may want to go with your gut and try a dairy free diet for 45 days. Just one and half months of your life, you will be okay!

Main Reasons For Dairy Free Diet:

  • Allergies: While not as common as lactose intolerance, immune reactions to the proteins found in milk are nonetheless quite common. Like most food allergies, the exact impact can vary from mild to severe. An actual milk allergy is somewhat rare in the population but extremely serious. Always consult your doctor with a true milk allergy.
  • Lactose intolerance: Lactose intolerance isn’t a special condition or disease; roughly 65% of humans are lactose intolerant, and more than that have milder problems with lactose digestion due to low levels of lactase. The digestion issue can cause any number of gastrointestinal problems like bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain or cramping, and diarrhea, which in turn can cause countless other ailments to develop.
  • Sugar: Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, it’s still a form of sugar—and thus can be of concern for general dieting and a variety of health conditions.
  • Going Vegan: If you are going full Vegan or even partially Vegan, giving up dairy with meat goes hand in hand.
  • Ethical Reasons: The conditions for milk production vary wildly between different manufacturers, despite FDA and USDA regulations. There are also considerations related to the energy efficiency of raising cattle, the contributions of cows to greenhouse gases, and other ethical concerns like the treatment of dairy cows and their offspring.
  • Other health risks: Dairy products have been tied to health risks such as cancer and general mortality. (11)(12)(13)(14) Milk and other sweet dairy products offer the greatest risk, while processed dairy such as yogurt or cheese can offer benefits. D-galactose, in particular, has been linked to surprising increases in mortality (4), so there is peaked interest why many may want to avoid dairy products containing this nutrient.

If you are opposed to these findings, follow the links to read the studies, watch the videos yourself and then send them your emails. A 2014 D-galactose study concluded (4),

High milk intake was associated with higher mortality in one cohort of women and in another cohort of men, and with higher fracture incidence in women.

Okay, hold up. Here are some questions. Is it the added growth hormone injections or GMOs in the grain and corn they eat? Is it a lactose intolerant person’s body reacting to exposure over many years? Was the milk in the studies organic milk? Is too much calcium to blame? We aren’t here to point fingers, just posing questions to publicly released scientific studies.

So many eyes have been opened to those that are researching the topic of milk, too much calcium intake, and dairy related studies. We included scientific study based references at the bottom of this article.

And if you love to argue with people on this topic, the website ProCon.org created a simple page collecting a few cited Milk Pros and Cons, along with a tab at the top for “discussions”.

“Free Dairy” Vs “Non-Dairy”

Do not be fooled by some products on the market labeled “Non-Dairy”, they are not all created equal. Some seemingly “dairy free” products will list “lactose-free” and “non-dairy” on the packaging but still have Casein, (5) a milk-based protein in them. WHAA?

What is going on here? Why sneak milk back into our non-dairy foods?

How does this happen? It is a regulation issue. Currently, the FDA or Food & Drug Administration has no regulatory definition for dairy-free as a term. So, the FDA or Food & Drug Administration (5),

…has not established any regulations regarding use of that terminology (dairy-free) on package labels.

Casein: The Dairy Free Trojan Horse

Even though they do not allow false advertising on a product’s packaging, the term “non-dairy” is another term not regulated. If the product says “dairy free” it is free from any and all milk proteins (or supposed to be).

However, if the product says “nondairy” the dairy lobby has fought long and hard to allow these labeled products to be able to contain small amounts of casein, milk proteins or other variations of milk based products. This is an issue. Especially, if you or your child has an actual dairy allergy.

SO READ THE LABELS AND INGREDIENTS!

How To Maintain a Balanced Dairy Free Diet

Of course, dairy isn’t just popular because dairy products taste good. Milk and milk by-products are packed with some nutrients, making them a bit tricky to simply cut from your diet—unless you take the steps needed to make up for the loss.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that 1 cup (8 oz) of dairy with added vitamin D supplies:

  • 342 mg Potassium
  • 293 mg Calcium
  • 224 mg Phosphorus
  • 115 mg Sodium
  • 24 mg Magnesium
  • 8.05 g of Protein
  • 12 µg of Folate
  • 120 IU of Vitamin D

Impressive! And all of these vitamins and nutrients are important to your health. Taking a multi vitamin and including foods rich in these nutrients is important if you are replacing a dairy based lifestyle to a dairy free diet.

The number one concern you will hear about is getting enough Calcium. Milk is high in calcium, but other foods, cereals, and juices have calcium or are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.

Enough Calcium on a Dairy Free Diet

Calcium is needed for several functions like building and maintaining teeth and bones, regulating the heart’s rhythm, blood clotting and the transmission of nerve impulses. 99 percent is stored in your teeth and bones with 1 percent found in blood and other tissues.

