Why Dairy-Free?

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May was Celiac Disease Awareness Month, and during that time, I shared with you many of my reasons for why I went gluten-free, how to go gluten-free, avoiding cross-contamination at home, and how to eat out successfully on a gluten-free diet. However, I avoid more than just gluten for my health. I also avoid dairy. While there’s no “Dairy-Free Awareness Month” (that I know of – if such a thing exists, someone fill me in!), I did want to share with you some of the same types of information about why I decided to remove dairy from my diet, where dairy can be found and how to go dairy-free, and ultimately, share some tips on “replacements” for those coveted dairy-full foods (like cheese!). Today, let’s talk about why anyone would want to go dairy-free.

Why dairy-free?

As I mentioned in my post about going gluten-free, going gluten-free eliminated many of my symptoms. It was like going gluten-free got me 85% of the way there. But I still was having some digestion issues. After a year of adjusting to the gluten-free diet (and learning many of those “there’s gluten in this?” mistakes the hard way!) and feeling like I had the routine down pretty well, I started to try to understand why I was still suffering from intermittent bouts of acid reflux and indigestion. I didn’t want to believe it might be dairy-related. I love cheese too much, I’d tell myself. But I finally buckled down and did an elimination diet where I removed dairy completely for a few weeks. I didn’t notice an immediate difference, like I did with gluten, but when I reintroduced it into my diet, I felt ill. I was nauseous shortly after eating it, and it was downhill from there. (We’re talking acid reflux, bloating, and “things” slowed WAY down.) My sinuses also became very congested. It was strange – even as a child, I remember always getting congested after consuming a large amount of dairy (like ice cream, for instance) and always thought it was normal, until I eliminated it from my diet. It took me a few days to really admit that it was a problem, but it was. I was intolerant to dairy. So in July 2010, I eliminated dairy from my diet. Now, if I accidentally ingest dairy, my reaction is about as severe as it is to gluten.

Dairy can cause a lot of issues for people. Sometimes, with people that are gluten intolerant, the body believes that the protein in milk, casein, is an invader (the structure of the protein is similar to gluten) as well, and the body reacts in an immunological manner much the way it reacts to gluten. I recently read an article referencing an intestinal wash study that showed that 50% of people reacting to gluten in the intestinal tract had an almost identical inflammatory cytokine release on exposure to dairy antigens. That’s a lot of people! Others have true milk allergies, some have lactose intolerance, and some have issues with casein, whey, or both. Symptoms can vary widely and can include:

– hives or rash

– trouble breathing

– anaphylaxis

– nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing

– nausea, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation or IBS-like symptoms

– heartburn

…and many more. If you think dairy might cause issues for you, you can obtain lactose intolerance tests and milk allergy tests through your doctor. (I actually came back positive for a milk allergy on a test, which helped to confirm what my body was already telling me – I needed to go on a dairy-free diet.) Or just see if you feel better without it by eliminating it from your diet. Alisa at Go Dairy Free is a wealth of information about all things dairy-free, and her book is a life-saver.

In short, we all are unique. What might be benign for one person’s body is poison for another. If you suffer from some of these symptoms and haven’t found relief, it might be worth looking into other food intolerances such as dairy. While there may be a period of transition as you remove offending foods from your diet, the long-term benefit will be well worth it!

Interested in chatting more about other food sensitivities and allergy testing? Join us Monday, July 30, at 8PM ET at Udi’s Gluten-Free Living Community in a free Live Chat to discuss!


    • Mark says

      Can anyone tell me how to get enough calcium in my diet? I have eliminated gluten, dairy and sugar from my diet. I have now noticed my teeth are starting to get translucent and believe it is because I do not eat calcium rich foods. I guess what I am looking for is what foods, supplements, and any other way to get the same amount of calcium I used to get with dairy. Always looking for supplements but they always contain either sugar, bacteria, yeast, corn, gluten, chemicals, .etc. JUST WANT SOMETHING I CAN USE! HELP! Please.

