Dairy-Free Diet

Dairy products and milk are some of the most widely-consumed foodstuffs in the world. The total worldwide milk production amounts to almost one billion tons of milk every year, with the average person consuming at least 152 milk or dairy products annually.

Milk and dairy, however, have a strange relationship with the human race, and despite their ubiquity in modern society are only relatively recent additions to our diets.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history and science behind milk, find out why milk makes some people sick, and provide some good reasons to ditch the milk as well as offering a few healthy alternatives to dairy products.

The History Of Dairy: Milk Drinking Mutants

Milk and dairy consumption can be traced back almost 10,000 years to the origins of agricultural society. This may seem like a long time, but from an evolutionary perspective, it’s rather recent.

The human race have existed in our current form for over 200,000 years, so when viewed through the lens of physical anthropology, milk drinking is a revolutionary act.

According to a computational biology study released by the Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at UCL, the genetic change that allowed humans to digest milk without becoming sick occurred just 7,500 years ago[1].

The ability to drink milk without becoming ill is due to a genetic mutation that occurred in central Europe shortly after the development of agriculture which causes a phenomena in the body called lactase persistence.

Lactase in an enzyme in the body that allows the digestive system to break down and metabolize lactose, a sugar that accounts for roughly 8% of the total weight of milk and provides most of its nutritive value.

Lactase generally becomes inactive in the early stages of childhood, but in individuals with a particular genetic profile, lactase persistence means this enzyme remains active and enables the digestion of milk.

While this ability is useful for the those that possess the lactase persistence gene, the other 60% of the global population are unable to digest the lactose in milk.

For individuals with inactive lactase, milk and dairy travels through the digestive system and ends up in the colon where it begins to ferment and emit gas, causing bloating, nausea, and cramps.

While it may seem strange to readers of non-European primary descent, milk drinking is, in fact, uncommon throughout the natural world. Humans are the only organism on the planet that drink milk in adulthood.

What this means for your health is that your body is unlikely to benefit greatly from milk consumption.

If you’re part of the larger part of the global population that lacks the necessary genetic mutation to digest lactose, it’s likely that milk is actually doing you more harm than good.

In response to the growing awareness of milk intolerance, more and more people worldwide are turning to dairy-free diets to better their digestive health and take advantage of a wide range of health benefits.

What Is A Dairy-Free Diet?

People adhere to a dairy-free diet for a number of different reasons.

Some are seeking a way to minimize their intake of foods that are incompatible with their body, while others are seeking to return to a holistic, “paleolithic” diet that attempts to provide the human body with only the foods that it is genetically adapted to consume.

Other dairy-free diet adherents may follow the diet in an attempt to reduce the effects of bloating, skin disorders, digestive issues or respiratory issues, while a small subset of the population follow a dairy-free diet due to milk allergies.

Milk allergy can affect both children and adults, although it’s more prevalent in children. Milk allergy is the most common form of allergy in children, affecting between 0.6 and 2.5% of preschoolers.

Milk allergy can disappear over time, resulting in just 0.5% of adults retaining an allergy to milk. For these individuals, however, drinking milk can cause a wide variety of worrying symptoms.

Milk allergy can cause mild symptoms such as hives, and nausea, all the way to severe anaphylactic shock.

In addition to the 0.5% of the adult population that suffer from milk allergies, almost three quarters of the global population are lactose intolerant.

Fortunately for the greater part of the people on the planet, calcium, vitamin D, and the other nutritional elements of milk can be found from many other sources.

The dairy-free diet is designed to provide the body with all of the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive while completely avoiding milk and dairy products.

The dairy-free diet is essential for anybody that possesses a milk allergy, but can be flexible for people that have only a mild lactose intolerance.

Some individuals that don’t possess the lactase persistence gene find that they are still able to consume certain dairy products that have been treated in a manner that removes lactose.

Anybody with a milk allergy, however, must completely eliminate both lactose and milk proteins from their diet and balance their nutritional intake accordingly, sourcing essential nutrients from specific foods or supplements.

Here’s a short list of the primary sources of dairy that should be avoided when following a dairy-free diet:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Sour Cream
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream
  • Gelato
  • Casein or Whey Protein Powder

7 Reasons To Follow A Dairy-Free Diet

There are a number of reasons to follow a dairy-free diet even if you’re not lactose intolerant. Eliminating dairy and milk from the diet has been shown in multiple clinical trials to deliver a wide range of health benefits.