These reserves fluctuate daily according to your bodies needs. Your supply is built up when you consume more. Having an adequate amount of calcium daily may help to prevent osteoporosis. (6)

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, formerly the National Academy of Sciences, recommends this much Calcium: (7)

  • 0 to 3 yr olds: 200 to 700 mg a day
  • 4 to 8 yr olds: 1,000 mg a day
  • 9 to 18 yr olds: 1,300 mg a day
  • 19 to 50 yr olds: 1,000 mg a day
  • 50+ yrs old: 1,200 mg a day

So if you are, let’s say 18 yrs old and only getting calcium from milk, you would need to drink 4.5 glasses of milk a day to meet the recommended amounts. The actual nutritional facts on cow’s milk vary depending on the source. The dairy industry is very large and quite successful. They care and spends lots of money on advertising and research. (10)

If you grew up as a dairy farmer or from a family that depended on milk sales to provide for your family, could you blame them for wanting to boost sales and fund research?

So, what does a dairy free diet need to be considered a healthy change in diet?

Dairy Free Diet Must Include Plenty Of:

  • Calcium: Fortified cereals, juices and certain kinds of nut milk, dark green vegetables (like kale, broccoli, bok choy, watercress), kefir, okra, and almonds will get you calcium. And of course, they’re packed with plenty of other healthy vitamins and minerals.
  • Vitamin D: Spend 15 minutes in the sun a day or take a vitamin D supplement. Liquid vitamin D drops are recommended for infants and children. Fish oils and foods like cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, caviar, cage-free eggs, and mushrooms are some of the richest in vitamin D.
  • Potassium: You can get 2.6 times the amount of potassium in 1 cup of winter squash. Other potassium rich foods are sweet potatoes, potatoes, white beans, 100% orange juice, broccoli, cantaloupe, bananas, lentils, salmon, pistachios, and raisins.
  • Phosphorus: Seeds are high in phosphorus. From highest to lowest amounts are pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds and flax seeds. Other great sources of phosphorus are salmon, shellfish, nuts (Brazil, pine nuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios), beans and lentils.
  • Magnesium: You get 6.5 times the amount of magnesium in 1 cup of Spinach (157 mg in fact) than milk offers. Other magnesium rich foods are chard, pumpkin seeds, kefir, almonds, black beans, avocados, figs, dark chocolate, and bananas.
  • Protein: Great sources of protein include peas, quinoa, hemp hearts, spinach, almonds, cashews, nut butter, lentils, beans, broccoli, Ezekial bread, pumpkin seeds, Brussel sprouts, cage-free eggs, fish and lean organic meats.
  • Probiotics: A great probiotic brand is Garden of Life! Many fermented foods can pick up the slack here. Probiotic/Prebiotic foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi, kombucha (Buddha Brew<3), pickles, etc, are a must have in your daily routine.
  • Healthy fats: Nuts, coconut oil, and avocados are great go-to food for healthy fat sources. Other sources of healthy fats include almonds, dark chocolate (THANK YOU!), whole eggs, nut butter (almond, sunflower seed, peanut), olive oil, flax seeds, olives, and salmon.

It is very important to always consult with a pediatrician you trust when making changes to your children’s dietTake caution when giving children from the ages 14 months to 4 years old, plant-based milk. It is crucial to your baby or child’s development and health to supply adequate amounts of nutrients they need to grow properly. 

We have mentioned multi vitamins, nutrient rich foods and most dairy free milk/juices fortify with calcium and vitamin D3. Yet, most multi vitamins do not supply enough calcium. In this case, we recommend the Honest Co. Kids Calcium and Vitamin D3 supplement or nut milk brands high in calcium like Ripple or Silk’s Protein Nutmilk.

Dairy Free Diet Food Brands We Love

So now that we got through all that let us get to the stuff that helps you replace dairy without missing your favorite things like milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, butter, pizza (Daiya Pizzas are YUMMY!), ice cream and more.

There are plenty of amazing Dairy Free brands on the market today to try. You may need to travel to Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s or other Health Food stores to find them all.

Dairy Free Milks

There are so many brands of dairy free milk on the market; it depends on where you go. Look for plant based milk like almond milk, coconut milk, flaxseed milk, hemp seed milk, oat milk, macadamia milk, sunflower milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk or cashew milk (ahh, chocolate cashew milk).

Dairy free milk brands:

  • Ripple (Our personal favorite!)
  • Silk (Need more protein? Look for Silk’s “Protein Nutmilk”)
  • Milkadamia
  • SO Delicious
  • Living Harvest
  • Good Karma
  • Pacific
  • Blue Diamond
  • Cashew Dream or Rice Dream
  • 365 brand
  • Sprouts brand
  • Trader Joe’s brand

Make your own dairy free milk with this homemade Cinnamon-Vanilla Almond Milk recipe.

Dairy Free Cheeses

Dairy Free cheese brands tend to carry a variety of flavors, some also make cream cheeses, spreads, dips, cottage cheese, and yogurts. They are mostly made from different nuts, pea proteins, rice or soy (we don’t really recommend too much soy but whatevs).

