What to Know Before Cutting Dairy From Your Diet

Another year, another new diet trend. We’ve gone from fat-free to Atkins and South Beach, fake sugars to olestra, and 100 calorie packs to where we are today: land of the paleo, ketogenic, plant-based, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

A large part of the problem here is that it’s unfeasible for researchers to do comprehensively conclusive studies on how specific diets affect our bodies over time. There are just too many uncontrolled variables that account for our bodies’ health aside from diet, such as lifestyle, sleep, stress, environmental exposure, exercise, and so forth.

There’s so much information and a new fear-mongering documentary or selective research study commissioned by giant food corporations every other month, so it’s no wonder why things can get so confusing for the everyday consumer! It then becomes tempting to join in on the current diet trend of the moment, the one that is making your friend proclaim that she’s feeling the best she’s ever felt. Because after all, who doesn’t want to be living their best life?

 

I am a nutrition coach and personal trainer, and I am dairy-free and gluten-free. But I never advise any of my clients to go dairy-free or gluten-free unless it’s for very specific reasons.

Do you want the truth? Those coffeeshop almond milk cappuccinos have less total nutritional value than whole fat cow’s milk cappuccinos, and gluten-free packaged foods are usually extremely high in nutritionally devoid starches and sugars.

I’m of the opinion that when it comes to your health and specific allergens, there is no “one-size fits all” approach. Dairy itself is not inherently good or bad for the entire population. Here are some things to consider if you are thinking of making the switch.

 

Good Reasons to Go Dairy-Free

  • Your stomach and digestion immediately act like 4th of July fireworks upon nibbling on some cheese or that scoop of Ben and Jerry while watching Game of Thrones.

  • You feel a lot of brain fog and/or sluggishness when you eat more dairy than usual.

  • You’re consistently rewarded with a giant cystic pimple every time you have that occasional cappuccino.

 

Not Good Reasons to Go Dairy-Free

You want to lose weight.

You love 9 p.m. Chunky Monkey spoonfuls, the cheeseboard is always calling your name, and who are you to say no to the Chipotle server when they ask if you want cheese on that burrito bowl? Correlation is not causation. Dairy is not the culprit here.

You think being dairy-free is a generally healthier choice.

It’s really not, unless you have a specific health concern with dairy.

 

 

Here are some things to expect and know when going dairy-free:

 

If you cut dairy from your diet for awhile, then reintroduce it, be prepared for potentially more dramatic reactions than you previously had.

Our gut microbiome (flora) is a huge foundation of our health. When people do elimination diets, their gut bacteria changes — your small intestine doesn’t like to waste energy producing enzymes to break down foods you aren’t eating, like dairy. So when you suddenly reintroduce it, your body is essentially unprepared for this new visitor and may produce a harsher reaction than what it would be like if you were consistently eating dairy.

 

Remember: when you remove something from your diet, you need to make up the nutrients elsewhere.

Those daily greek yogurts provided a lot of protein and probiotic cultures alongside the dairy. Make sure to find some other foods that will make up for the loss of good other nutrients found in your favorite dairy products.

 

You might feel better and immediately assume you have a dairy intolerance. It might not be.

You suddenly feel mental clarity, less bloat, and fewer digestive issues after saying goodbye to the pizza and ice cream — so it must be the dairy, right? Not so fast. Pay attention to the types of dairy you had in your diet. Were the foods also high in sugars and excessive in empty carbs? There might be more to this puzzle…

 

 

If you do choose to keep dairy in your diet:

 

Do pay attention to the quality of your dairy. Locally sourced, grass-fed milk is best for us, as it’s the closest guarantee we have that the cows producing the milk are rBST free.

rBST is an artificial growth hormone given to cows to increase their milk production. This can lead to use of antibiotics and an increase in IGF-1, which can be difficult for our bodies to handle when consumed in higher quantities.

 

Go for full-fat and pure.

Ghee (clarified butter) is more nutritious than plain butter, just like whole milk is more nutrient-dense than skim milk. The same applies to cheese: low-fat and fat-free cheese typically has more artificial fillers and also is far less tasty, so please do stick to the full fat burrata over the fat-free shredded mozzarella.

 

Do you eat dairy? Do you avoid it? What have you found about it that makes a difference in your life?

 

This article was originally published on August 17, 2017.

  • Wow, this is such an interesting read! I generally try to minimise my animal product intake as I tend to get some irritations when I consume too much. However, when I consume everything in moderation I have absolutely no problem, so I guess it really does come down to having a good balance x http://www.justsavxnnah.com

    • Absolutely, Savannah! It is most important to listen and respect your body. Everyone is different, so we are our own best gauge of when something does or doesn’t work for us. Thanks for reading!!