Let’s take a look at some of the most compelling reasons to ditch dairy:

1. Dairy Causes Bloating

Bloating and stomach distension is one of the most commonly reported issues caused by dairy and milk.

Experienced by both individuals with lactose intolerance and those with a lactose allergy, bloating is caused by an accumulation of lactose in the colon, where it ferments and emits gas[2].

Methane, hydrogen and carbon dioxide gas is created by an interaction between lactose and intestinal flora, which can also cause flatulence, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

There are a number of natural home remedies for bloating caused by lactose intolerance, such as saffron, ginger, and chamomile tea, but the best remedy is prevention.

In addition to causing bloating, the excess sugar that milk delivers to gut bacteria can cause an imbalance in the microbiome of the body, potentially causing bacterial overgrowth that leads to irritable bowel syndrome.

This condition can cause nausea, fatigue, joint pain and vomiting, and was directly linked to lactose intolerance in a 2011 clinical trial[3].

Removing dairy from your diet completely and following a dairy-free diet can eliminate stomach bloating completely and dramatically reduce your risk of developing gut bacteria imbalances.

2. Better Digestive Function

The interaction between dairy products and digestive function is a clearly defined and documented relationship.

For the three-quarters of the population that are lactose intolerant, dairy consumption causes sugars and carbohydrates to build up in the intestines, contributing to inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome.

A recent 2015 clinical trial that measured the rate at which the microbes in the digestive system are able to adapt to continuous dairy intake determined that reducing dairy consumption has the ability to impact several common digestive diseases[4], meaning removing dairy from the diet is able to improve overall digestive health.

In another 2012 study, dairy products were conclusively linked to IBS and celiac disease[5].

Following a dairy-free diet is a great way to improve digestive health and efficiency, which can in turn promote higher metabolic function.

One effect caused by a sluggish metabolism, especially one that is suffering from the effects of lactose maldigestion, is an increase in the rate at which the body generates fat deposits.

By kicking dairy, you’re not only improving your health, but speeding up the rate at which your body can lose weight.

3. Enhanced Respiratory Health

Milk has been associated with poor respiratory health for a very long time. A common perception of milk is that it promotes excessive mucus growth in the lungs and respiratory tract, contributing to illnesses such as the common cold and flu.

While this is a controversial issue with evidence supporting both sides of the argument, there are a number of compelling studies that show milk can potentially exacerbate the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory disorders.

A clinical trial performed in 2010 demonstrated that dairy products and milk contain an exorphin compound called beta-casomorphin[6] that has the potential to cause excess mucus growth.

This evidence is supported by another trial performed by the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich that observed the presence of beta-casomorphin-7 in cow’s milk. Beta-Casomorphin-7 is a direct histamine release in the human body, meaning it causes the production and release of histamine.

Histamine plays a number of roles in the body. The importance of histamine in airway mucus secretion is controlled by the H2 receptor, one of two histamine receptors in the body.

In a 1997 clinical study, the histamine H2 receptor was demonstrated to stimulate the secretion of mucus cells in the airway[7].

While there are no clinical trials that have observed a direct connection between milk and an increased frequency of respiratory illness, it’s logical to assume that it can potentially induce excess mucus in the lungs and throat.

If you suffer from asthma or any other kind of respiratory illness, it’s likely that you will benefit from removing dairy from your diet, improving your respiratory health and minimizing histamine response.

4. Minimize Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is a common health condition that affects millions of people across the United States.

Characterized by an imbalance between free radicals in the body and the ability of the body to remove or detoxify them, oxidative stress can cause a wide variety of health disorders such as decreased cognitive function[8], increased risk of developing diabetes[9], and anxiety[10].

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals, or oxygen containing molecules that possess single or multiple unpaired electrons, pass through the body and damage cells and cell components such as DNA, proteins and lipids.

Free radical molecules will steal an electron from these sources in order to stabilize themselves, therefore destabilizing the affected cell, causing a chain reaction that can severely damage health. Extreme oxidative stress can lead to Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, inflammatory disease and even cardiovascular disease.

The body usually uses antioxidants, or molecules that are able to donate an electron to free radical agents without becoming destabilized themselves, to balance oxidation and prevent oxidative stress from occurring.

