Free from/Allergies Lifestyle

New to dairy free? Here’s what you need to know!

14th October 2015

You probably know at least one person who avoids dairy products in their diet, whether for allergy, intolerance, or ethical reasons. Perhaps you’ve been tested by us at The Allergy & Health Test Clinic and have discovered you need to avoid dairy products too, but aside from not having milk in your regular morning latte, your head is full of questions and you don’t know who or what to believe.

What are dairy products, and why do I need to avoid them?
Milk, whether skimmed, semi-skimmed, full-fat, dried, powdered, evaporated, or condensed, contains lactose, casein, and whey. You may have been told to avoid dairy because you are CMPI, or cows milk protein intolerant. This means you can’t fully digest the casein protein and/or whey protein in dairy products. Or you may be lactose intolerant, and unable to digest the lactose in dairy products because you lack the lactase enzyme in your own digestive system.

You may be ok with goat and sheep dairy products, but this varies from one person to the next, so for this blog I’ll assume you need to avoid all dairy – cow, sheep, and goat.

Apart from milk, you‘ll also need to avoid (unless told otherwise):
– Milk products
– Cheese and cheese spreads
– Yoghurts
– Ice-creams
– Butter & spreads
– Cream
– Milk chocolate

It is also time to start reading labels on products such as soups, sauces, cereals, bread, breadsticks, crackers… it never fails to amaze me where you can find dairy products in processed foods!

What is the best alternative milk to have in my tea or coffee?
Unfortunately, none of the alternative milks taste exactly like cows milk, mainly because they are made of other ingredients. I recommend to clients that they try a different milk each week (or each day!) until they find one they like. Coconut milk is a popular one for tea, while almond milk is often preferred for coffee.

Whichever type of alternative milk you choose, look for one that does not contain sugar, any avoid those that use any kind of flavouring, E numbers, emulsifiers or additives (such as lecithins and carageenan) and preferably choose an organic brand.

Won’t I be missing out on calcium? Where else can I get calcium without dairy products?
There are many myths around dairy products, and lots of us have grown up believing the main one – that dairy is the only food group in our diet that provides us with calcium. But here’s the truth: while dairy products may provide us with calcium and a few other nutrients (including magnesium, saturated fat, and lots of calories) those same nutrients are readily available in leafy green vegetables, along with a far greater density and variety of other nutrients such as fibre, and always with low levels of saturated fat and calories. If we eat more dairy products than we do vegetables, it becomes clear that we are at risk of nutritional imbalances.

Adding plenty of kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, rocket, watercress, pea shoots and any other green vegetables you enjoy to your diet will ensure you are not missing out on any nutrients when you go dairy free.

Will avoiding dairy products increase my risk of osteoporosis?
Who remembers being told as a child to drink their milk to keep their teeth/bones strong and healthy? I certainly do! But what if I told you that high consumption of dairy products has now been linked to osteoporosis or “brittle bone disease” – a common “calcium deficiency” disease. Don’t believe me? The latest nutritional research shows that high protein intake in the diet is acid yielding, and the body then leaches alkalising calcium from the bones to neutralise the acidity of the blood. Dairy isn’t the only food to blame for this though. Meat, sugar, and processed carbohydrates are guilty of it too.

Weightbearing exercise is a far better way of keeping your bones strong and strengthening muscles to prevent falls – walking, taking the stairs, lifting weights, even dancing to the radio in the kitchen!

But aren’t we meant to drink milk?
Cows produce milk for their offspring, just as human mother’s produce breastmilk for their children. Without going into the horrors that are rumoured to exist in the milk industry (slaughtering of male calves, routine antibiotics for infections such as mastitis etc) the truth remains that we are no more meant to drink cows milk than cows are meant to drink human milk. Cows milk contains protease inhibitors which can contribute to gut issues, contributes to inflammation in the body, contains proteins that the human body finds difficult to digest and lactose that requires the lactase enzyme (missing in many of us), is highly allergenic, increases mucus production, and contains bovine (cow) hormones. You probably wouldn’t expect a 30 year old female human to be still drinking her mother’s breastmilk, and yet no-one bats an eyelid if she chooses to drink the breastmilk from a cow.

Tell me again – do you still think we are meant to drink cows milk?

Talking of which, let me own up to something that I did 5 years ago – after the birth of my first child, I used 3 ounces of my own freshly expressed breastmilk in a fudge recipe, as we don’t keep cows milk in the house. Everyone who visited our new baby knew to bring their own milk for tea/coffee, but sampled and complemented me on the delicious fudge! I’m sure they would have run a mile if they’d known the truth!

What will I do without ice cream?!
If you’re one of the people worried about forever giving up ice-cream, then fear not. There are alternatives made with delicious coconut milk and/or cashew nuts (try The Nude Spoon, Coconut Colaborative and Booja Booja). And if all else fails, there’s always sorbet to tempt your tastebuds!

There are also alternatives available for milk, cream, chocolate, cheese, butter, yoghurt… you just need to know where to look! Try Ocado, Planet Organic, and Wholefoods for a wide range or alternatives.

Should I switch to soya products?
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend soya products as an alternative to dairy. Most soya products are made with non-fermented, non-organic, genetically modified soya and have been associated with oestrogen balance and thyroid hormone function in the body – you can read more in this book (affiliate link) and many other books. When I switched to soya as an alternative to dairy over 10 years ago, in the days before there were any other alternatives, not only did I have acne, weight gain, and severe moodswings, but my periods were irregular to the point of absence and my GP gave me the crushing diagnosis that I was clinically infertile.

A safer choice would be alternatives made with almond, coconut, oats, rice etc.

Can I eat butter?
It may seem confusing, but most people who need to avoid milk because of a lactose intolerance are ok with real butter, and even some who avoid milk because of milk protein intolerance will be ok (but this will vary from person to person so always check first). How can that be, I hear you ask! Well, butter is the preferred option over and above any processed margarine-like products, and when shopping you should look for butter with a carbohydrate content of around 0.1g per 100g. Why? Well, it means that the majority of the milk solids have been removed and mostly just fat remains with a small percentage of milk proteins. That small percentage is so low most people are able to consume small amounts of butter with no problems.

Still have a question that needs answering? Feel free to email me kate@allergytest-london.co.uk or leave a comment on this blog and we’ll do our best to answer it for you.

Kate x