      • altawrites says

        Mark – While I am not a nutrition professional, I can tell you that there are a lot of calcium-rich dairy-free foods out there. WHFoods.com shares a list of the most calcium-rich foods http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=45 and many of those are dairy-free. I love eating sardines, and any canned fish with the bones is calcium-rich. Also, lots of leafy greens. They even are fortifying non-dairy milks with calcium now – I’ve seen soy and almond milk both with a good amount of calcium. However, it might be a good idea to visit your doctor to be sure that’s what’s causing your issues. Wishing you the best of luck!

      • Marie says

        Try Almond or Rice Milk every day. These alternatives to milk offer a lot more calcium than milk does in the first place. They have both helped me and are a great alternative for cravings. When I eliminated dairy, I needed a good probiotic as well. Without adding in a probiotic after eliminating dairy all these strange infections began to happen to me. If your body was used to dairy , I highly recommend you add a probiotic to help your body adjust! Hope this helps!

  1. says

    Awesome post, Alta. Our family is pretty much dairy free as well, for the most part, because of the same reasons. I think we all just feel so much better and are healthier because of it. Thanks for sharing your reasons!

  2. says

    Great post Alta. When I first got serious about my health I went on a diet that was free of gluten, dairy, sugar, grains, starch, caffeine and anything that grew underground for 8 weeks to heal my gut. I then started introducing things back in (except gluten, I already knew I was gluten intolerant at that point). I am fortunate that I have no dairy issues but I can say this – when ever I feel like I need to lose weight or boost my immune system or recover after too much work/stress/etc I go back on that diet for a week or two. I think that even if you can have dairy it can add stress to the system. This is of course just my opion :)

    • altawrites says

      Carol – My totally non-expert opinion is that it’s inflammatory, just like a lot of those other things you mentioned (gluten, sugar, grains, starch, caffeine) for everyone. Good for you for recognizing when you get run down and removing those additional inflammatory triggers!

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing this Alta! I too removed dairy from my diet when I went gluten-free. Over the past few months, I have started to reintroduce goat cheese and I seem to be okay. I still avoid all other dairy products, but I think I’m going to do an elimination diet again and see if I can notice if goat cheese affects me. The symptoms might just be very minimal.

    • altawrites says

      Alyssa – I’ve heard of other people dealing with goat cheese just fine, even if cow dairy bothers them. Me, I can’t even do goat. :( You gotta figure out whatever works best for YOUR body, right?

  4. bookladyDavina says

    I’ve opted to go mostly dairy free for myself.. (would like to go more, but am having trouble with cheese and butter.. I had started making my own shortly before going GF, and the family isn’t ready to give them up.. hehe..) however, my youngest step daughter (13) found out that she has issues with dairy just before Christmas last year. That’s really what prompted me to start looking into it. So, when she’s here, I really try to keep the house as dairy free as I can. However, she’s 13 and isn’t ready to give up the “normal” and doesn’t really believe she actually has a problem unless she drinks a ton of milk.. as far as she is concerned, cheese and butter and ice cream are all just fine. I can’t blame her, really. What 13 yr old wants to have to say no to pizza with friends and such. But we’re slowly working with her and changing what we can during her visits with us (which are sadly all too short..) and hope for the best in the future..

    • altawrites says

      bookladyDavina – Ooh, homemade cheese – I only ever made ricotta and mascarpone, so you impress me with your cheesemaking! There are definitely some things you can do at home to make foods seem “normal” for her and still be dairy-free. I hope to post about substitutions soon! Go Dairy Free (godairyfree.org) by Alisa Fleming is also a great resource.

  5. Brigitte says

    NNNNOOOOO!!! Don’t take away my cheese! You may have just confirmed what I’ve suspected for months, but I love cheese too much to accept. I haven’t been able to drink milk for years because of the symptoms you list, but I’ve told myself that cheese isn’t the same. After going gluten free, though, I’ve noticed days when my body feels like I’ve had gluten even though I’ve been careful. What I have had is cheese or ice cream. Since I’m also vegetarian, giving up cheese is cutting a whole nuther leg off my diet. I’ve not gone vegan for more than a couple weeks at a time, so I’ll give your approach a shot to answer once and for all whether I’ll have to give up my favorite food once and for all. Thanks for providing the reasoning behind it!