If there are too many free radicals in the body for this system to handle, however, severe health complications can ensue. There are a number of clinical studies that demonstrate the ability of milk and dairy to exacerbate oxidative stress by increasing the amount of free radicals in the body.

A 1982 clinical trial determined that dairy contains galactose[11].

Galactose is a monosaccharide sugar that was observed in another separate clinical trial in 2001 to contribute greatly to oxidative stress[12], and was even used to induce oxidative stress in a more recent 2014 trial intended to observe the effects of blueberry extract on the condition[13].

In addition to this evidence, two other clinical studies have identified the presence of at least three other forms of free radicals in dairy products[14][15].

What can be surmised from these clinical investigations is that reducing your dietary intake of dairy can have a profound impact on the amount of free radicals in your body, significantly minimizing the risk of developing oxidative stress and promoting overall homeostasis, or a natural balance of the systems of the body.

5. Improve Skin Health

As milk is produced by mammals to provide the ideal nutritional elements for calves, or in humans, children, it naturally contains a high amount of growth hormones and other anabolic agents that interfere with the hormonal balance of an adult human body.

The presence of high amounts of hormones in dairy products and milk is an established medical fact, recently established in a concrete fashion by a 2015 health narrative review[16].

The hormonal content of milk contains at least three separate hormones that can affect hormone-responsive glands in the human body.

There are concrete, well-evidenced epidemiological links between the hormones in milk and breast cancer, prostate cancer, and acne[17]. One of the most detrimental hormones found in milk is estrogen.

While estrogen is naturally produced by the human body in small amounts, high levels of estrogen have been demonstrated to induce acne[18].

More compelling evidence that links milk and dairy to acne and debilitating skin conditions can be found in three separate clinical trials that dairy is able to both cause excess estrogen levels as well as inhibit insulin response, both of which cause the spontaneous development of acne[19][20][21].

Based on this evidence, it’s safe to assume that reducing your dairy intake can have a positive impact on skin health, dramatically reducing the severity and frequency of acne outbreaks and other skin conditions.

6. Avoid Milk Allergy Reactions

If you suffer from a milk allergy, the only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid milk and dairy products completely.

There is no cure for a dairy allergy, and while there are medications that can help to reduce the symptoms of allergic reactions to dairy, they can have dangerous side effects.

The only effective pharmaceutical treatment for allergic reactions to dairy are vasoconstrictors such as epinephrine, which can induce high blood pressure, nervousness, insomnia, and hypothyroidism.

Consuming milk or dairy products when you have a dairy allergy can cause serious symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, respiratory difficulty, or even anaphylaxis, which is a potentially fatal reaction that can stop breathing and cause the body to enter a state of shock.

Removing dairy from your diet will prevent these symptoms from occurring, so if you have a dairy allergy it’s critical to analyze your dietary intake to ensure you’re not ingesting any form of dairy.

If you believe you may have a dairy allergy, the best course of action is to consult a medical professional.

The most common test is a blood test, in which an allergist will measure the levels of immunoglobulin E antibodies in your body, which are the cause of allergic reaction symptoms.

7. Minimize Your Risk Of Cancer

Recent scientific investigation has unearthed a worrying link between the consumption of dairy products and the prevalence of several forms of cancer.

While the link between dairy and cancer is poorly understood at this point in time, it’s clear that there is a statistical link between milk consumption and cancer rates.

There are two separate meta-studies that have analyzed a large body of clinical evidence to discover a link between dairy and cancer. A 2004 meta-study conducted by Duke University Medical Center surmised that dairy contains several carcinogenic factors.

According to the study, dairy contains a high saturated fat content that may increase the risk of developing cancer, as well as high levels of insulin-like growth factor I, which has been observed to promote the growth of breast cancer cells[22].

A Japanese statistical analysis performed in 2007 that analyzed nearly 12,000 people linked eight different forms of cancer to the consumption of butter and milk, demonstrating a significant association between these forms of dairy and the growth of cancer cells[23].

Another 2011 study conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center links external pesticide and insecticide chemicals used in the agricultural industry to high levels of carcinogenic agents in pasteurized milk[24]

Dairy products have also been demonstrated to contribute to the development of prostate cancer in men. The high level of calcium in dairy products appears to inhibit the release of a key hormone critical to the suppression of cancer cell growth in the prostate.

A study performed in 2001 that assessed more than 20,000 adult males determined that those consuming more than 2.5 servings of dairy daily were 34% more likely to develop prostate cancer[25].

