Dairy is a staple food in the typical western diet, with many people consuming milk, yoghurt and cheese on a regular basis. Milk is marketed as the best source of calcium and a necessity for good health. This powerful message leaves many confused and thinking they’ll be calcium deficient if they don’t eat dairy. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. There are plenty of healthy calcium-rich foods which can be eaten instead of dairy. Learn the truth about dairy and how it affects our bodies. Discover our top 5 tips for going dairy free and our favourite dairy-free recipes to get you inspired in the kitchen.
The truth about dairy
The dairy industry is big business; a business that uses inhumane production processes. Cows are kept in cramped pens and forced to become pregnant in order to keep producing milk. Calves are taken away from their mothers hours after birth, causing much stress to the cow and her offspring.
Milking cows often develop mastitis due to their udders being so full. They are prescribed antibiotics which transfer into the milk and dairy products we consume. In the US, dairy cows are also given reproductive hormones and steroids to promote milk production and growth. If you eat dairy which comes from the US, you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary hormones and toxins.
Milk products are highly processed and treated so they can be sold in shops. Pasteurisation is part of this process; the milk is heated to a high temperature and quickly cooled down to eliminate pathogens and bacteria. Pasteurisation destroys most of the nutrients in milk.
Dairy depletes your calcium levels
Cow’s milk is produced specifically for calves, not humans. Calves have different requirements to us and their bodies are designed to digest milk efficiently, whereas the human body isn’t. Phosphorus is a mineral which calves need for growth and development, to make their bones and teeth strong and healthy. Lactating cows also need lots of phosphorus to maintain milk production. In order to avoid phosphorus deficiency, cows are fed more phosphorus than they need.
This results in cow’s milk containing an abundance of phosphorus. When we consume dairy products in large quantities, it unbalances our calcium-phosphorus ratio. When this occurs, it triggers the release of calcium from the bones (to buffer the phosphorus) and therefore depletes our body’s calcium stores and the amount of calcium available in the bones. Research has shown that high protein, high dairy diets are linked to bone mineral loss and osteoporosis.
How dairy affects your body
Dairy contains a protein called casein which many people don’t tolerate well and find hard to digest. It also contains lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk. In order to break down and absorb lactose, our bodies need an enzyme called lactase which is produced in the small intestine. Some people are intolerant to lactose as their bodies don’t produce enough lactase. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, diarrhoea, gas and nausea.
Milk is acidic and inflammatory for the body. It’s also very mucous-forming and can aggravate the immune system, exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma, eczema and autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The milk itself contains a myriad of hormones that may react to the hormones in your own body. They spike insulin levels which can trigger sebum (oil) production, clogging pores and making your skin prone to acne. Milk also contains oestrogen and progesterone (from the cow); when consumed by humans, these hormones are mixed with your own and can lead to mood swings and hormonal issues such as PMS. Put simply, cow’s milk should only be drunk by calves and the only milk humans should drink is breast milk. Our bodies are not designed to drink the milk of other mammals.
How to go dairy free
Going dairy-free doesn’t have to be hard; it’s easier than you think.
Here’s 5 tips to make going dairy-free hassle-free:
- Eat a whole food balanced diet including calcium-rich plant-based foods including almonds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, leafy greens (collard greens, kale, spinach), broccoli, beans, lentils, sardines, amaranth and figs.
- Read food labels so you know what’s actually in the food you’re eating. Many foods contain hidden ingredients including derivatives of milk such as whey, casein or lactose. Look out for the warning “contains milk products” which manufacturers are legally obliged to write on the label should it contain dairy. Learn more about reading food labels.
- Substitute with dairy alternatives like nut and seed butters or coconut yoghurt. You can find a wide selection in health shops and supermarkets now, making going dairy-free an easier option. Make sure you look out for hidden sugars and additivesas many substitute products contain these. Avoid soy products including soy milk as soy is harmful for your health.
- Make your own nut or seed milk using cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Nut and seed milks are a fantastic source of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and omega 3.
- Choose vegan options when eating out. Dairy is one of those foods which gets added to lots of dishes as it enhances the flavour and consistency, making them taste creamier and thicker. Vegan foods are completely plant-based so you don’t have to worry about any added dairy.
Support your immune system
Removing dairy from your diet will not compromise your health. Instead, it’ll reduce inflammation and acidity in the body and support your immune system. Eat a balanced whole food diet and replace dairy with plant foods such as nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and legumes. Homemade nut and seed milks are a great alternative to cow’s milk as they are loaded with important minerals and vitamins. Remember to read food labels to avoid hidden dairy and go vegan when in doubt.