    • altawrites says

      Brigitte – I feel ya! I’ll soon give some thoughts on replacements for cheese and other dairy foods, but in the meanwhile, if you find that cutting it out helps, then eventually you can transition and it won’t seem so crazy hard – promise!

  6. Krissy says

    I’m so glad you posted this and that I saw it tonight! I’m going to see my doctor on Thursday because I’m having some fairly disturbing problems with digestion (and my left hand) and I was wondering if dairy might have something to do with it. I didn’t know there were milk allergy or lactose intolerance tests that you could do (any more than I knew that there were gluten tests that could be done when my alternate pcp suggested eliminating it might help!) nor did I know that the proteins were similar enough to be able to fool some peoples’ bodies. This post has been a big help, so thanks!

    • altawrites says

      Krissy – I hope your visit with your doctor went well! I had a skin prick allergy test that showed positive for milk allergies, but there are others out there too. Glad this post helped!

  7. says

    The addiction to cheese IS a little bit physical, but like you found, it’s a lot mental! Change of mindset. Glad to hear it helps you!

    Thanks for the sweet mention!!

    • altawrites says

      Alisa – you were such a big help when I decided to take the plunge to go dairy-free, so you are most welcome! Your book was so helpful for me!

  8. Lisa says

    About 2 months ago I started doing DDPYoga, after seeing Arthur Boorman’s video on Youtube. The program is great, especially for my body with multiple past injuries and a bad back. I wasn’t prepared though for his insistence that we would all feel better AND lose more weight if we dropped the gluten and dairy. I fought it at first, dairy moreso than gluten. Unfortunately his informative material on the diet plan isn’t in-depth and other than many people on the forums telling us newbies to read the book “Wheatbelly”, the suggestion to go dairy free was not explained well. Especially since it was said that we only needed to drop the cow dairy. One forum member who also has a great inspirational video out has dropped the gluten and cow-dairy and along with exercise lost a huge amount of weight. She actually has grown to like goat-milk cheeses and yogurt and such.
    I cannot stand it. Since I’m cutting out soy, too, replacements are a little harder but coconut milk products are great. I love manchego and pecorino romano, two sheep’s milk cheeses. I’ve tried a few cheeses that are blends of sheep & goat’s milk and hated both. I miss ricotta and I miss my Fage Greek Yogurt (mainly for the strawberries, I admit) but beyond that I’m mostly good so long as I can keep my Pecorino Romano.
    Yet I still cannot understand, or find much info, on why exactly cow dairy is such a big offender but sheep and goat are not.

    My life-savers for the transition: So Delicious Coconut Milk Beverage + their vanilla coffee creamer and Earth Balance soy-free; I’ve yet to find a cream sub for cooking, I tried MimicCreme but the nutty flavor is overwhelming.

    • altawrites says

      Lisa – It depends on who you ask as to whether all dairy is “bad” or not. I can’t tolerate any dairy. I think it’s more because I have issues with the protein structure (vs. those who have lactose intolerance) and the protein structures of gluten and all dairy, regardless of animal, are too similar for me and others with dairy allergies. There are others that are fine with it. I’m no expert – I just know that we all have to do what works best for our bodies.
      As for replacements, I hope to post about that soon, but there are some good soy-free ones out there. I use canned coconut milk a great deal as a sub for cream, soaked and blended cashews for soft cheeses, and sometimes Daiya and soy-free Earth Balance. There are even good non-soy-based dairy-free yogurts nowadays! Stay tuned!

  9. says

    Going dairy-free for me was WAY harder than going gluten-free, but made the biggest difference. I cut-out gluten and dairy due to debilitating migraines. Living without migraines is so worth living without cheese!


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