While it’s not clear exactly how dairy products contribute to the development of cancer, it’s clear that there is a statistical link between the two, and therefore removing dairy from your diet can provide a significant degree of protection.

7 Healthy Alternatives to Dairy

Although evidence states that removing milk and dairy products from your diet and following a dairy-free diet plan is a positive move towards ensuring long-term health, it can be difficult to completely remove them from your life.

Milk is a major source of several critical nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous and protein, all of which are essential in a healthy adult body.

Choosing to remove dairy from your diet means you’ll need to find alternate sources of these nutrients to keep your body healthy. There are three nutrients that are typically mostly found in dairy products- calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Calcium deficiency can lead to health conditions such as osteoporosis or muscle cramping, while magnesium deficiency can cause irregular heart rhythms, anxiety and even seizures.

Potassium deficiency has some debilitating symptoms that include low blood pressure, arrhythmia, and even paralysis.

Insufficient nutritional intake while following a dairy-free diet has a number of serious consequences that have been documented in clinical observations.

A recent 2015 meta study has demonstrated that low dairy intake, if not balanced with correct nutritional intake, can lower immune system function, imbalance the microbiota levels in the digestive system, and even contribute to kidney disease[26].

A 206 study backs up this research, stating that adequate calcium intake can’t be achieved while following a dairy-free diet without adding other nutrient-rich foods into regular dietary intake[27].

Another study performed in 2016 that assessed the nutritional intake of women between 20 and 50 years of age that followed a dairy-free diet discovered that only 44% of them had an adequate dietary intake of calcium, and only just over one-third of the trial group had sufficient dietary intake of magnesium and potassium[28].

If you’ve decided to follow a dairy-free diet, finding alternative sources of these essential nutrients is absolutely essential.

There are a number of great-tasting and nutritious alternatives that can be used to replace dairy products in your diet. Here are seven of the most popular dairy alternatives you can use to increase your micronutrient intake while following the dairy-free diet:

1. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is one of the most popular alternatives to cow’s milk and has been used extensively throughout Southeast Asia for thousands of years.

Coconut milk is rich in a wide variety of critical nutrients, including vitamins C, B1, B3, B5, B6 and E, as well as essential minerals like magnesium and phosphorous.

Coconut milk also contains a decent amount of calcium, at 38 mg per cup, but as this is only 10% of the calcium content of milk, it’s likely you’ll still need to supplement your diet to reach the recommended 1000 mg daily intake level.

Coconut milk forms naturally inside coconuts, and can be blended and strained to create a thick, milky liquid with a distinct coconut flavor.

This unique milk alternative is also a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT, a type of fatty acid that has a number of health benefits.

MCT fatty acids have been linked to increased weight loss and are able to balance hormone levels, as well as promote higher cognitive function and help boost immune system function.

A 2000 clinical trial demonstrated that coconut milk is a rich source of MCT that can significantly increase energy levels[29].

Coconut milk should be used as a dairy replacement only on an intermittent basis, however.

Drinking coconut milk on a daily basis could potentially provide the body with too much MCT, which could contribute toward heart disease by causing an excess of saturated fatty acids. As a dairy replacement, coconut milk should be used 2-3 times weekly.

2. Almond Milk

Almond milk has become incredibly popular in recent years due to the gluten-free food movement.

Created by grinding almond nuts into a fine powder and blending the resulting paste with water, the mixture is left to infuse, then the almond flesh is strained and removed, creating a nutty, creamy milk-like solution.

Almond milk contains no cholesterol or lactose, making it a highly popular dairy alternative for individuals that possess dairy allergies or lactose intolerance.

Almond milk has become so popular in recent years that it now accounts for over 4% of total milk sales in the United States. There are a number of reasons for the popularity of almond milk.

Firstly, almond milk contains half the calories of dairy milk, making it a great choice for weight-conscious consumers that are seeking to restrict caloric intake.

Another attractive property of almond milk is its high calcium content. Interestingly, almond milk actually contains more calcium than dairy milk, with 450 mg of calcium in every cup of almond milk compared to the average 276 mg calcium in one glass of cow’s milk.

While almond milk contains half the amount of potassium that dairy milk does, it’s still an effective dietary source of the essential mineral.

Almond milk is able to function as an almost-perfect replacement for dairy milk, but unfortunately contains no vitamin D or protein. If you choose to replace the dairy milk in your diet with almond milk, it’s important to find an alternate source for these nutritional elements.

