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It’s no secret that dairy can cause inflammation in the body, which can trigger eczema, chronic ear infections, asthma, and a host of other health conditions. Do a quick search and you’ll find article after article about how milk, yogurt, and cheese have all played havoc on our bodies. You can read here about my friend Selena’s battle with her health and how removing dairy from her diet really changed the game. I have another friend that suffered from cystic acne who after removing dairy, for the first time in her life has clear skin. When I added ghee (butter with milk proteins removed)to my diet I developed severe heart burn and chronic phlegm – a sign of inflammation. My son’s asthma flared with ghee as well.
Now, all that being said, it’s difficult to label dairy as the enemy for a few reasons.
1) The dairy industry did an excellent job of marketing over the years. Do you remember the “Milk, It Does Your Body Good,” campaign?
2) We are told again and again how important calcium is in our diets and especially for our growing children. And since whole cow’s milk contains abundant levels of calcium and is also high in fat, which is also important for our children’s development, our culture has adopted cow’s dairy as a critical part of our lives and a necessity in our children’s diet. Trying to debate the health aspects of milk with just about anyone simply doesn’t work. They look at you as if you’ve grown another head. I know, this is how my sister-in-law reacted.
3) Then there are the health renegades who believe that local, pastured cows produce healthy, nourishing milk that for some can actually improve their health. The GAPS diet follows this philosophy along with several others. We did attempt to add ghee, as noted above, to our diet when on GAPS, but it was not the solution for us. Though I do know of many people who simply thrive on healthy dairy.
I certainly don’t believe milk does everyone’s body good and in many cases it can be quite hurtful, particularly when we’re talking about allergies to cow’s milk or other types of dairy, which is becoming very prevalent. Only you can decide if dairy is good for you or your child. If you or your child have any chronic health concerns where inflammation may be to blame, I recommend you remove it from your diet for four weeks or more and see how you feel. I recommend doing this for children with health concerns as well, but only under a physician’s or nutritionist’s supervision. Once you’ve been 100% dairy free, no cheating, no cross contamination, see how you feel. If you feel better, GREAT! Once dairy has been eliminated from the diet for six months or more, it is often safe (not for allergies) to introduce organic dairy products back into the diet for the occasional treat.
I know what you’re thinking – “Eliminate dairy?! Are you crazy?” Nope, not the last time I checked. Although my husband may beg to differ. Eliminating dairy is pretty easy these days. There are so many tasty substitutions, which are what I recommend at first to make the initial elimination of dairy as easy and as painless as possible. Down the road, if you decide to eliminate dairy permanently, I recommend looking into making your own nut or coconut milks and doing a lot more from scratch cooking, which is where my family is now. It’s best to move as far away from processed food as possible. Who needs all those extra ingredients with names that only belong in science journals. Once you’re more open to healthier options, check out one of my favorite recipe sources Nourishing Meals. Anyway, I can remember my first weeks as a dairy free cook and I was grateful for having a stocked pantry full of substitutions so I didn’t have to shock my family with all new recipes on top of the stress of going dairy free.
Here are some of our family’s favorite dairy-free substitutions:
- Milk- Most store shelves are well stocked with dairy-free milk, but some are healthier than others. Check out Amazing & Atopic’s guide to non-dairy milks to make the best nutritional choice. Something to keep in mind when choosing a milk replacement is the amount of added sugar. Try to stick to the Unsweeteend varieties if you can. Original, Vanilla, and other flavors have tons of added sugar that you should stay away from. If you absolutely cannot stand the taste of Unsweetened dairy-free milk, keep a flavor on hand to mix with the Unsweetened. This will keep the sugar down. You can try to gradually add less and less of the flavored milk over time. A great trick to try on your children as well. When baking, keep in mind that almost every recipe that calls for milk can be subbed with water. I do this all the time and never notice a difference. Coconut milk in the can is a great sub in baked goods and cooking in general. Try to find cans that are BPA free like those from Native forest.
- Daiya cheese isn’t too bad. It is by far the best of the dairy free cheese subs on the market. But it’s still not good enough to eat alone, nor is it a good source of nutrition. They make shredded and slice cheese and a new cream cheese as well. If you absolutely cannot live without the idea of cheese on our pizza, give Daiya a try.
- Earth’s Balance Soy Free Spread is a good butter/margarine sub and it’s GMO free! I use it for making frosting, but used to use it for most baking. Healthier yet is virgin coconut oil, not great for frosting, but amazing for pan frying and baked goods.
- Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream is to die for! It’s made with coconut milk and agave as sweetener. Mint chocolate chip and their dark chocolate – OMG! All flavors are outstanding!
- So Delicious makes an almond yogurt and a coconut milk yogurt, which are pretty tasty.
- Whole Soy makes an organic (very important as it means it’s GMO free) soy yogurt, but I don’t recommend it as a staple in the diet for various health reasons.
Lastly, go to your local health food store, something like Whole Foods, find the customer service desk and ask for someone to help you discover all the exciting dairy free options they have in store. Someone will be more than happy to give you a tour around and in no time you’ll find your own favorite dairy free products. Trader Joe’s even has a pretty decent dairy free selection to check out.
***** It is critical that you stock your pantry with dairy free items before going dairy free. If you don’t, a craving may strike and in desperation you’ll reach for your favorite dairy laden cookie if you don’t have a dairy free version on hand. Being prepared is key!