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How To Go Dairy Free… And Still Enjoy Your Favourite Foods

With the growing popularity of plant based diets, you may have seen an increase in headlines demonising dairy. But is dairy bad for you? Should you cut dairy out of your diet? Is it possible to be healthy on a dairy free diet? Read on to find out what the science says.

What is dairy?

Dairy foods are any foods made from the milk of animals, for example cows, sheep or goats. This often includes staple foods such as butter, cream, cheese and yoghurt.

Should I go dairy free?

Although there are a variety of valid ethical and environmental reasons for reducing the amount of dairy in your diet, many of the negative health messages surrounding dairy are untrue. In fact, dairy is a highly nutritious food containing vitamins B2, B5 and B12, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iodine, and providing a source of high quality protein. Together, these nutrients help:

  • Support immune function, brain development and growth
  • Maintain healthy blood pressure
  • Keep bones, teeth, nerves, muscles, vision and skin healthy
  • Release energy from food to reduce tiredness and fatigue

The above list highlights how dairy can play a role in a healthy, balanced diet [1]. However, there are certain medical conditions whereby people will be advised to avoid or limit their dairy intake:

  • Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) – an abnormal immune response to one or more of the proteins found in cow’s milk. Reactions can be immediate (itchy rash, swelling and/or vomiting) or delayed (nausea, abdominal pain and/or eczema). It is one of the most common food allergies present in babies and young children (although still rare, only affecting 2-3%), with most growing out of it by 5 years of age [2][3].
  • Lactose Intolerance – lactose is the sugar found naturally in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body doesn’t have sufficient lactase (the enzyme required to break down and absorb lactose). This causes lactose to build up in the gut and become fermented by bacteria, causing gas production and movement of water to the bowel, resulting in problems such as abdominal pains, diarrhoea, gas and bloating [4]. It is more common in adults than CMPA (although still rare) and cases are much higher in Asian and African populations where dairy does not form a major part of the traditional cuisine. Although those with an intolerance are likely to have difficulty consuming fresh milk, they may be able to consume small amounts of processed milk products, such as yoghurt and cheese, without negative side effects. Others may find they tolerate sheep, goat or buffalo milk better than cow’s milk – we are all unique and it can take time to understand your level of tolerance [5].

Allergy UK is an excellent resource to learn more: www.allergyuk.org

What is the difference between lactose free and dairy free?

Dairy free products won’t contain any milk or milk products. However, lactose free products may still contain milk, but without the lactose.

Is it possible to have a healthy dairy free diet?

As we have established, dairy provides a host of nutrients which contribute to optimum health. However, for those who need to reduce or eliminate dairy from their diet, there are ways to have a healthy dairy free diet with careful planning.

Since dairy is a main source of calcium, it is important to include alternative dairy free calcium sources to prevent calcium deficiency (which can cause low bone mineral density and increase the risk of osteoporosis). Nuts, fish with bones (tinned sardines), leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified dairy free milk, yoghurt and cheese alternatives are all excellent options. To help your body absorb calcium, it is important to get sufficient levels of vitamin D. We mainly absorb it through sunlight (via our skin), but oily fish, fortified breakfast cereal and eggs are good food sources [6].

Milk and dairy products are also a key source of iodine, which is used to make thyroid hormones to support metabolism, brain and bone health [7]. Those most at risk of deficiency are young girls and pregnant women, so it is particularly important for them to include dairy free sources such as eggs, seaweed and seafood if following a dairy free diet.

Always talk to your health care practitioner and/or seek personalised advice from a registered nutritionist or dietitian before making significant changes to your diet. 

Which foods should I avoid on a dairy free diet?

Following a dairy free diet means omitting products containing milk. The safest way to do this is to check the labels of all foods you consume. Common sources of dairy are:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Butter, margarine and ghee
  • Condensed milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Yoghurt
  • Ice cream
  • Cream, sour cream and creme fraiche
  • Custard
  • Milk and white chocolate
  • Whey

Also look out for casein, lactose and lactalbumin in the ingredients list.