  • This was such a good read! I’ve always been interested in hearing about people going dairy free, and not just because of lactose intolerance – I’m lucky enough not to be, and I’ve just scrapped meat from my diet earlier this year but I don’t think I could give up dairy just yet! Ha.

    I hope you’ve had a great Tuesday!
    Michael
    https://www.mileinmyglasses.co.uk

    • Hi Michael,

      Appreciate the kind words! People certainly opt to do this for varying personal and health reasons– I don’t like to ascribe to a black or white way of thinking, as nutrition is complex and we learn more everyday as studies advance, so I like to try to share facts so people can make their own informed decisions and better understand the reasoning behind their choices. And hey, if your body tolerates it, more kudos to it!

  • Great article! It is a nice change to read something that is based on common sense. I especially liked the section that asks reader to think about the quality of the products they are consuming before assuming it’s the dairy portion of the pizza that is causing them trouble.

    I personally consume dairy a few times a day and do not have any issues with it. However, I do purchase good quality dairy products. Also I think my dairy loving Dutch genes have something to do with my ability to consume it readily 😉

    One note about the use of hormones – not all countries allow this. In Canada (where I am from) for example, the use of any hormones in dairy production illegal (this goes for conventional as well as organic production). This is the case for many European countries as well and is one of the reasons our dairy products are a bit more expensive to purchase than dairy products in the USA. It is always a good idea to check your home country’s regulations about these types of things.

    Again great article and thanks for suggesting that people purchase locally produced food! 🙂

    Sarah
    http://www.balancingwanderlust.com

    • Hi Sarah!

      Thanks for your thoughtful response 🙂 Actually, genetics do contribute to. our ability to process dairy through our varying enzyme productions! So your hunch has merit to it, for sure!

      Absolutely agree about the varying international regulations on dairy– my opinions on the U.S.’s dairy industry are not very positive. In fact, I have a lot of friends who tolerate the wheat and dairy products much better in Europe than they do here for those same reasons. In New Zealand, there is no such thing as labeling “grass-fed” dairy because it is all grass fed… I sincerely hope things improve!

      Thank you for reading!

      • Nikyta Polyak

        It’s important to note that while it is illegal to use steroids and growth hormones in dairy cows in Canada, they are allowed to use hormones and antibiotics to treat illnesses and prevent the spread of disease. These cows are taken out of production for the length of treatment plus a few days to get it all out of their system. However, some traceable hormones remain. Health Canada sets maximum levels of hormones and antibiotics that can be left in food. BC has really strict standards where as other provinces like Ontario are more lax and just meet the standards set out by Health Canada. While they say these levels are too low for any sort of health impact, I wouldn’t want to be consuming anything that has some sort of artificial hormone or antibiotic in it. Especially over a long period of time, it has to add up. Just make sure you’re aware and being careful to vet who your statistics are coming from. Many of the studies and articles posted are paid for by the Dairy Councils of each province or by Health Canada who set out these standards, etc.

  • Jill Elliott

    Great post! I’ve been in an on-off relationship with dairy for years. What I’ve found works best for me, is to minimize it as much as possible and when I do have dairy – goat or sheeps milk products seem to sit WAY better.

    http://www.thesomedayproject.com

    • Thank you, Jill! You are not alone in that– goat’s milk and sheep’s milk can definitely be easier on the stomach for many than cow’s milk as they contain less lactose and have a different fatty-acid profile 🙂 Great point to add. Thanks for reading!

  • Alexia

    I cut dairy two weeks ago to help with my skin (I had more chin pimples than normal and I eat well otherwise). Skin cleared up quickly. Ate a cheesy dish the other night to see how I would fare… had tummy cramps and pimple flare ups! It hasn’t been hard for me not eating dairy… think I’ll stick with it.

  • Great post! It is so nice to read common sense and reminder that we should always look at the global picture.
    Being French I love cheese, all of them! But I know that if I’m eating too much of the cow milk ones and if they are not organic, I’ll get these bad cystic pimples you are mentioning.
    Goat cheeses are nicer for my skin. Our homemade yogurts and organic raw butter as well.
    It’s all in being a little bit picky and “not having too much of the good things” as we say in France. Balance is so important.

