Giving up dairy can be a big lifestyle change. However, if you're looking to boost your health — without sacrificing flavor — then we've got some great news: It's easier than you think.
A dairy-free diet can help combat digestive issues that may be causing several symptoms, including bloating, gas, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal discomforts.
Giving up dairy (or even reducing consumption) can positively impact the environment. Not only will it reduce global methane emissions, but cooler climates will prevent heat stress for cows.
Not consuming dairy (especially skim milk) can be the cause or play a big part in clearing up your skin due to the hormones and sugar in certain products.
With our modern innovations like plant-based cheeses and lactose-free ice creams, we have healthier options, which also come with a long list of benefits. You won’t even know what you’re missing. Our list of positive impacts of adhering to a dairy-free diet will make you wish you had started years ago.
1. Improve bone health
Our parents taught us as kids to drink milk to grow healthy bones and maintain good bone health. While this is partly true, it doesn't need to come from dairy.
There are several ways to get our daily recommended amounts of nutrients to prevent diseases like osteoporosis (the deterioration or low bone mass that can cause our bones to become weak and brittle over time).
Along with calcium, we also need potassium and magnesium to maintain optimal bone health. A few alternative ways to achieve this is with dark, leafy greens such as kale that are loaded with nutrients. Additionally, soy products also contain large amounts of calcium. For example, one serving of soybeans can supplement as much as 30% of our daily recommendation. Other foods like oily fish, nuts, and beans also provide calcium to support healthy bones.
2. Better mental health
Casein and lactose are two ingredients in dairy products that can contribute to inflammation in the body and brain. A study conducted at Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences looked at the relationship between anger expressions (hostility, irritability, and aggressive behavior) and their relation to certain foods. The study's results revealed a significant negative correlation between consuming dairy products and anger. Dairy has also been known to increase depression, anxiety, stress, and poorer memory function in some individuals.
3. Increase your energy
Certain dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, are naturally high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid used to create melatonin and serotonin in the body, both of which make us relaxed and sleepy. However, unfortunately, dairy also causes inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads the body into a state of constant stress. As we've all experienced stress, we know how much damage it can do to our bodies. It can leave us feeling weak, exhausted, and rundown.
4. Improves digestion issues
If you have digestive issues, you're not alone. Researchers estimate that approximately 68% of the world's population has lactose malabsorption (the enzyme needed to digest cow's milk properly).
Lactose intolerance is quite common and can cause many symptoms, including gas and bloating, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastrointestinal discomfort, and cramping.
Unsure if you're lactose intolerant? If you experience any of these symptoms, try giving up dairy for a few weeks and see how much better you feel.
5. Improves skin
Having clear skin and, even more importantly, maintaining clear skin can be tricky. One of the biggest factors that dermatologists recommend looking at is diet to see which foods could be the cause of irritation, inflammation, and acne.
Researchers found that skim milk consumption is one of the biggest culprits of acne and uneven skin tone (rosacea). More specifically, it's the whey protein that's found in skim milk to be the problem. In addition, though we don’t often think about it, when we eat dairy, we consume any hormone cows consume. Just like we go through puberty, hormones can cause acne, so consuming cow's milk that contains hormones does the same.
Another factor many forget about is the sugar in skim milk. Sugar is a huge cause of acne and can also contribute to other skin problems.
6. Reduces inflammation
Dairy's relation to reducing inflammation can confuse as there have been both pros and cons on the topic. A case study looked at the correlation between dairy and inflammation, finding that dairy can help reduce inflammation. Their results show, "An emerging body of evidence indicates that consuming certain foods, including dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt, may be linked to a decreased risk for inflammation."
On the other hand, giving up dairy can have an (indirect) positive impact on inflammation, reducing it from several sources. Too much dairy, however, is known to cause problems, including bloating and weight gain. For example, higher-fat dairy products are considered inflammatory foods because of the higher levels of saturated fat.
7. Weight loss
Even unsweetened dairy products like milk and yogurts can lead to weight gain. Lactose is a natural sugar that can lead to weight gain with high consumption. In addition to natural sugars, there is a concern about full-fat dairy products. Full-fat products often have less natural sugar, but they often come with more saturated fat, resulting in weight gain more quickly.
Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, suggests switching to plant-based milk. "Switching to unsweetened almond milk can reduce calorie intake and lead to weight loss," she says. "Unsweetened almond milk contains only 30 calories per cup. Even if someone was previously using skim milk, the calorie savings add up! Skim milk has 90 calories per cup; that's a 60-calorie difference. For someone who drinks three cups of milk per day, that one change creates a 180-calorie deficit."
8. Reduce negative environmental impact
All of the dairy we consume as humans are taking a massive toll on the environment. Worldwide, over one billion cows we use to source dairy products are responsible for about 40% of global methane emissions. This is a devastating factor that severely contributes to our global warming crisis.
Furthermore, dairy cattle are highly susceptible to heat stress. When heat stress occurs, it can reduce milk production by up to 53%. By cutting back on dairy (or giving it up completely!), together as a society, we can make a huge positive impact on our environment and help slow global warming.
If you're looking for a way to improve your health, cutting out dairy is worth a try. Unfortunately, health correlations with dairy don't have one simple answer for everyone. Everyone's body is created differently and will react to dairy in their way. If the thought of a completely dairy-free diet is too overwhelming, try cutting back on regular dairy and see if that makes a difference. You might be surprised by the positive health benefits and end up going completely dairy-free!