Is a Dairy Free Diet Right for You?
We have been made to believe that dairy is a required food group for a healthy diet. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend that people increase their low fat dairy intake for the nutrition and possible benefits for bone health.1 But, there is also a push from certain health and wellness groups, such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for the new dietary guidelines to ditch dairy.2 With all this conflicting information, should you go dairy free?
What good does dairy do for the body?
Dairy has many important nutrients for health. It is a significant source of protein, a cup of milk contains 8 grams. It is also high in many important vitamins and minerals including:3
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Pantothenic acid
Since dairy is high in calcium and vitamin D, it may help protect bones from osteoporosis. A 2013 study found that the risk of osteoporosis significantly decreased as calcium, dairy, and vitamin D intake increased in the diet.4 Dairy intake has also been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.5 It may also help reduce the risk of heart disease.6
Reasons dairy could be impacting your health
Although dairy has health benefits, there is a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not it needs to be a “required” food group. First, lactose intolerance or the inability to digest the sugar in milk is the most common food intolerance. Over 65% of adults worldwide are lactose intolerant.7
Allergies to dairy are also common, especially in children. Many allergies do not show up as “traditional” symptoms like hives or difficulty breathing. Dairy allergies may cause eczema and skin changes, as well as digestive disturbances.8,9
Dairy, especially full-fat milk and cheese, is a major source of saturated fat. Although research has not found significant connection between dairy intake and an elevated risk of heart disease, there is still some concern over excessive saturated fat intake coming from dairy.10
Dairy can be inflammatory and has been linked to an increased risk for certain types of cancer, although research is currently inconclusive.11,12
Should you go dairy free? If you are struggling with unexplained stomach pain, digestive problems, or skin issues, then you may want to try a dairy free diet for a period of time to see if symptoms improve.
If you are going to eliminate dairy, you will need to be sure you are still getting the calcium, protein, and vitamin D you need in your diet. There are many delicious milk-alternatives on the market made from almonds, soy, hemp, peas, and oats. All these alternative “milks” have different flavors and nutritional composition so you will have to experiment to find the one you like best.
Ice cream and yogurt can be easily replaced with coconut milk products which tend to have the same mouthfeel. Be sure to note that these may be higher in fat and lower in protein, so you will need to find another source of protein. There are many dairy-free cheese alternatives that do still melt on you pizza or quesadilla, these are usually located in the “health food” section of the dairy aisle.
With how common lactose intolerance is, finding dairy-free alternatives is relatively easy. With a little bit of research you can eat a dairy-free and tasty diet.
- Doctors Urge 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to Ditch Dairy. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines - health.gov.
- Health Benefits of Dairy | Milk Nutrition | The Dairy Alliance
- Nutr Res Pract. 2013;7(5):409-417.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(4):1066-1083.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(1):194-202.
- Genetics Home Reference. Lactose intolerance.
- Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002;89(6 Suppl 1):52-55.
- Arch Dis Child. 2007;92(10):902-908.
- Eur J Nutr. 2009;48(4):191-203.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100 Suppl 1:386S - 93S.
- Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(12):2497-2525.
- Tags: Diet & Recipes
- Blog Contributor