World Milk Day was introduced in 2001 by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to celebrate the dairy industry and recognise the importance of milk as a global food.
Around the world, milk is a dietary staple, with the exception of certain Asian and African countries. But statistics show that our interest in cow’s milk is steadily declining.
According to the Defra Family Food Survey, in 1974, the average consumption per person was 140 litres per year, or 2.7 litres per week. In 2018, this had dropped by just under 50 percent.
This has been linked, in part, to the rise of plant-based alternatives such as oat, almond or soya milks.
What’s driving this shift to free-from?
There are several reasons why people are moving away from cow’s milk products, choosing dairy-free alternatives instead.
In recent years, adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle, for ethical or sustainability reasons, has become more common. Some people also choose to avoid dairy believing that free from alternatives are healthier.
As with bread and other wheat-based products, some people choose to cut dairy products out of their diet as they believe there is a specific link between dairy and food intolerance.
Is dairy a common cause of food intolerances?
Food intolerances are unique to each individual. This means that the particular foods that may trigger symptoms, the severity of those symptoms and the number of trigger foods differ from person to person.
While milk and milk products may cause issues for one person, they won’t necessarily for another. It’s important, therefore, not to make general assumptions about what in your diet might be causing you to feel unwell. You may hear that someone removed dairy from their diet and found that they no longer felt bloated or fatigued, but that doesn’t mean that you too would experience the same improvements simply by removing milk from your diet.
What are the symptoms of a dairy intolerance?
As with all food intolerances, symptoms can vary in type and severity. Some of the common problems people experience include bloating and IBS, skin rashes, eczema and acne, migraine or respiratory problems like rhinitis.
Are there different types of dairy intolerance?
When it comes to food intolerance, dairy is a little more complex than other ingredients. It is possible to experience similar symptoms caused by a reaction to dairy, but for different biological reasons.
Lactose intolerance involves a specific reaction to lactose – the sugar found in milk. A person with lactose intolerance can consume lactose-free dairy products.
Dairy or milk intolerance involves a reaction to casein – the protein found in milk. A person with dairy intolerance will need to avoid dairy products altogether. Lactose-free products will also trigger problems as they still contain casein.
Avoiding dairy? Don’t get tricked by names
While it’s fairly straightforward to avoid milk, cheese and yoghurt themselves, you might be surprised how often dairy products find their way into processed foods as another in a long list of ingredients. Milk powder, for example, can often be found in potato crisps.
If you’re steering clear of dairy, it’s important to keep a close eye on food labels, looking not only at the ingredients list, but also the list of allergens. You won’t always find milk or dairy named in a recognisable way, which can catch you out. Sometimes cows’ milk can be listed as ‘casein’ which is the name of the protein in milk.
The rise of dairy-free alternatives
The Free From market has exploded over the past decade, with dairy, wheat, and egg-free substitutes now much more readily available in supermarkets. The quality and range of these products has also improved hugely as demand has increased. Restaurants have expanded their ranges to cater for people with food intolerances, dietary requirements and preferences and it’s generally much easier to find good alternatives when eating out.
The range of dairy free alternative products has diversified enormously in recent years, with a wide variety of free from barista quality milks now available, as well as alternative cheese products and yoghurts. Dairy free milks usually include almond or hazelnut, coconut, soya, hemp or oat and the wide variety of alternatives makes following a dairy-free diet, for those who choose to, or need to for health reasons, a lot easier.
Should I cut dairy out of my diet?
If you think that a certain ingredient, like dairy, is causing you problems one way to find out is to follow an elimination diet. This involves removing the food from your diet for a few weeks and tracking how you feel.
While this trial-and-error method can be a great way to get to the bottom of a food intolerance, it can also be time consuming. It’s common for people to experience reactions to a number of foods, and it can take a while to uncover them all yourself
Additionally, as food intolerances involve a delayed reaction that can take up to 72 hours to develop, pinning down the cause can be very difficult.
If you are considering removing a particular food for a period of time, it’s important to make sure you replace the nutrients that food would have provided. In the case of dairy, finding calcium rich alternatives.
Is dairy really the problem? Find out for sure.
If you’re suffering with the symptoms of a food intolerance and have spoken with your GP to rule out any other serious underlying condition, it might be time to take a closer look at your diet.
At Smartblood, we offer a convenient home to laboratory test which gives you the answers you need to optimise your diet. Find out more about the test.