Should You Go Dairy Free to Boost Your Healthy Aging Prospects?
These days, there are plenty of things that dieticians, health professionals and personal trainers warn us to stay away from.
Their advice is usually to not eat too many carbs, watch your salt intake, stay away from fast food, limit added sugar and eat your veggies.
All good advice, but what about dairy products? Should you avoid those, too?
For most of us, I believe the answer is yes. Here’s why.
Going Sugar-Free? Then Ditch Dairy
You probably know that milk contains lactose. Notice how that word ends in -ose? That means it’s a sugar, much like fructose, sucrose and dextrose, among others.
When I vowed to eliminate added sugar from my diet to reduce my blood glucose levels, I had a big wake-up call. Sugar, it seems, is everywhere! From that can of garbanzo beans to those savory chips to that frozen pizza to milk, cheese and – even unflavored – yogurt.
So, if you are trying to wean yourself off sugar, my first suggestion is to get rid of the dairy products in your diet. It’s a small way to eliminate one type of sugar and get your body ready to go sugar-free.
What’s in Your Dairy?
You may also find there are other things in your milk and cheese and yogurt that you might not expect. These include high levels of hormones, such as estrogen, which are linked to some forms of cancer, bioactive substances, most likely from pesticides in the animals’ feed supply, and excessive calcium – yes, that’s bad for you!
Can You Tolerate Dairy?
Another term you’ve most likely heard is “lactose intolerance.” That means your body cannot fully digest the lactose – or sugar – found naturally in dairy products.
This is actually quite common, with some estimated three million people in the U.S. affected annually. In fact, about 75 percent of people globally, past infancy, experience lactase enzyme loss. This is the key factor in lactose intolerance. Interestingly enough, the condition affects certain ethnicities more than others. Research says that while those of Asian descent are most affected, Caucasians are more apt to keep producing lactase into adulthood.
Of course, everyone is different. I’m Caucasian but found out the hard way that I don’t tolerate lactose well. While suffering through several medical tests at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, I was put on a very restricted diet.
As I began to add foods back into my daily diet, I quickly found that eating dairy products – particularly yogurt and ice cream – gave me nausea, gas, bloating and diarrhea; all common symptoms of lactose intolerance. There was one night when I felt the urge to binge on a tub of ice cream and… well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
I can eat small amounts of dairy; hard cheeses, like aged cheddar, and goat’s milk cheeses are best as far as digestion. But I try to refrain altogether for the sake of my overall health. Instead, I opt for lactose-free cheese products, which can be found in most grocery stores in the produce department.
No, they don’t melt as well as goat or cow milk cheeses and don’t have the same mouth-feel, but if you are a “cheese head” who can’t tolerate the dairy version, lactose-free products are a fairly tasty substitution.
What about Calcium and Vitamin D?
You may be eating and drinking dairy products because you think they are the best sources of calcium and vitamin D. But the truth is that you can get this vitamin and mineral from other sources – and many times in easier-to-absorb doses.
Calcium is found in broccoli; leafy greens like collards, bok choy and kale; oranges; canned salmon and sardines; and baked beans. Vitamin D can be supplied by eggs, liver, salmon, kale and sunshine.
Did you notice that kale is on both of these lists? That’s one reason I classify it as a “super food” in my latest book, Super Foods and Super Recipes.
Tip: To increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as D, eat vitamin D-rich foods with a healthy source of fat, such as avocados, coconut oil, olive oil or nuts.
The Case Against Dairy
There is growing evidence that not only are we likely to develop an intolerance for dairy, we really don’t need it to prevent osteoporosis as we age. And calcium, which we’ve been led to believe is quite beneficial for our bone health, can actually be harmful in high doses. Add to these facts that the lactose in dairy products, as previously stated, is a sugar – and we know that sugar is neither necessary nor beneficial for the body.
If you feel that you may be lactose intolerant, or you simply want to avoid the bad stuff often found in dairy products, try cutting it out of your diet completely for about two weeks. Then add it back in, a small amount at a time. Keep a journal so you can track the changes to your body when you begin eating dairy products again.
If you can tolerate it, great, but do opt for organic varieties if at all possible. And if you find that dairy causes unwelcome symptoms, then join me and many others who have eliminated it, and even lost weight doing so!
Have you given up or cut back on dairy products? If so, what’s your favorite non-dairy substitute or recipe? Are you also trying to cut sugar out of your diet? Please share your healthy aging tips and suggestions in the comments.
Candy Morehouse is the founder of Candy’s Sweet Life, a blog devoted to recipes for better health and a more natural lifestyle. Candy is an author, writer and podcaster who’s passionate about helping others eat more nutritiously and enjoy the best health of their lives at any age.