3. Soy Milk

Soy milk is prepared in a similar way to almond milk. To create soy milk, dried soy beans are ground up and mixed with water, creating a smooth milky finished product.

Unlike almond milk, soy milk is a great source of protein as well as essential nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and folate.

Soy milk contains almost as much potassium as dairy milk, but is lacking in calcium, meaning you’ll need to find an alternate source of calcium should you choose to use soy milk as a dairy replacement.

Soy milk also contains a unique additional nutritional element called phytoestrogens.

The high phytoestrogen content of soy milk has led to a number of clinical trials concluding that it can be used to prevent a wide range of diseases and illnesses, including heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis and even reduce the symptoms of menopause[30].

Another compelling reason to replace dairy milk with soy milk is the high content of isoflavones in soy milk.

Isoflavones are organically occurring chemical compounds that have the ability to improve cognitive function and reduce cholesterol levels, improving overall health[31].

A clinical trial performed in 2012 demonstrated that replacing dairy with soy milk can even promote faster weight loss, with participants in the trial losing several inches from their waist circumference[32].

4. Goat Milk

Goat milk is a great dairy replacement, but only for those that are lactose intolerant, not for anybody with a dairy allergy.

Goat milk is still a dairy product, as it is secreted by nursing female goats, but has a number of properties that make it far less likely to cause negative reactions in people with lactose intolerance.

With far lower lactose levels than cow’s milk, and a greater composition of fatty acids, goat milk offers a number of advantages over cow-sourced dairy.

One of the primary reasons milk causes so many negative health conditions is its high A1 casein content. A1 Casein is a protein that is commonly found in milk, and intolerance to it is as common as lactose intolerance.

A1 Casein intolerance can cause a wide variety of inflammatory diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, joint pain, fatigue, and even osteoarthritis.

Goat milk is far lower in A1 casein than cow’s milk, and instead contains mostly A2 casein, a protein that is found in human breast milk.

Several clinical trials support the use of goat’s milk as a nutritional analog to cow’s milk.

A 1994 study that tested the nutritional content of goat’s milk as a replacement for cow’s milk in treating undernourished children found that it offers a similar nutritional profile and functions as an effective alternative[33].

Another trial conducted in 2003 found that goat milk can even boost the bioavailability of critical minerals, or the ease of which the body is able to digest and utilize them[34].

The nutritional profile of goat’s milk is surprising. Not only does goat’s milk contain just as much calcium as cow’s milk, it actually contains higher levels of magnesium and potassium, making it a superior dairy choice.

It’s important, however, to remain aware of the fact that goat’s milk is still a dairy product and therefore unsuitable for anybody with a dairy allergy.

5. Amasai

Amasai is a little known fermented milk product that is common throughout Africa.

While amasai is a dairy product and therefore unsuitable for individuals with a dairy allergy, it’s a viable and highly nutritious alternative for individuals that possess lactose intolerance.

Amasai is commonly used throughout Kenya and Northern Tanzania, and resembles cottage cheese or yogurt.

The fermentation process that is used to create amasai significantly lowers the lactose content of milk, making it ideal for anybody that is lactose intolerant but still needs to maintain adequate dietary intake of the critical nutrients found in dairy products.

A major advantage of amasai over other dairy products is its high probiotic content.

The digestive system contains billions of tiny microorganisms that work in harmony with the body to promote digestive and immune system health, and amasai supports these microbiota by providing them with beneficial bacteria that help to maintain digestive balance.

A study published in 2004 by the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that amasai contains a number of natural antibacterial elements that are able to both promote the health of positive bacteria in the digestive system while simultaneously destroying harmful pathogens such as E. coli[35].

The same study found that amasai also contains high amounts of A2 protein, which is as beneficial as goat’s milk in promoting immune system health.

The low level of A1 protein in masai also helps to protect the body from conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal inflammation[36].

6. Ghee

Ghee is a form of clarified butter that has been used in traditional Indian cooking for thousands of years.

Made by simmering butter until the fat solids separate and removing them, ghee is sourced from cow’s milk, which like amasai and goat’s milk, makes it unsuitable for anybody with a dairy allergy.

There are a wide range of health benefits offered by ghee, however, that make it a great nutritional supplement for anybody seeking to improve their micronutrient intake while following a dairy-restricted diet.