However, there are plenty of foods you can eat and, due to the growing popularity of plant based diets, lots of vegan alternatives to popular dairy foods. The below list is not exhaustive (and remember to always check the label as different brands vary):

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry, fish and seafood
  • Nuts, seeds, herbs and spices
  • Eggs
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Beans, legumes and wholegrains (e.g. quinoa and couscous)
  • Cooking oils
  • Some dark chocolate (sometimes milk, milk powder or butter oil is added)
  • Dairy free milk, cream, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream alternatives (opt for fortified options, where possible)

Where can I buy dairy free food?

Now that you have your dairy free shopping list, you may be wondering where you can buy dairy free food. At Maiana we are passionate about empowering you to live a healthy and happy lifestyle. We want to help everyone enjoy delicious, and nutritious, food regardless of their dietary requirements.

We are proud to stock a number of carefully selected suppliers who offer quality dairy free products for those avoiding dairy. We have an extensive collection of plant based milks including barista Oat Milk and Almond Milk – perfect for your morning coffee or adding to a gut-loving bowl of Muesli or Porridge.

We also have some delicious toast toppers including a heavenly Seggiano Organic Smooth Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, zesty Femminello Lemon Marmalade and crunchy Almond Butter. For a quick and easy dairy free lunch, try a rich and flavoursome organic Minestrone or Hearty Lentil soup served with warm bread and a dairy free cheese alternative.

If you want to get creative and experiment with dairy free recipes, Biona Organic Coconut Oil Cuisine Mild Odourless is perfect for frying, baking and roasting (it even doubles up as a nourishing moisturiser for your hair and skin!), whilst their Organic Coconut Cream is delicious in an aromatic dairy free curry. You could even host a dairy free dinner party with our authentic Mediterranean products from Seggiano. Discover our herby Handmade Rosemary Flatbreads and crispy Sesame Grissini (perfect dipped in Wild Fennel Tomato Pesto), followed by Fusilli in a fiery sun-ripened tomato Arrabbiata Sauce.

For a little indulgence, try one (or two!) luxurious Booja Booja chocolate truffles (they are also a wonderful gift for dairy free friends). Discover our full dairy free range here.

DISCLAIMER: All health and nutrition content on Maiana is for general information only, and should not be viewed as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any health concerns, you should contact your local health care provider.

References

  1. Rozenberg S, Body JJ, Bruyère O, Bergmann P, Brandi ML, Cooper C, Devogelaer JP, Gielen E, Goemaere S, Kaufman JM, Rizzoli R, Reginster JY. Effects of Dairy Products Consumption on Health: Benefits and Beliefs–A Commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Calcif Tissue Int. 2016 Jan;98(1):1-17. doi: 10.1007/s00223-015-0062-x. Epub 2015 Oct 7. PMID: 26445771; PMCID: PMC4703621.
  2. British Dietetic Association. Milk Allergy. Available from: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/milk-allergy.html [Accessed 28 July 2022].
  3. du Toit G, Meyer R, Shah N, Heine RG, Thomson MA, Lack G, Fox AT. Identifying and managing cow’s milk protein allergy. Arch Dis Child Educ Pract Ed. 2010 Oct;95(5):134-44. doi: 10.1136/adc.2007.118018. Epub 2010 Aug 5. PMID: 20688848.
  4. Szilagyi A, Ishayek N. Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Avoidance, and Treatment Options. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 15;10(12):1994. doi: 10.3390/nu10121994. PMID: 30558337; PMCID: PMC6316316.
  5. Medline Plus. Lactose Intolerance. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/lactose-intolerance/ [Accessed 29 July].
  6. National Institute of Health. Vitamin D. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/#h3 [Accessed 29 July].
  7. National Institute of Health. Iodine. Available from: ​​https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/ [Accessed 29 July]