Individuals who decide to ditch dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and ice cream typically arrive at that decision for a number of reasons. The good news is that regardless of why, the “how to” has gotten relatively easy given the vast number of great tasting non-dairy foods on the market that provide the same if not superior nutritional value as dairy foods.
Among the most common reasons people decide to ditch dairy is lactose intolerance. Approximately 75 percent of the people in the world have lactose intolerance (aka, lactose malabsorption) to some degree. Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of an enzyme (lactase) that digests the sugar (lactose) in milk. Most people stop producing significant amounts of lactase between the ages of two and five years. Individuals with lactose intolerance typically experience bloating, diarrhea, and gas after consuming dairy foods, and the severity of symptoms can vary.
Another reason some people choose to ditch dairy is a change in their diet to vegetarian or vegan. Not all vegetarians are the same; some still consume dairy and/or eggs while avoiding meat. Vegans choose to eliminate all animal foods. The reasons for adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle may be for health, ethical, and/or environmental concerns.
Yet many people may not realize that there are several other reasons why you may want to ditch dairy foods. According to Mark Hyman, MD, and Walter C. Willett, MD, Dr.PH, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, there are several misconceptions about the benefits of milk and other dairy foods.
For example, consuming dairy foods has not been proven to reduce the risk of fracture. In fact, results of the 12-year Nurses’ Health Study showed that higher intake of milk or other dairy foods was not associated with a lower risk of fracture and in fact showed an increased risk. Therefore, the idea that drinking milk is necessary for strong bones has not been found to be true.
Men may want to think twice before they consume too much dairy and calcium in particular. Studies show that higher consumption of dairy foods, especially milk, is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. A new (October 2016) meta-analysis that included data from 778,929 individuals found that whole milk consumption contributed to a significant increase in prostate cancer mortality.
One of the main concerns some people have about eliminating dairy foods from the diet is getting enough calcium. Dietitians of Canada point out a long list of nondairy foods that provide this important mineral, including but not limited to fortified soy beverages and other non-dairy beverages, almonds, tofu prepared with calcium sulfate, some vegetables (e.g., bok choy, collard greens, okra, turnip greens), tahini, blackstrap molasses, figs, fortified orange juice, and fortified cereals.
Anyone who decides to ditch dairy can discover a vast variety of nondairy products on the market that can fill the gap. From the many different non-milk beverages (e.g., soy, rice, oat, hazelnut, almond, coconut, flax, potato, walnut) to the yogurts, cheeses, “ice cream” desserts, and creams made from soy or other plant-based foods, going dairy-free has never been easier and more delicious.
Written by Deborah Mitchell. Deborah Mitchell is passionate about personal health and the well-being of animals and the planet. She has authored, coauthored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, contributes regularly to several websites, and shares information on physical, emotional, and spiritual health on her blog, deborahmitchellbooks.com.
Dietitians of Canada. Healthy eating guidelines for vegans. Retrieved 2016 Nov. 24.
Feskanich D et al. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study. American Journal of Public Health 1997 Jun; 87(6): 992-97. Retrieved 2016 Nov. 23
Dr. Mark Hyman. Dairy: 6 reasons you should avoid it at all costs. Retrieved 2016 Nov. 24.
Lu W et al. Dairy products intake and cancer mortality risk: a meta-analysis of 11 population-based cohort studies. Nutrition Journal 2016 Oct 21; 15(1): 91. Retrieved 2016 Nov. 23