There are many reasons why someone might choose to go dairy-free. For many people, dairy foods like coffee creamer and cream cheese are such a regular part of our life that we can’t imagine what it’s like to eat dairy-free. The typical reaction when someone decides to eliminate something from their diet — something they love — there is often disappointment. Our food habits are so engrained and reforming those habits can be challenging, but the way we handle that challenge is what helps us develop.
Dairy is far from a superfood, and is something worth replacing in many peoples diets. Millions of Americans can’t digest a certain sugar in milk and milk products called lactose. If you’re one of them, you have lactose intolerance. The condition isn’t harmful, but it can be uncomfortable and may be embarrassing. There’s no cure, but you can manage it by watching how much milk or milk products you drink or eat. Being lactose intolerant is not the same as being allergic to milk.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance may include bloating, diarrhea, gas, nausea, and pain in your abdomen. Lactose intolerance is caused by lactose malabsorption, a condition in which your small intestine makes low levels of lactase and can’t digest all the lactose you eat or drink. To diagnose lactose intolerance, your doctor will ask about your symptoms, family and medical history, and eating habits. Your doctor may perform a physical exam and tests to help diagnose lactose intolerance or to check for other health problems.
There are other reasons why people decide to go dairy-free. Some of these people are concerned about the status of how animals are treated on corporate farms. Many farms don’t follow best practices when it comes to how the animals are fed and treated. Another option is to buy dairy products that are produced by grass-fed cows that are raised in better conditions. These cows are allowed to graze outdoors and live in much better conditions. If that is your reason, supporting a local family-based dairy may be an option. This allows you to enjoy dairy products and support farmers who treat animals better.
One important consideration is that if you choose to go dairy free you need to read labels. Crackers, chips, soup, cereal, even some vitamins many contain dairy. Even things that are labeled dairy-free sometimes have dairy in them. Some people can get away with a little dairy here and there, but read labels. Casein and whey are dairy components too, so even if something says “dairy-free” or “lactose-free,” but contains those ingredients, it’s got dairy in it.
A dairy-free diet can be a big adjustment. Here are a few basic tips:
- Always check the ingredients if you’re trying a new food.
- Have plenty of snacks on hand — milk-based products can often settle in the stomach for a while; cutting these out may leave you hungrier than usual.
- Non-dairy doesn’t actually mean dairy-free — these products may contain some proteins derived from milk.
Whether you have a dairy intolerance or are looking to change-up your eating for other reasons, a dairy-free diet is totally possible. With these tips, you can start today.