Giving up Dairy can be hard! Food is so emotional. And I get the love of dairy. My practice started in the cheesehead state (Wisconsin for those who aren’t familiar with cheeseheads) and I have had to tell people they had to give up dairy for their health. It can be a shock, as many can’t imagine living without dairy!

What do you choose though? A food or building your best healthy life? If dairy gets in the way of a healthy life, isn’t that an easy answer? And, trust me, it is way easier to give up dairy than it was when I started my practice over 20 years ago. You were lucky to find 1 or 2 dairy free milk options at a grocery store. It’s even easier than it was 5 years ago.

Curious cow for giving up dairy

Why Would You Give Up Dairy?

Maybe the question should be why do we drink dairy? Does it make sense to drink the milk that was designed to grow a baby calf into a 2,000-pound animal? Milk was made for baby cows, not humans. Does that sound like milk is good for you? There are a few health reasons you would want to skip dairy.

  1. Allergies – Dairy is one of the most common IgE allergies for children and one of the most common IgG food allergies we see come up on patient tests. Many aren’t as familiar with this allergy because, unlike the IgE allergy, the reaction isn’t immediate. When people aren’t aware, it can lead to hidden inflammation.
  2. Inflammation – Dairy is a very inflammatory food even if you aren’t allergic to it and should be avoided in a non-inflammatory diet. Dairy is linked to increased acne, rosacea, and eczema which is inflammation on the skin. Long-term inflammation can lead to chronic illness.
  3. Lactose Intolerance – Lactose intolerance is different than a milk allergy. Lactose intolerance is when your body doesn’t produce enough of the enzyme to break down dairy. About 65% of adults have a reduced capacity to digest milk products. Eating foods that you can’t digest will really mess up your gut microbiome.

So Really, How Do I Give Up Dairy?  5 Tips for Giving up Dairy

1 – Try Occasional Dairy Replacements

20 years ago, you were lucky if you found one or two nondairy milk options. Now there are many different options including almond, macadamia nut, oat milk and hemp milk. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The options for cheese have greatly improved and you can now find dairy free yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese and ice cream. These are great occasional foods to try as you transition your diet.  They aren’t an everyday replacement because some replacements include questionable ingredients and they cost more.

2 – Check Your Labels and Enjoy Whole Foods

Watch out for processed foods. Dairy is considered one of the major allergens, so it should be easily identified within the ingredients or with an allergy statement right after. If you look close, you will see artificial butter, casein, caseinates, lactalbumin, whey, lactoglobulin, and others are hiding dairy. It is very common and will be in foods you might not expect like soups and dressings. The best way to avoid dairy is to enjoy whole, real foods. You avoid accidentally eating dairy and you skip many of the chemicals they put in processed foods by eating whole foods.

3 – Order Like a Pro

Restaurants can be a pitfall for any allergy. Check out the menu in advance and don’t be afraid to call ahead to see if a menu item can be made dairy-free. Not all restaurants can do this because dishes are made in advance, but some restaurants are able to accommodate changes. A grilled meat with vegetables with no sauce or bun is a healthy option that can be made at many restaurants. Check out reviews for allergy friendly places to find out which places can be accommodating.

4 – Remember all the Foods You Can Have

You find out you can’t have dairy or other foods on your allergy list. This can be shocking but don’t focus on what you can’t have. Focus on the many healthy foods that you can have. Is it the texture you will miss? Try something creamy like guacamole or cashew cream. We have a variety of healthy recipes on our website and I really recommend the Yummly app for cooking with allergies because it shows you so many options.

5 – Don’t Worry About Calcium

The dairy industry has been pushing the idea that milk does a body good for too long. Milk isn’t good for you and isn’t as helpful for bones as you have been led to believe. Studies have found that women who drank milk more frequently had a higher risk of hip fractures. You also don’t need the calcium supplement as those have been associated with bone spurs, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular events, kidney stones… so why are so many people taking calcium supplements?

Living without Dairy is Possible

It is easier than ever and if it can improve your health then isn’t it worth it? Just because we always have eaten dairy doesn’t mean it needs to be part of your daily diet. As you start to feel better it will get easier. You’ll feel the results and going back isn’t worth it!

Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn