Suffering from joint pain or digestive issues?
The reason could be the diary in your diet.
Yeah, I know, you’ve been hearing about it everywhere these days. Lactose this, dairy that. Here’s what you need to know so you can stop complaining about your aching joints and stomach pains.
First, I would like to specify that when I say diary, I mean “any product containing or made from the milk of an animal”.
Here are the main “issues” regarding dairy and your health that you need to know right now! I am not going to discuss the poor treatment of animals or dairy farming practices here, not because it isn’t extremely important, but because I want to focus on the specific effects of dairy on our bodies. For more information on farming practices, I encourage you to watch Cowspiracy and read this.
Issue #1: Casein & Lactalbumin
Casein & Lactalbumin are proteins that are a main ingredient in cows milk. Calves rely on these proteins to grow big strong muscles.
Some infants, as well as adults, develop an allergy to these proteins because they are not found in our bodies or human breast milk. This means that their immune system attacks these “foreign” proteins because it doesn’t recognise them. Symptoms can be mild (hives, swelling, vomiting) or extreme (anaphylaxis- throat closure). If you suspect you may be allergic to dairy, it is a good idea to get tested by a doctor.
Issue #2: Lactose & Lactase
What is lactose?
Lactose is the natural sugar present in all animal milks. It is the basic source of energy for babies during their first years of life. Humans, cows, goats, rats, cats, buffalo… you name the mammal and its milk contains lactose.
So, what’s the problem?
It’s amazing, but true, that over half of the world’s population is lactose intolerant.This means that their bodies can’t digest the lactose sugars found in milk and dairy. Here’s how it works:
In order for our body to digest lactose we need the presence of a special enzyme called “lactase”. Lactase essentially breaks apart the lactose molecule in our digestive tract and allows it to be absorbed through the lining of our intestines and used for energy in our bodies. Without enough lactase, our bodies will NOT break down lactose and it will simply sit in our gut and rot (gross, right!?). As you can imagine, lactose rotting in our guts causes some not so pleasant symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and nausea.
Why are some people lactose intolerant and some aren’t?
When a baby is born, its body does not yet produce lactase, which it needs in order to digest the lactose in its mother’s breast milk. Lucky for them, mother nature has it all figured out. Breast milk contains the perfect ratio of both lactose and lactase.Breast milk will contain lactase until the child’s digestive system develops and they begin producing it on their own. Then, once the child is ready to be weaned (eat solid foods only), their bodies stop producing lactase since they will no longer be breastfeeding and therefor not need it.
At some point, thousands of years ago, a genetic mutation took place in which some human’s didn’t stop producing lactase, which allowed them to drink milk well into adulthood without any dire side effects (In the past, people would die from the digestive distress caused from drinking milk). Somehow with the rise of agriculture and civilization, this genetic mutation flourished and many people continued to produce the enzyme throughout their lives. It is unclear why this mutation took hold and researchers are still trying to “crack the code”.
Some of us are unable to continue producing lactase after childhood while others continue to produce it. This key difference is why some people are “lactose intolerant” and some are not.
If you find yourself suffering from some uncomfortable symptoms after consuming dairy, it is a good idea to get tested by a doctor and avoid products containing lactose such as:
- Milk (from animals)
- Whey & curds
- Ice cream
- Most chocolate bars
For those with a mild lactose sensitivity, you may be able to digest some fermented dairy products. Yogurt, Kefir, sour cream, and some cheeses are essentially pre-digested for you during the fermentation processes causing the lactose content to be much less and thus easier to digest.
Issue #3: Congestion & Inflammation
Congestion and Inflammation are two very common responses our bodies can have when we consume dairy products (mainly cow’s milk).
Casein, the protein in cow’s milk, can promote the formation of mucus in the upper respiratory tract. Many dairy consumers notice a complete clearing of any congestionupon trying 1-2 weeks without dairy- “I can breathe again” one friend told me. Research is still trying to scientifically explain this phenomenon, but in the meantime, what do you have to lose? If you suffer from sinus issues or seasonal allergies, try taking a couple weeks off from consuming dairy and see if you notice a change. You might be surprized.
When the lactose is not digested properly and is left to sit in our gut, our bodies often respond by producing inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s natural response against foreign organisms, such as disease, viruses, or undigested molecules sitting around in our gut. Chronic inflammation (lasting months to years), causes a lot of stress on our bodies and can lead to chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
More notably, inflammation triggered by dairy consumption causes symptoms such as redness, joint pain, joint stiffness, fever, chills, fatigue, and headaches. Do you suffer from any of these symptoms? You could benefit from trying a couple of week’s dairy free to observe if your symptoms go away.
I recently worked with someone who removed dairy from her diet for 2 weeks only to notice her chronic knee pain disappeared after suffering for over 5 years. She then added diary back into her diet and noticed the pain came back. Pretty hard to deny that type of evidence if you ask me!
So why not give it a try? Your body could thank you!
Issue #4: Antibiotics, Growth Hormones & Steroids
I didn’t feel I could leave this discussion without touching on the use of antibiotics, growth hormones & steroids in dairy cattle in Canada. Without going too in-depth, here is what you need to know:
Antibiotics: When a dairy cow gets sick and is treated with antibiotics, she is removed from the herd until she has recovered and all antibiotics have left her system. Her milk that is contaminated with antibiotics is discarded and only once she is free of medicine, is her milk used for human consumption.
Growth Hormones: Many countries around the world use special hormones which make cows produce more milk at a quicker rate. Luckily, in Canada, growth hormones are not permitted for use in dairy cattle. These hormones are legal in other countries such as the USA.
Steroids: Steroids are used for medicinal purposes in dairy cattle in Canada. However, it’s unclear as to if any steroids actual remain in their system or their milk.
So, are you considering trying a period of time without dairy products, or are you ready to go dairy-free for life? You may have a few questions.
How do I get Calcium?
All the years of “Got Milk” advertisements have left us to believe that there are no other options for getting Calcium in our diets than dairy products. As a matter of fact, dairy’s acidic nature may even lend a hand in robbing calcium and other vital minerals from our bones (where was that in the “Got Milk” commercial?).
There are a lot of wonderful sources of Calcium such as:
- Almonds (and their milk)
- Citrus Fruits
- Spinach, chard & beet greens (note: even though they are high in Calcium, they also contain oxalic acid which prevents absorption of Calcium, thus are not a good source)
- Peas & Beans
- Sesame & Sunflower Seeds
What do I eat & drink instead?
- Instead of milk try:
- Homemade nut milks (coconut, almond, cashew…)
- Other milks (rice, oat…)
- Instead of Cream try:
- In your morning coffee:
- Pour 1 cup of coffee into magic bullet, add 1 Tbsp coconut oil and a dash of non-dairy milk. Blend for 1 minute. Enjoy!
- Coconut whipped cream
- In your morning coffee:
- Instead of cheese try:
- Vegan cheese made from cashews
- Nutritional Yeast (has a great cheese flavour)
- Crushed walnuts sprinkled on pasta
- Instead of butter try:
- Coconut oil or olive oil – great for cooking with and on popcorn
- Instead of Ice Cream try:
- Frozen fruit purees
- Coconut ice cream
- Banana ice cream
For more ideas, click here
When looking for alternatives to include in your diet, please be sure to read labels before purchasing. While dairy intolerance is becoming more common in our society, so is the use of strange chemicals in products used to enhance flavour and texture. Keep your eyes open and avoid anything you can’t pronounce or don’t understand.
What are some of your dairy free favourites?
I know how impossible it can feel to think about giving up something that is such a huge part of your daily diet, but please trust me when I say that it really can be done and it isn’t that hard! Your health may depend on it.
Full disclose: Personally, I only have mild symptoms when I consume dairy which is why I have chosen to limit my consumption but still enjoy a cappuccino and some cheese a couple times per week.
I would love to hear from you if you are thinking about making a change or are curious about how to start taking steps towards a dairy-free life. Click here to get in touch.
Love & Almond Milk,