Benefits of Non-Dairy

Dairy versus Non-Dairy: Where Do You Side?

Dairy has been a basic food group for over 60 years and remains a staple in today’s American diet. Besides being a source of calcium, do you know anything else about dairy?

As a child, you were probably taught that dairy is a necessary part of a healthy diet and provides calcium needed for the growth and development of strong bones. Over the past decade, however, questions have been raised as to the truth of these statements.  In fact, as you stroll down the dairy aisle at your local grocery store you are likely to see many non-dairy products. Now while it’s true there are people allergic to dairy, others have made the choice to eliminate dairy from their diet. So what’s the right choice? Were you given incorrect information that you are continuing to follow or believe blindly? Let’s explore both sides so you can make an informed decision for yourself.         

First, let’s identify what is deemed to be dairy. Dairy products are made from or contain milk from mammals such as cows, sheep, goats or buffalo.  Items include milk, yogurt, cheese, kefir, ice cream, butter, ghee, cream, whey products and casein.  

Dairy products contain vitamins, minerals, and protein. It can be an easy and convenient way to get vitamin D, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.  These nutrients help to maintain bone health, bone mass and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. 

On the negative side, dairy products made with whole milk are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Many adults also face the inability to break down lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk, causing lactose intolerance. This causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. In addition, dairy stimulates the release of the insulin growth factor (IGF-1) which has been associated with increased risk of certain cancers, particularly breast and 

colo-rectal.  Although the association between dairy and cancer is not conclusive, the controversy may be related to the type of dairy consumed. Non-fermented dairy products have been shown to increase IGF-1 whereas fermented dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, do not increase IGF-1 levels.  This idea has been further supported by research. Kroenke et. al (2013) and Fraser et al. (2020) have shown daily consumption of non-fermented dairy, particularly high-fat products like cheese and ice cream, increases the risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence. The presence of contaminants in dairy products is another concern. Contaminants include pesticide residues, heavy metals and aflatoxin (AFM1). AFM1 is a potent carcinogen and mutagen found in the milk produced by animals fed with Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) contaminated feed.  These toxins are resistant to high temperatures (used during the pasteurization process) and may lead to various health hazards.  From an environmental perspective, the dairy industry has a significant impact on climate change.  Dairy cows and their manure contribute to the emissions of methane, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide which cause global warming. It is important to note that the global demand for dairy continues to increase due to urbanization and westernization of diets and population growth. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) the average American consumed 655 pounds of dairy in 2020. Despite a decline in drinking milk, we have increased consumption of dairy by what we eat, particularly ice cream, butter, cheese and yogurt.           

By now you may be wondering how you will get the nutrients you need if you reduce or eliminate your intake of dairy products. Nutrients can be obtained from other natural sources. You do not need to automatically turn to supplements. Calcium for instance can be obtained through leafy greens like kale, legumes, nuts and broccoli. 

Let’s discuss some benefits of going dairy-free.  Dairy products contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fat. If you eliminate or significantly reduce your intake of dairy products you are likely to lose weight.  By choosing non-dairy you will also reduce your exposure to antibiotics and hormones. Antibiotics and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rGBH) are frequently given to keep cows free of infection and increase milk production.  These methods have resulted in residual amounts of rGBH and antibiotics to be found in dairy products.  You may also benefit from clearer skin by eliminating dairy. The hormones and sugar in dairy products can contribute to acne.  Digestion will also improve as you eliminate the natural sugar in milk, lactose. As noted previously, many adults do not have the enzyme, lactase, needed to break down lactose resulting in discomfort and pain. In addition, if you have a sensitivity to dairy and cut back on your intake it may help to reduce inflammation, your body’s natural immune response.

There are a lot of non-dairy options available, even if you have a nut allergy.  Options include products made from hemp, flax, oat, soy, pea as well as nut (almond, cashew, pistachio, pilli, coconut, macadamia, and hazelnut). Dairy products made from these substitutes include milk, yogurt, cheese, cream and whipped toppings as well. You can also ditch the butter and switch to avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, applesauce, or mashed banana or avocado when cooking or baking.

So what products are the best? There is no single right answer.  Everyone is different and it really comes down to what you like. If you decide to transition to non-dairy, explore your options and go about it with a sense of curiosity. Take time to look through and explore items in the dairy aisle, you are sure to discover new items that you will be interested in trying. If you do not like the first product you try, do not give up. Try another brand or another type of product.  Keep in mind you do not have to ditch and switch everything at once. You are likely to do better with gradual transition as you find products you like, like most things it is a process. During the process, pay attention to how you feel and listen to your body. As you do this you will learn more about your body and yourself. Change can be hard at first, but how you enter or approach the process makes a difference. Maintain a positive approach and let go of any hesitation you may have. In doing so, it will allow you to move forward, try new things and make the lifestyle changes you desire.       

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Diane Saulle, PhD.
Diane Saulle, PhD. is a certified Health Coach and Founder of Eat Clean Be Vital Inc. The demands placed on women today make it easy to prioritize everyone & everything before ourselves. This takes a toll on how we look & feel. I provide guidance, support & accountability to women looking to reclaim their health & well-being. Focus is placed on what to eat, physical activity & personal development.
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