Ghee is so beneficial to the human body that it is used as a medicinal solution in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine.

A 2010 clinical trial has confirmed the medicinal use of ghee, determining that it is able to lower cholesterol levels and function as a cardio protective agent that can minimize the risk of developing heart disease[37].

Ghee is an interesting substance as although it’s created from cow’s milk, the preparation process removes almost all of the lactose, making it an ideal dairy replacement for lactose intolerant individuals.

Unlike some of the other dairy alternatives provided in this list, ghee is unfortunately devoid of calcium, meaning if you choose to use ghee as a dairy replacement, you’ll need to find an alternative source of calcium in your diet.

Ghee also contains almost no protein as it is composed primarily of fat, and as such should be treated in a similar manner to coconut milk and used only two to three times weekly to avoid excess fat consumption.

Despite the high fat content of ghee, it contains high amounts of vitamins A, C and E, making it a great micronutrient supplement when used sparingly.

7. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is extremely similar to masai. Originating from cultures in the Northern Caucasus Mountains, kefir is made by mixing cow or goat milk with kefir grains, a mix of fermented bacteria and yeasts.

Similarly to amasai, kefir is extremely low in lactose and therefore suitable for lactose intolerant individuals, but should be avoided by anybody with a dairy allergy.

Like amasai, kefir contains a large amount of probiotic agents that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system, boosting immune system function and minimizing inflammation as well as preventing disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut syndrome.

Rich in a wide variety of micronutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium and zinc, kefir is nutritionally-dense and offers a huge boost in all of the essential dietary nutrients even in small amounts.

Kefir has been shown in multiple clinical trials to have a profound positive effect on the health of the human body.

A 2013 study determined that kefir is able to modulate immune system function, increasing the ability of the body to fight off diseases and pathogens[38].

Another study performed in 2013 concluded that kefir offers protection from cancer, is able to regulate blood sugar levels, promotes better gut health and is able to lower cholesterol levels[39].

If you suffer from a severe lactose intolerance, it’s possible to find goat’s milk kefir that has a far lower A1 casein protein level and lower lactose levels than cow’s milk kefir. Kefir can be used as a substitute for buttermilk in any baking recipe, making it easy to incorporate into the diet.

Lactose Intolerance & Milk Allergy: What’s The Difference?

Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are two often confused conditions. As mentioned previously in this article, lactose intolerance affects roughly three quarters of the population, while only 2.5% of the population possess a milk allergy.

Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest milk, caused by the inactivation of a critical enzyme that the body needs to digest milk, while a milk allergy is a more complex immunological reaction to the proteins in milk.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is present in most of the population in varying levels of severity.

Some individuals that possess a lactose intolerance may be able to ingest milk and dairy products with minimal ill effect, while others may find that even trace amounts of dairy cause bloating, cramps, and unwanted side effects.

Most individuals that possess a lactose intolerance are able to ingest up to twelve grams of lactose, or one cup of milk, without suffering from uncomfortable symptoms, although this amount may vary from person to person.

Lactose intolerance causes the sugars derived from lactose, the primary energy source found in milk, to pass through the body undigested and build up in the colon where they ferment and create gas.

This process causes negative symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, stomach cramps and nausea, although they generally subside within 12 hours.

Following are some quick facts on lactose intolerance:

  • Lactose intolerance is genetic and affects roughly 75% of the world population.
  • Lactose intolerance, although uncomfortable, is not dangerous and causes mild symptoms.
  • Lactose intolerance is caused by the inactivation of the Lactase enzyme after the weaning stage of childhood
  • Lactose intolerant individuals are generally able to consume small amounts of dairy with no ill effect.

Milk Allergy

Milk allergy is a serious condition that causes the immune system to react abnormally to the proteins in dairy products. Also known as a dairy allergy, this condition affects up to 2.5% of the population.

As with most allergic reactions, the complete biomechanical interactions that cause dairy allergy conditions are poorly understood, although several proteins found within milk have been confirmed to contain allergenic epitopes, or antigen molecules found in food that antibodies from the immune system attach to[40].

The symptoms of a dairy allergy can be mild, ranging from nausea and vomiting, to severe anaphylactic shock, which interferes with the respiratory system and can be fatal if not treated immediately.

There is no known cure for dairy allergy, and thus individuals with this condition should avoid dairy products entirely.

