What is a dairy free diet?

It is exactly what it sounds like; you consume no dairy. The most popular sources of dairy are cow, goat, and sheep and it comes in many shapes and sizes. Traditionally we think of dairy as milk and cheese but with the manufacturing of quick foods we are now seeing dairy hidden in the ingredient lists of breads, cereals, canned or boxed soups, salad dressings, and even in protein products. If dairy is in so many products then why would someone avoid it? Many people choose avoid dairy because they are lactose intolerant, sensitive or allergic to the proteins, or for environmental/animal rights.

 Most common alternative names for dairy and dairy derived products to be aware of when reading labels:

  • Casein
  • Caseinate, Ammonium Caseinate
  • Whey Protein, Powder, Isolate
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactoferrin
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactose

As infants, humans are able to fully digest breast milk but I’m either yourself or someone you know has had to go on a dairy free diet while nursing due to colic, eczema, or allergic reactions due to milk. This isn’t uncommon. Many children wills begin to consume cows milk in early childhood to replace breastmilk or formula. Milk is not actually required after the age of 1 year if your child is eating a balanced diet. Many of the kiddos transition straight to water really well. If you are concerned about your child not getting enough calcium you may be surprised to learn that there are many other foods that are high in calcium!

What are the benefits of a dairy-free diet?

The benefits of dairy-free range from clear skin to reducing hormone exposure. Teenagers across the world are searching for the perfect acne-clearing remedy while chugging milk to fuel their workouts. Surprisingly, after many years of debate about whether foods affect acne dermatologists are now recommending a dairy-free diet to clear up acne. If dairy can affect our skin what else is it doing to us? Multiple studies show a direct correlation between dairy (lactose and casein) and hormone related cancers such as prostate and ovarian cancers (Fairfield et al., 2004; Park et al., 2014). One study showed that lactose can lead to anxiety, mucosal immune activation, and increased food sensitivities in patients with irritable bowel syndrome(Yang et al., 2014). If dairy is removed from the diet in these patients they will have a decreased mucosal immune response which will allow their gut to heal and potentially not have leaky gut anymore which will lead to a decreased food sensitivities.

Concerns about going dairy-free?

While dairy-free diets have many health benefits there are concerns about these consumers getting enough protein, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and phosphorus in their diets. Protein can be obtained from many sources such as legumes at 7mgs per serving and are also high in phosphorus, eggs have 6mgs, and quinoa has 13mgs per serving. Collard greens are really high in calcium ant 268 mgs per cup, sardines at 351mgs per cup and many other green vegetables are around 100mgs and also contain riboflavin. Vitamin D is found in fish, bivalves, eggs, and fortified cereals. If a consumer’s diet is well balanced and varied it is easy to achieve these nutrient requirements to maintain a healthy life.

Other concerns about being dairy-free can be the stigma associated with any type of diet that is different from the masses. It can make it difficult to go out to dinner with family/friends at restaurants or even just at someone’s house. Sometimes people don’t understand what dairy-free means and thinks that it’s only milk and if the dairy is in something like a dressing then it’s ok. Dairy can be hidden in the nutritional labels under whey, casein, lactose, dry milk, and other names. It makes it difficult to sort out what is ok for you to eat and what should be avoided but once you get the hang of it, it becomes easy and second nature.

A day in a dairy-free life

Breakfast –Rice, beans, sauerkraut, and avocado bowl with a side of berries
Snack – Handful of raw almonds, 1cup carrot sticks
Lunch – Steamed Kale, 1can sardines, 1cup cucumber, olive oil and vinegar dressing and a half of a sweet potato.
Snack – Apple and almond butter
Dinner – Quinoa, kale with olive oil and garlic, and grilled salmon.

My Personal Experience

I have been eating a mostly dairy free diet for about 4 years and have found that my diet is healthier because of it. I am more aware of what I need to eat to get the nutrients I need to maintain a healthy life. I eat more whole foods and less snack foods because most of them contain dairy. Additionally, I rarely eat meat and don’t eat eggs so I have to focus on getting protein from plant sources which brings in many more minerals and antioxidants into my diet that I wouldn’t be getting otherwise.  When I do eat dairy I find myself to be more anxious, my eczema flairs, and overall just feel crummy. The one thing I struggle with getting enough of is calcium because I don’t take a supplement but with new knowledge I’ve gained from researching for this blog I have found other sources that I would enjoy incorporating into my diet.

Disclaimer: This is information gathered from different resources about a dairy-free diet, not a recommendation to go dairy-free. 

  • Fairfield, K., Hunter, D., Colditz, G., Fuchs, C., Cramer, D., Speizer, F., … Hankinson, S. (2004). A prospective study of dietary lactose and ovarian cancer. International Journal of Cancer, 110(2), 271–7.
  • Park, S., Kim, J., Kim, Y., Lee, S. J., Lee, S. D., & Chung, M. K. (2014). Original Article A Milk Protein , Casein , as a Proliferation Promoting Factor in Prostate Cancer Cells, 32(2), 76–82.
  • Yang, J., Fox, M., Cong, Y., Chu, H., Zheng, X., Long, Y., … Dai, N. (2014). Lactose intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome patients with diarrhoea: the roles of anxiety, activation of the innate mucosal immune system and visceral sensitivity. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 39(3), 302–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.12582