When it comes to making connections between our diets and our health, dairy often gets a bad rep. The increasing availability of Free From alternatives, combined with celebrity-endorsed food trends and the rise of veganism have all made going milk-free more mainstream. But is dairy really a problem?
What do we mean by dairy?
It seems like an obvious question but, when talking about allergies and intolerances, it’s important to understand exactly which types of foods fall under the ‘dairy’ category.
For the purpose of this article, we’re talking about cows’ milk, and products that are made using cows’ milk, such as cheeses, yoghurt, fromage frais and cream.
Why are more people choosing to go dairy-free?
There are a number of reasons why people are moving away from 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 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 would experience the same improvements simply by removing milk from your diet.
Are there different types of dairy intolerance?
When it comes to food intolerance, dairy is a more complex ingredient than others. 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 lacto-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. Lacto-free products will also trigger problems as they still contain casein.
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 (link to common symptoms piece) people can experience include bloating and IBS, skin rashes, eczema and acne, migraine or respiratory problems like rhinitis.
How easy is it to avoid dairy products?
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.
I’m sure dairy is to blame, should I just cut it out?
If you suspect 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.
This trial-and-error method can be a great way to get to the bottom of a food intolerance, but it can also be time consuming. As it’s incredibly common for people to experience reactions to between two and six ingredients, albeit with varying levels of severity, discovering all your trigger foods with an elimination diet can take a long time.
Additionally, as food intolerances involve a delayed reaction that can take up to 72 hours after you ate the trigger food 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.
Finding dairy free alternatives
The Free From market has exploded over the past decade, with dairy, wheat and egg-free alternatives 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 much easier generally to be able to find good alternatives when eating out.
The range of dairy free alternative products specifically 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.
Alternative milks usually include nut-based products, such as almond or hazelnut, coconut, soya, hemp or oat. Cheeses are also often nut based, and coconut or soya are popular substitutes in Free From yoghurts.
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 and more appealing.
Is dairy really the problem? Find out for sure.
If you are 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 comprehensive test to help you take control of your diet quickly and discover your own particular trigger foods.
Our home-to-laboratory service, using ELISA plate testing, gives you fast, accurate results that pinpoint exactly which foods you are reacting to. Tests are completed in our accredited laboratory by trained experts, with clear, easy to understand results sent to you via email within three days.
The test is supported by a 30-minute telephone consultation with our BANT registered Nutritional Therapist to help you understand your results and make safe, sustainable changes to your diet.