Quick facts on milk allergy:

  • 5% of the world population possess a milk allergy.
  • Allergic reactions to milk are caused by the immune system identifying proteins in dairy as a threat.
  • There is no cure for milk allergy and therefore dairy should be avoided entirely.
  • Milk allergy can lead to poor nutrition

Calcium Supplement Safety

Many individuals that possess either a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance turn to calcium supplements in order to reach the 1000 mg recommended daily intake of this critical nutrient.

The body uses calcium to strengthen bones, manage mineral levels, and promote efficient nervous system function. Calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcemia, can cause bruised skin, tingling and contractions in the hands, heart arrhythmia and even serious medical conditions such as involuntary throat spasms and seizures.

Preventing calcium deficiency while following a dairy-free diet requires an understanding of the best calcium-rich foods to eat to make sure you’re getting the correct recommended daily intake of micronutrients.

The easiest and healthiest way to boost your calcium intake is with calcium-rich foods such as kale, sardines, broccoli, bok choy and watercress.

Despite the large amount of foods that contain calcium, many people choose to add a daily calcium supplement to their multivitamin complex to boost calcium intake.

While this can be an effective way to boost calcium levels, calcium supplements offer a number of health risks and side effects that should be considered.

Common side effects caused by calcium supplementation include an irregular heartbeat, constipation, muscle or bone pain, and chronic fatigue and headaches.

A 2015 cost-benefit analysis of calcium supplements performed by the University of Auckland determined that calcium supplements offer a negative risk-benefit effect and advise against their use[41].

Another meta-study that references 28 separate clinical trials on the use of calcium supplements that was published in 2013 by the same faculty advises that calcium supplements do more harm than good and should be abandoned[42].

Calcium supplements also interact negatively with a wide range of common pharmaceutical prescription medications.

Antibiotics are rendered inert if taken within 4 hours of a calcium supplement, while specific antibiotics such as Gentamicin can actually cause a toxic interaction when taken with calcium supplements.

Calcium supplements interact with common diuretics, elevating blood calcium to dangerous levels, while many medications used to treat heart disorders can cause dangerous arrhythmia when combined with calcium[43].

Overall, it’s best to gain your calcium from a healthy, nutritionally-balanced diet rather than use calcium supplements that can have a significant negative impact on your health.

Supplementing the diet with collared greens, nuts, seeds and beans will not only give you a boost of dietary calcium, but also offer a wide range of other micronutrients that will improve your overall health.

Dairy-Free Diet Quick Summary

Ultimately, following a dairy-free diet is a great way to improve health not only for those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, but for anybody seeking to minimize their risk of disease, increase digestive function and boost overall bodily health.

Skin disorders, immune system issues and inflammatory diseases can all be avoided by cutting milk and dairy out of your diet.

When following a dairy-free diet, the most common foods to avoid are cheese, yogurt, cream, milk, ice cream, whey protein, casein protein, custard, and sour cream. It’s important to check the labels of all of the food you buy if you possess a dairy allergy, however.

Cutting these foods out of your diet will minimize oxidative stress, prevent bloating and gas, provide regularity to bowel movements and improve skin health.

Finding alternatives to milk and dairy products is easy.

Almond and soy milk function as great-tasting, nutritious replacements for traditional cow’s milk, and other fermented dairy products like masai and kefir offer probiotic health-promoting solutions for lactose intolerant individuals.

Taking the step to remove dairy from your life, whether your body is incompatible with dairy or not, is one of the most productive moves you can make to ensuring your long term health.

While it may not be easy to completely remove dairy from your life right away, starting in small steps and cutting down on dairy consumption slowly is a great way to begin.


[1] http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article/authors?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000491
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401057/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3221109/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25855879
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401057/
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19932941
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9042051
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25589716
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10693912
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763246/
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7076958
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12369709
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23750655
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740077
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1663114
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524299/
[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715202/
[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6224674
[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19496976
[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21335995
[21] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19243483
[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15213021
[23] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17420611
[24] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22081693
[25] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11566656
[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827614/
[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17081826
[28] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703621/
[29] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10948851
[30] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/
[31] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1480510/
[32] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3506092/
[33] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8008540
[34] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14649876
[35] http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2004/2004mokuar.pdf
[36] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27039383
[37] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22131700
[38] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23621727
[39] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23391011
[40] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16373958
[41] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26174589
[42] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3738985/
[43] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement-interaction/possible-interactions-with-calcium

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