Fact Checked by

Ysabel Montemayor, RD

Benefits of Going Dairy-Free

As it turns out, it is completely healthy to go dairy-free. Though dairy has some benefits, we don't necessarily need it in our diets and many of the health benefits found in dairy can be found in other foods.
milk in front of cows

There are a lot of diet plans, old and new. We want to take some time to explore the healthy options out there. The Real Reasons is a series designed to help you navigate the maze and find your best nutrition plan.

Many of us grew up believing that milk was a necessary part of a healthy diet. We were told that milk and dairy products, in general, give us strong bones and keeps us healthy. Yet, a trend is growing in America of completely avoiding dairy.

What is this trend about? Is it healthy? Do doctors recommend it? What are the reasons to go dairy-free?

Table of Contents
What is Dairy-Free?
The Truth About Dairy
Benefits of Going Dairy-Free
Going Dairy-Free is Easier Than You Think
In Conclusion

What is Dairy-Free?

Dairy consists of all milk and its derived products.

This means cutting out not only milk, but cream, half-and-half, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, butter, and kefir. Don’t forget about goat or sheep milk.

Many baked goods contain butter or cream, so it is important to check the ingredients when going dairy-free. Also, ask about the ingredients at restaurants if you are dairy-free. Many dips and sauces also contain dairy.

For some reason, many believe that eggs fall under dairy, probably since the idea of dairy products makes us think of farms. Eggs are not dairy, however, those many avoid eating eggs for their own reasons.

Dairy provides important nutrients, such as calcium, so avoiding it may require you to supplement your diet with other non-dairy high-calcium foods. Eat a lot of dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens and kale. Also eat sea vegetables, sardines, and salmon with the bone.

If you love dairy but want to go dairy-free, you may be worrying that you’ll miss some of your favorite dairy products. There are plenty of alternatives. You can use olive oil instead of butter, oat milk instead of regular milk, avocado instead of sour cream, or sorbet and banana ice cream instead of dairy ice cream.

Tofu is a great substitute for cheese, and mushrooms could take the place of the cheese on your pizza. Try using almond or soy milk as a substitute for animal milk, such as in smoothies.

The Truth About Dairy

For a long time, we have been told that dairy is good for you–even that it’s an essential part of your diet. Much of what we’ve heard about dairy has been so ingrained into us that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. So let’s sort out the myths and find out what is true about dairy.

The USDA food pyramid is way outdated

Whatever your stance is on dairy, the food pyramid set forth by the USDA is not scientifically sound. Though it was embraced for years, many have called into question whether we really need three glasses of milk a day.

Dr. Walter Willett, M.D., Ph.D., head of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and the second-most-cited scientist in all of clinical science, is a huge critic of the USDA food pyramid. He even goes so far as to call it “utterly ridiculous.”

The fact is, many of the “experts” who put together the food pyramid actually worked in the dairy industry. Thus they had their industries, rather than the public interest, in mind.

If you’re looking for some guidance, check out MyPlate instead- It is basically an updated version of the pyramid, but provides a more practical and accurate representation of what we should eat.

milk in front of cows

We don’t need dairy

As it turns out, it is completely healthy to go dairy-free.

Though dairy has some benefits, we don’t necessarily need it in our diets, even though it is often listed as a major food group.

Many of the health benefits found in dairy can be found in other foods.

This may take a bit of mind-stretching to change the way we think about what we eat, but here we’ll present facts and let you decide whether dairy is right for you.

Dairy is not the magical answer to strong bones

Though the idea remains a popular belief, drinking milk will not guarantee the disappearance of the risk of you breaking your bones! In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study did a 12-year study on over 77,000 women setting out to prove whether drinking 2 or more glasses of milk, instead of 1 glass, helps reduce bone fractures. They found the opposite was true. Those who drank more milk were 50% more likely to get bone fractures.

Although components of dairy, such as calcium, are believed to gives us strong bones, many parts of the world where dairy is consumed much less–like Asia and Africa–have the lowest incidence of osteoporosis.

Americans are drinking less milk

Looking at major food trends, the US Department of Agriculture finds that Americans drank 6% less milk in April 2017 than in April 2016, and this trend has been going for several years.

That’s about 78.8 million fewer pounds of milk in a single month.

The USDA also reported that the number of Americans drinking milk “decreased significantly” in 2010 compared to the 1970’s. Meanwhile, dairy substitutes like almond milk and soy products are growing. Plus, with the growth of veganism and diets like the Paleo diet, the trend of going dairy-free is only growing.

