3 Things You Need to know about Dairy Products

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Going dairy-free is one of the very best things you can do for your gut and general health, even if it is only temporary. While we’ve been told our whole lives that dairy is an essential part of the diet, the evidence suggests otherwise. 

Read on to learn more about what is in dairy, where else you can get your calcium from and some great dairy-free alternatives. We’ve also included our in-depth Dairy Swap Out Guide below for you to download and print. 

The issue with dairy

Although dairy offers some health benefits, the consumption of dairy has been linked to a vast array of health problems including allergies, intolerances, autoimmune conditions, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and poor immunity. 

Why is this? Dairy has an irritant effect on the gastrointestinal tract, and this causes inflammation and increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut). Research has also linked dairy to various types of cancer including breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer.

So what’s in dairy?

A number of factors can make the consumption of dairy problematic for our health. Firstly, dairy products contain a protein called casein. Most dairy products contain A1 Type Casein, and some contain A2, depending on the breed of cattle the milk originates from. Casein produces a small 7 amino-acid peptide that, during digestion, causes inflammation and contributes to a leaky gut. 

The other component in milk that can cause issues is lactose. Lactose is a milk sugar that can be hard to digest and for some people leads to diarrhoea, gas and bloating. This not only can impact your gut health but also the absorption of nutrients because of the fast transit time of the lactose product.

Another interesting fact, and one that contradicts what we have always been told, is that studies have shown that there isn’t a strong link between high dairy intake and decreased risk of skeletal fractures.

What do I need to know about dairy?

Here are three things you may or may not know about dairy.

1. Dairy cows are stressed.

This could be due to the mass production and processing of the modern-day dairy products, compared to those your great-grandparents may have consumed fresh from the farm cow. These days there is a massive consumer demand which requires farmers to have their dairy cows continually produce milk year-round, including when they are pregnant. 

A stressed cow is an inflamed and unhealthy cow as is the milk they produce. Due to the unnatural demands on dairy cows, they are susceptible to mastitis, parasites, bloat, acidosis (from too much grain which they are not designed to digest) and liver abscesses. While the Australian livestock organisations state that antibiotics are used sparingly, and milk is closely monitored for antibiotic residues, there are other compounds such as ionophores added to the grain feed while the cows are being milked to enhance their tolerance of the grains and prevent bloat, parasitic infection and increase weight and production. Residues of these can remain in the milk and then in our bodies upon consumption. 

Antibiotic resistance is a major problem in our society, and therefore it is very important to consider not only this, but also the effect that this indirect consumption of antibiotics has on our gut health, and therefore our general health. 

2. Dairy foods increase growth hormones.

The purpose of cow’s milk is to feed the calf and help it grow. Dairy milk contains naturally occurring hormones called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which when fed to people, also increases circulating (IGF-1). This helps with bone growth, yes, but studies show that IGF-1 promotes cancer cell growth too – particularly in breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.

3. Dairy foods raise oestrogen.

Oestrogen is needed to maintain a woman’s menstrual cycle, fertility and bone health. However, too much, or the wrong types of oestrogen are associated with an increased risk of some cancers, endometriosis, breast cancer, uterine or ovarian cancers and early puberty. Dairy foods contain oestrogen due to the cows being milked throughout pregnancy.

So if you’ve read enough and are considering giving up dairy products – even for a short period of time – you might be wondering about how (and where) you can still get calcium.

But what about the calcium for my bones?

Calcium is just one of the nutrients important for maintaining bone health among other things in the body. However, dairy is certainly not the only dietary source of calcium and adequate calcium intake is achievable through other food sources.

Foods that are high in calcium include sardines, salmon, eggs, spinach, broccoli, dried figs, molasses, sesame seeds and chia seeds. In fact, two eggs and a cup of cooked broccoli contain more calcium than a glass of milk. Who knew?!  

So what counts as dairy?

If your integrative doctor or naturopath has asked you to avoid dairy, this means any product that comes from the milk of mammals, including cows, sheep or goats. You will need to avoid:

  • Milk
  • Lactose-free milk
  • Skim or low-fat milk
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Cheese spreads
  • Butter
  • Creme fraiche
  • Kefir
  • Ice-cream
  • Labna
  • Yoghurt

Please note: Lactose-Free milk or other lactose-free food products may still contain dairy. Be sure to read the ingredients list carefully.

Knowing your alternatives

The good news is that these days, there are so many great dairy-free options for you to choose from. Knowing the nutritious (and tasty!) dairy-free alternatives available is the best way we can help you to go dairy-free. 

That’s why we’ve created this free Dairy Swap Out Guide that you can download and print for next time you’re doing the grocery shopping and want a dairy-free alternative. Download the guide here.

How long will you need to give up dairy?

For some people, it is recommended to give up dairy permanently, at least while your condition is active. This would include autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s Disease, seasonal allergies and asthmatics. 

For the purpose of healing your gut, try to avoid dairy products for at least 1 month. When (and if) you reintroduce dairy, try and stick to fermented dairy products like yoghurt, quark and kefir. As a general rule, small amounts of organic cheese are easier to digest than milk due to the fermentation or curing process. Look for goats or sheep cheese as an easier-to-digest option too. 

Go deeper: Listen to Episode 9 of Season One of The Shift podcast – Food part 1 – what you’ve always known is a lie to learn more about how dairy can impact your health.

Feeling bloated from dairy and don’t know what to do? Purchase our super easy 7-Day Beat Bloating course for just $27AUD and arm yourself with all the information you need to go gluten and dairy-free. Check out the course here.

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