Dairy free cheese brands:

  • Daiya (Smoked Gouda Style, OMG!)
  • Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet
  • Tesse Vegan Cheese
  • Field Roast Vegan Chao
  • Kite Hill
  • Treeline Tree Nut Cheese
  • Punk Rawk Labs Nut Milk Cheese
  • Miyoko Schinner’s Artisan Vegan Cheese
  • Lisanatti® Vegan Cheeze™ (Warning: Lisanatti also makes an Almond-based cheese with milk casein as an ingredient)
  • Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast (Sprinkle this on anything you want to taste cheesy)

Try your hand at making this Vegan Queso.

Dairy Free Yogurts

Getting probiotics into your diet, in general, is essential. The probiotics populate your digestive system with good bacteria or gut flora, that helps you break down and absorb nutrients from the food you eat. If you have more bad bacteria vs. good bacteria you may not be absorbing what you need to maintain a healthy body. Taking a probiotic daily is highly recommended. Yogurt is just another way to get some of the probiotics that your body needs.

Dairy free yogurt brands:

  • SO Delicious Dairy Free
  • Silk
  • Almond Dream
  • Amande
  • Kite Hill
  • Coconut Grove
  • Daiya

It may be tricky at first but maybe you are up to this homemade Dairy Free Yogurt recipe.

Dairy Free Butters

Coconut oil is an excellent butter substitute.

Dairy free butter brands:

  • Earth Balance
  • Jiva Organics Coconut Butter
  • Spectrum Organic Shortening
  • Miyoko’s Creamery European Style Cultured Vegan Butter

Impress yourself and guests with this dairy free Honey Butter Recipe.

Dairy Free Desserts

Ever wanted to go on a dairy free diet but decided not to because you love ice cream and desserts too much? Honestly, the desserts are probably the best the industry has to offer.

Save the best for last? Yes, we did. Some of these dairy free desserts are, dare I say, too good.

Dairy free desserts to fall in LOVE with:

  • Hail Merry Bites (Macaroons, Cups, and Tarts)
  • Immaculate Baking Company Dairy Free Cookies
  • Pamela’s Whenever Bars
  • Daiya Dairy Free Cheezecakes
  • Steve’s Ice Cream (Dairy Free)
  • Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Dairy Free Ice Cream
  • Nada Moo Dairy Free Ice Cream
  • Amy’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream
  • Almond Dream Dairy Free Ice Cream
  • Dream Dairy Free Ice Cream
  • SO Delicious Dairy Free Ice Cream and CocoWhip (whip cream)
  • Tofutti Cuties Ice Cream Sandwiches
  • Jawea Dairy-Free Frozen Dessert

Have fun with this Vegan Chocolate No Bake Cookies recipe.

Read an interview from NBC DFW about the Dairy Free Diet Debate with me and why I started Organic Health Now.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Recipes

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We are here to support you on your new venture. No judgment, just encouragement!

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.   This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


References:

  1. ProCon.org. The Leading Source For Pros & Cons Of Controversial Issues. “History of Cow’s Milk from the Ancient World to the Present
  2. Owens, James. National Geographic News. “Stone Age Adults Couldn’t Stomach Milk, Gene Study Shows
  3. PNAS.org. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. “Impact of short-chain galactooligosaccharides on the gut microbiome of lactose-intolerant individuals
  4. BMJ 2014;349:g6015. “Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies
  5. FARRP.unl.edu.  Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
    Food Allergy Research And Resource Program of The Unversity oF Nebraska–Lincoln. “Dairy-Free and Non-Dairy: Milk-Allergic Consumers?
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source, “Calcium: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?
  7. NIH.gov. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. “Calcium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
  8. USDA.gov. United States Department of Agriculture. Basic Report: 01079, Milk, reduced fat, fluid, 2% milkfat, with added vitamin A and vitamin D
  9. JAMANetwork.com. JAMA Pediatr. 2013;167(9):788-789. Three Daily Servings of Reduced-Fat Milk An Evidence-Based Recommendation?
  10. PubMed.gov, US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. The relationship between funding source and conclusion among nutrition-related scientific articles
  11. PCRM.org. Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine. Ask The Expert: Dairy Products.
  12. Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Milk, milk products and lactose intake and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Int J Cancer. 2006;118(2):431-441.
  13. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Milk and diabetes.
  14. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Whole milk intake is associated with prostate cancer-specific mortality among U.S. male physicians.
  15. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Severe nutritional deficiencies in young infants with inappropriate plant milk consumption
  16. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Diet in acne: further evidence for the role of nutrient signaling in acne pathogenesis.
  17. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Clinical spectrum of food allergies: a comprehensive review.
  18. PubMed.gov. US National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Adverse effects of cow’s milk in infants.

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