But before digging into the facts on dairy, let’s look at the dairy-free lifestyle and what it means.

Benefits of Going Dairy-Free

Now that we’ve uncovered some facts about dairy, we’re left wondering what are the health benefits of going dairy-free. So let’s take some time to delve into the dairy-free diet and see how it can improve one’s health.

Cutting dairy could lead to weight loss

A lot of foods fall under dairy. Ice cream and milk chocolate all the way to fat-free cottage cheese are dairy. So will cutting it entirely cause weight loss? The answer is yes.

Though many of us enjoy a filling slice of cheese, it’s little secret that cutting dairy will lead to weight loss. Especially cutting treats like whole-milk products and replacing them with nut milk will greatly increase your chances of burning fat and losing weight.

If you absolutely must have some dairy in your diet, make sure to avoid full-fat milk. We talked about saturated fat last week, something to limit and avoid if you can. Saturated fat leads to unhealthy cholesterol. Whole milk contains lots of saturated fat, so we recommend going for skim or fat-free milk.

Going dairy-free may clear your skin

Many studies show that increased dairy consumption can actually lead to more acne in the skin, especially in teens. A lot of people report that their skin clears up after they cut dairy from their diet. Why would dairy affect the presence of acne? Some believe it’s the presence of growth hormones in milk, while others point to the spikes in sugar and insulin upon consuming lactose.

Most people are lactose intolerant

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re lactose intolerant. According to the NIH, 65% of the world’s population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. If you are one of them, consuming dairy could cause you to have gas, bloating, cramps, or diarrhea. But what is lactose intolerance, exactly?

Lactase is an enzyme in your body that helps you digest lactose, the primary sugar found in dairy. Lactose intolerance is a result of having enough of the enzyme lactase to digest dairy correctly. So if you are lactose intolerant, it’s worth avoiding dairy altogether.

Consuming less dairy may help your digestion

Many suffer from lactose intolerance, so it’s understandable they would want to avoid dairy. But even for those without lactose intolerance, lactose can have a huge impact on irritable bowel syndrome. Not fun. Many report stomach bloating and cramps drop significantly when cutting dairy.

If you can’t live without dairy, many products are much lower in lactose than others, such as aged cheese. Some dairy products are even infused with the enzyme lactase to make it easier to digest.

We should also point out that dairy is very low in fiber. Ever heard the story of the person who ate way too much cheese and was constipated for a week? There is some truth to the urban legend. It turns out that fiber greatly helps your body digest. So when you consume large amounts of dairy and less of fiber-full foods, you’ll likely find it hard to digest.

Milk can be full of growth hormones and antibiotics

Often, the farmer gives cows growth hormones so that they will produce more milk. They also use antibiotics on the cows. This seeps into the milk they produce, which we then consume. Unfortunately, this could lead to antibiotic-resistant diseases in the long run. Not to mention increasing the number of unwanted chemicals in our food.

If you do drink milk, go for organic. It’s free of antibiotics (to keep the milk clean) and growth hormones (to treat the cows humanely). Organic farms take a stand for healthy food and against unfair treatment of animals, so we’re fans.

Going Dairy-Free is Easier Than You Think

Did we mention that 75% of the world has a natural, adverse reaction to dairy? That means if you want to go dairy-free, there are already 5.7 billion people who are already lactose intolerant. Much of the world has stayed away from dairy already. It’s not too hard!

There are so many non-dairy substitutes out there, as we’ve already mentioned. We think that if you choose to go dairy-free, you’ll be surprised at how easily it left your life.

Veganism calls for a dairy-free diet

We give a round of applause to the vegan lifestyle. Veganism is avoiding the use of all animal products in order to promote the humane treatment of animals and help the environment. This means not consuming any meat, eggs, and of course, dairy.

In Conclusion

The benefits of the dairy-free lifestyle are immense. In addition to losing weight and clearing your skin, you could be helping the environment and saving animals.

We believe it’s a possible journey for you, should you wish to take it. If you can stomach dairy and choose to keep it in your diet, go for raw, organic products. These are healthier for you and the environment. We always recommend checking the ingredients. A lot of yogurts, especially, have added sugar.

Whatever decision you make, we hope you always choose to eat fresh ingredients and keep yourself healthy.

Hopefully, you learned a lot about dairy and are now equipped to make the best choice for yourself and your diet.

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