The first change I ever made to my diet since discovering natural remedies and plant based diets, was removing all dairy products. This wasn’t through my own research or discovery, this was recommended to me by a colleague after I revealed that I suffered from non stop head aches and that I could hardly ever breath through my noes. I didn’t question it much, I just put my faith in that she knew what she was talking about. Now, in my case it was the best decision I ever made, as the results were amazing, however, it is quite common for people to change their diet because someone else has said so, with the results not quite being what they had hoped for.
Since going dairy free, I’ve wanted to know exactly what was going on in my body that caused my problems in the first place, and how removing dairy removed the problem.
What is Dairy?
A dairy product is food produced from the milk of mammals, for example cows, goats and yaks. Just like humans, they produce milk to feed their young, which is then extracted during or soon after pregnancy to be used as a food source for humans. Milk is rich in nutrients as well as antibodies that are being passed on by the mother, building a strong immune system to help fight off diseases. As long as milk is continually extracted, mammals will continue to produce milk. This milk can then be used to make dairy products such as cream, cheese and butter, which will still contain certain antibodies and hormones from the mammal it came from, however some processes that turn milk into the dairy products that we are all familiar with, can reduce its nutritional value, compared to that of unprocessed milk.
Positives of Dairy.
Dairy is a source of most of our vitamins and minerals, with most of us being aware of its calcium content. As I am sure we all know, calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bone development during adolescence, as well as making sure our muscles and nerves function properly. A deficiency in calcium significantly contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Dairy also contains fats, proteins and carbohydrates, making it a great all-in-one choice that is easy to find and inexpensive.
Now while there are other sources of calcium which are just as easy to find, such as vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, milk and other dairy products are made more convenient to when it comes to fitting them into out diet each day. Buying cartons of milk with straws attached or pieces of ready to eat cheese are quick and easy, especially when it comes to feeding children.
On top of calcium, dairy is rich in vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium. Without enough vitamin D, we can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol, which can then lead to a low level of calcium absorption from the diet. When this happens, our bodies start to take calcium from what we have stored in our skeletons, and in turn can then weaken our bones and stop the formation of healthy new bone
Negatives of Dairy.
One of the most common statements I hear about dairy is “dairy is healthy because it is natural”. Now yes, dairy is a naturally occurring product, but so it deadly nightshade, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to make a tea from it. Dairy produced by cows, goats, yaks etc… is only being produced because the female mammal is expecting an offspring. Cows milk is therefor only meant to feed the young calf, in the same way that a woman’s breast milk is only meant to feed her baby.
Next on to lactose. Lactose is a disaccharide sugar derived from glucose that is found in milk, which many find difficult to digest. Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem in which the body is unable to digest lactose. Studies have suggested that some of the nutritional benefits of milk may be lost when a lactose intolerant individual consumes milk. On top of this, the physical side effects of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, flatulence, bloating and stomach cramps.
To keep up with the high demand for dairy products, with cows milk being top of the demands, cows are given bovine growth hormone injections to speed up their development and to product more milk. These cows are more prone to health problems such as udder infections. To treat these infections, these cows are given large doses of antibiotics, and so both the growth hormones and the antibiotics are likely to show up in the milk. Now legally, all milk requires testing for traces of antibiotics, otherwise it would not be deemed suitable for human consumption and so would not appear on the shelves of our local supermarkets. However, with the discovery of endless illegal farms and slaughter houses paying zero attention to rules and regulations, it makes one question the standard of the milk we are buying. Now while antibiotic residues in milk may not be a cause for concern, they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is currently a developing public health problem.
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium in mg (per 100g of food).
- Sardines – 382mg
- Almonds – 264mg
- Kale – 150mg
- Pak Choi – 105mg
- Spinach – 99mg
- Rhubarb – 86mg
- Broccoli – 47mg
- Oranges – 40g
- Green snap beans – 36mg
Nowadays we are not short of dairy free options, even the big supermarkets are embracing the change. Here are few examples of substitutions you can make if you are deciding to go dairy free.
- Almond/soya/rice milk – Can be used as a substitute for dairy milk, for example in tea and coffee, but their textures and tastes can vary. Rice milk is naturally sweet, soya milk is creamy and almond milk….. tastes of almonds. It might take some playing around to find the best choice for you.
- Coconut yogurt/cream/oil – Coconuts seem to have the ability to become anything, and I’m on bored with that! These ingredients are fantastic for dairy free baking, even if you’re not the biggest fan of coconuts. Depending on what you’re making, the coconut taste will either disappear or can be easily covered by other flavours.
- Sunflower/soya/vegetable spread - Vegetable and sunflower spread has actually been around for many years, made with vegetable oils and sunflower oil. These can be used in the place of butter, either on your toast in the morning or baked into a cake. Just be sure to check the ingredients for small amounts of dairy, some brands like to make a blend of dairy butter and vegetable oil.