  • I’m trying to cut out dairy from my diet as I believe that it makes my acne flare up but I will need to experiment to ensure that it is what is causing my breakouts
    Elizabeth || Liz Living

  • Andrea

    Love the reasonable approach of this article. However, although it is briefly mentioned towards the end with respect to quality of dairy, I think any conversation on food should
    has to include a note that the impact of buying from, and thereby supporting, factory farms has.

    The industrial dairy industry is troubling, both for our health, the welfare of animals, and for our environment. By choosing to purchase these products, we vote with our dollars in support of these industries. While I understand a vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, I think it is imperative that that we all remain conscious of our personal eco food-print and contribution to brutal industries. We can’t count on industries to turn on their head, but we should all acknowledge that we’re a link in the chain that has global consequences! An investment in eating locally, organically, and seasonally is an investment in our health and the health of the world. <3

  • I’m lactose intolerant, but I can stomach (haha) small doses as long as I’m getting a good probiotic along with it. I tend not to consume a lot of sugary dairy products, and to be honest I’m not even that big a fan of cheese, so I think I’m doing okay.

  • I found out I was lactose intolerant just over ten years ago. Prior to that, I used to eat dairy every single day (I’m Italian and we basically put cheese and milk on everything!). I cut out dairy from my diet entirely late last year and I feel terrific! I’m lighter, my skin totally cleared up, and my brain doesn’t feel as murky as it used to. So, for me, cutting out dairy worked wonders.

  • Kristin M.

    After meeting with a functional practitioner, I went gluten and dairy free 2.5 years ago. We removed gluten from my diet because I had VERY high levels of inflammation throughout my entire body and I have Hashimoto’s Hyperthyrodism. Gluten is a trigger. We continued on to removing dairy from my diet (a Wisconsin girl who ate a block of sharp cheddar cheese a week) because (a) the inflammation and b) it was causing my cystic acne. That’s the bigger reason for me to go dairy free. I had tried everything to rid myself of the acne and my skin has never looked better since removing dairy from my diet. I substitute homemade almond or cashew milk, vegan butter, etc and I truly don’t miss it. Cheese on a pizza? To me it only acts as a sticking agent, now I get to taste all the ingredients. I loved my milk, cheese and ice cream (plenty of good ice cream alternatives!), but I love my clear skin better!

  • S.Y.D.

    I quit 90% of my dairy intake 5 years ago. It changed my health. I sleep better, I feel less sluggish and my gut is overall much happier. The transformation was so grand, that I didn’t even get a chance to miss my daily Latte’s.
    Today, I have an additional incentive. Dairy is produced by creating such distress to the cows, raping and mistreating them repeatedly, that I am certain it translates itself in the milk they produce and the dairy products we consume. Not to mention, I cannot stomach all that mistreatment to the animal.

  • Nikki Laraja

    Great post, this is actually something Ive been considering for a while, so I appreciate the information!

    http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

  • SFlove

    Great article! I do eat dairy and was ready to read this and feel terrible about myself, but instead came away with an interesting, articulate and informed article. While it is not applicable to me, I sent this to quite a few friends who have thought about cutting dairy before. Thanks and great read!

  • Daan Artist

    Quite an informative article. Many people jump on the bandwagon in going dairy-free because it’s supposedly “better”. Turning this into some kind of fad just makes it harder for people, who do have legit medical reasons for going diary-free, to be taken seriously.
    So thanks for the article, and clearing things up a bit for your readers.

  • Nikki Laraja

    I am interested in possible going dairy free someday, so this is a really helpful post!

    http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

  • Danielle

    This was an interesting article! As someone who is lactose intolerant, I always forget that I need to make up those nutrients I am missing elsewhere. I found it interesting that the reaction to dairy becomes worse after you cut out dairy from your diet for a while. I used to think I was being dramatic whenever I would eat a little bit of dairy and feel like the reactions my stomach had were 100 times worse than I could ever remember.

  • Lytlee

    And what about the effects of dairy on your immune and respiratory systems? Studies show dairy affects the majority of humans negatively…

  • Dairy is actually one of the most inflammatory foods in the human diet… and it can cause countless health issues for many. Dairy actually causes osteoporosis – it’s been proven that countries that have the highest dairy consumption actually have the highest cases of osteoporosis. also, 75% of humans are lactose intolerant after infancy.

  • Blu

    I’ve been loosely following the blood type diet and so I’ve cut a lot of gluten and diary from my diet. But hadn’t thought about replenishing, I just overall tried to eat healthier. You’ve given me much to ponder and I should probably take my probiotic more consistently!

    Blu
    http://www.liveloveblu.com | wellness & healthy living