Everyone seems to be experimenting with elimination diets these days. From gluten-free to carb-free options, the dairy-free diet is another style of eating where it’s hard to separate fact from fad.
However, scientific evidence suggests that dairy products can cause adverse health effects such as inflammation — especially if you have allergies or intolerances. Not to mention, it’s been linked to acne and digestive issues, too.
So is going without dairy just another flash in the pan or a real nutritional development? We’ll cover everything you need to know about a dairy-free diet, from the potential benefits to the deficiencies you may need to consider. Our guide to the best milk alternative also weighs your options if you eat dairy-free.
However, it is still important to consult a health care professional about food choices specific to you, especially if you are considering eliminating an entire food group from your diet.
What is a dairy-free diet?
Simply put, a dairy-free diet is one in which you don’t eat dairy of any kind, from any animal – not just cows. This means no milk, cheese, cream and dairy ingredients in any of the foods you eat. People who follow a dairy-free diet can usually eat eggs, unless another principle of their diet or lifestyle requires otherwise.
What are the benefits of a dairy-free diet?
Brooke Jacob, registered dietitian and program manager with Christiana Kerr (Opens in a new tab)He says there may be some benefits to cutting out dairy, but these depend on the dairy you’re consuming. You increase your risk of heart disease if you consume high-fat dairy products, such as full-fat cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter and cream, because of their saturated fat content.
“Low-fat dairy products are a good source of vitamin D and calcium,” she says. “Sure, for people who are intolerant to dairy products, avoiding dairy products would be ideal.”
Brooke Jacob is a registered dietitian with ChristianaCare. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Nutrition from the University of Delaware and a Master’s in Health Promotion.
In addition to improving gut health and reducing the risk of heart disease, cutting cow’s milk from your diet may also help clear up acne, according to American Academy of Dermatology Association (Opens in a new tab). Reducing dairy products has also been shown to improve digestion and reduce inflammation in some people. This is because dairy products contain a natural sugar called lactose that requires an enzyme called lactase to break down. People with lactose intolerance do not produce enough of this enzyme to break down lactose, which causes bloating and indigestion.
However, when it comes to the issue of inflammation, there are mixed opinions. “Dairy products have not been shown to contribute to inflammation,” Jacob says. However, you may be more likely to develop heart disease if you eat a diet that includes high-fat dairy products, due to the increased intake of saturated fats.
“While there is speculation that a dairy-free diet is beneficial for people with PCOS or rheumatoid arthritis, more consistent research is needed before this claim can be made. People who feel that dairy products may be useful should be cause their inflammation or poor health, they may consider going on an elimination diet and, over a period of time, eliminating dairy.They can then slowly reintroduce heart-healthy, low-fat dairy to see if their symptoms return after the elimination of dairy products.
What are the risks of a dairy-free diet?
While there are legitimate reasons to exclude things, it is important to make sure you are getting enough nutrients if you decide to exclude an entire food group from your diet.
“When following a dairy-free diet, you should look for additional sources of calcium to meet your daily calcium needs,” Jacob says. Dairy products also provide high-quality protein. Many non-dairy milk alternatives, depending on the source, contain added sugar and little protein. It is recommended to purchase the unsweetened version. Moreover, vegan cheeses are often made from coconut oil, which has a higher saturated fat content compared to low-fat dairy cheese. It’s important to read the Nutrition Facts labels to make sure that non-dairy alternatives are the best choice for you and your health.”
One of the risks that comes with restricting calcium intake is osteoporosis. However, if you can make sure you’re getting enough protein and calcium from non-dairy alternatives, such as leafy greens and sardines, you’ll likely avoid the health risks associated with the diet, as with most elimination diets. However, it is always important to discuss such changes with a dietitian or dietitian if you are unsure.
Who Should Eat Dairy Free?
There are people for whom a dairy-free diet will be more beneficial. Specifically, people with food allergies, intolerances, and allergies should likely consider some type of elimination diet.
“A dairy-free diet or even a lactose-free diet is recommended for those with food allergies or intolerances who may experience bloating, abdominal pain, or other digestive issues that come from dairy,” Jacob says.
Dairy and lactose intolerance tend to be a subgroup of foods with a high rate of sensitivity and intolerance. according to Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases Lancet (Opens in a new tab) Journal, experts estimate that 68% of the world’s population suffers from some form of lactose malabsorption. Given this, it makes sense that dairy-free diets have a positive effect on so many people. While dairy-free diets may not be necessary for those who do not have any food allergies, it is one of the most common sensitivities.
What can you eat on a dairy-free diet?
If you are going to be dairy-free, you may be at a loss as to what exactly you can eat. While this depends on other factors in your diet – in addition to why you shouldn’t eat dairy – you can count on cutting out milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese. However, there are plenty of dairy-free alternatives that you can look for.
You can choose non-dairy protein-rich options, such as soy milk or pea protein milk. Jacob says most non-dairy products are fortified with calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients you’ll find in dairy milk.
Although not dairy-free, lactose-free products suffice if you’re only working with a food allergy or intolerance. In terms of meals, foods like grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, and eggs are all fair game. It may take some initial adjustment but once you find foods that work for you, and alternatives that you enjoy, navigating should be a lot smoother.
While cutting out dairy may not be the best option for everyone, there are people for whom it can be very beneficial. Of course, you should always make sure to speak with your doctor or dietitian to formulate the best plan for you.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice.
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