Can we thrive on a diet that eliminates one of the major food groups we’ve been taught to eat since we were young? Here it is: if you’re eating a well-balanced diet, going dairy-free doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on vital nutrients and minerals. In fact, you could be doing your health a huge favour.
Dairy free eating can directly benefit your skin. You know that old adage that beauty comes from within? Well, what your mother and her mother said is true. A diet packed with vitamins and minerals is sure to get you glowing. It’s long been a belief of holistic health professionals that your skin is a reflection of your internal processes. And now, health professionals of all backgrounds are releasing studies on the link between dairy and inflammation. Both eczema and acne are inflammatory skin conditions, and now thought to be triggered by processed dairy products.
“Dairy can be an inflammatory food for some people. It can trigger, but not cause, inflammation within the body,” says Fiona Tuck, nutritional medicine practitioner and founder of fionatuck.com. “Acne is caused by a malfunction of the sebaceous unit, particularly oil production. People with acne tend to produce thicker, stickier sebum, which may be aggravated even more so by saturated fats such as dairy. Dairy can also be higher in omega 6, which is the inflammatory omega.” Her advice? Up your omega 3s and listen to your body for signs of a dairy intolerance.
Grumble in your tummy? Try switching out regular dairy for coconut products. Research has shown that our bodies can digest coconut more easily than other fats, as the saturated fats – known as triglycerides – in coconut don’t require bile acids for digestion. The absorption of dairy’s protein – casein and lactose – and its fatty acids depends on an enzyme called Lactase. We fail to produce this enzyme after 4 years of age, so our bodies can naturally struggle to digest dairy products. “Some people will have more of the lactase enzyme than others,” explains Fiona. “And the people with less lactase enzymes are the ones who can’t digest it, and experience digestive problems when they have dairy.” This can result in gas, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, amongst a whole list of other digestive issues. By incorporating more gut-friendly foods into your diet, such as foods rich in probiotics, and digestible fats, you’ll say goodbye to a sore stomach and hello to optimum digestive health. Dairy alternatives like coconut milks and creams are far easily to digest, don't have the GMO concerns associated with them like soy and don't leave you missing out on taste.
While we don’t believe that weight loss should be the goal of a dairy-free diet, switching out your frozen yogurt for coconut yogurt could see the scales turn south for a change. The reason? Many dairy products are high in sugar, which elevates your insulin levels. If losing weight is hard for you, balancing your insulin levels is key. And it all comes down to your snacking habits. “Many people do opt for low-fat, sugary dairy products, and it tends to be the milk products that are the hardest to digest for some people,” explains Fiona. “People are better off going for full-fat products, because it keeps them fuller for longer.” So while cutting out processed dairy isn’t a direct cause of weight loss, ditching your processed dairy, sugary treats for full fat products will keep you reaching for the low fat frozen yoghurt come 3pm. You’ll eat less, and help prevent indirect causes of weight gain. Check your labels and you'll often notice low-fat products can be full of sugar!
Of all of dairy’s claims, it’s its calcium content that is celebrated the most. But if we look at the nutritional content of milk, compared to canned salmon, we can see that the claims don’t stack up.
Water 87.6% Carbohydrates 4.7% Fat 12% Protein 8g Vitamin A 4% Calcium 28% Iron 0%
Carbohydrate 0% Fat 31% (the good kind, EPA & DHA that we all need more of) Protein 79g Vitamin A 4% Vitamin C 0% Calcium 92% Iron 14%
As you can see, it’s the canned salmon that wins the nutritional challenge. Don’t eat seafood? To be safe, it’s best to get your calcium in through your diet, and not through supplements. As Dr. Chris Kresser explains: “Beyond being ineffective for bone health, calcium supplements are associated with some pretty serious health risks. Studies on the relationship between calcium and cardiovascular disease (CVD) suggest that dietary intake of calcium protects against heart disease, but supplemental calcium may increase the risk…A meta-analysis of studies involving more than 12,000 participants also published in BMJ found that calcium supplementation increases the risk of heart attack by 31%, stroke by 20% and death from all causes by 9%.” Getting enough calcium from dairy-free sources is as easy as a trip down the fresh food aisle and straight for the kale. “Green leafy vegetables are also high in magnesium, another cofactor required for healthy bone production,” adds Fiona.
Calcium and Vitamin D go hand-in-hand, because your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. The vitamin duo is essential for optimum bone health, a must for all ages. Adults aged 20 and up should aim for 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day, and 600 international units of Vitamin D. But did you know that dairy products aren’t naturally rich in vitamin D? Like orange juice, margarine and breakfast cereals, cow’s milk is actually fortified with Vitamin D. In fact, very few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D. So if your worried your not getting enough vitamin D, the best thing to do is get outside and enjoy your daily dose of sunshine, and only use fortified foods as a back up.
As long as you pay close attention to getting your essential vitamins and minerals from alternative sources. But be sure to check the labels, and go for full-fat, unprocessed foods over convenience. “Whilst cutting down on dairy can help to improve certain health conditions, do be aware that simply swapping dairy to non-dairy alternatives is not always the healthiest option,” explains Fiona. “Many dairy substitutes are heavily processed and often contain additives, flavours, sugar, salt and GM soy which may be worse for your health than fresh, natural dairy products! The answer is to always choose the least processed foods that are closest to their natural state. The less processed the food, the healthier it is.”
Fleming, Alisa and Alisa Fleming. "Acne: "Pizza Doesn't Really Cause Acne, Does It?" - Go Dairy Free". Go Dairy Free. N.p., 2006. Web. 2 June 2016. Kresser, Chris. "Calcium Supplements: Why You Should Think Twice". Chris Kresser. N.p., 2013. Web. 2 June 2016. Fife, Bruce. "Health Properties Of Coconut Oil". Agro FOOD Industry Hi Tech 24.3 (2013): 4-7. Web. 2 June 2016.