If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this question…. I’d have lots of dollars!!!!
It is most definitely becoming more and more common for many people to find that dairy doesn’t quite agree with them. The thing I find in clinic though, is that many people are a bit confused, or even unaware, that dairy can affect our systems in many ways.
One of the most common issues people have is with their digestive system. When this is the case, most people jump straight to the conclusion that lactose is the culprit! Lactose is the sugar or carbohydrate component found in most animal milks, even human breast milk. The lactose plays a really crucial role in providing new babies (of all species) with plenty of energy for all the growing they need to do! So, as infants we generally have good levels of the digestive enzyme ‘lactase’ and can, therefore, breakdown the lactose more easily. As we get older, we generally don’t produce as much of this enzyme, instead our clever digestive system starts producing higher levels of other enzymes such as protease, amylase and lipase to help us breakdown proteins, fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and fats as we progress from breast milk to solid foods… Mother Nature didn’t realise that we would decide to keep drinking another animals milk as we got older, so she didn’t realise we needed to keep producing large amounts of the enzyme lactase to break down all that lactose in cows milk!!
If your body doesn’t produce enough lactase, the lactose from the cows dairy can ferment and often create gas, bloating and often quite urgent trips to the loo!
Everybody is different, and will produce different amounts of the lactase enzyme, therefore everyone’s level or amount of dairy they can tolerate varies.
Some can’t tolerate any at all, while others have no problem.
Apart from the lactose though, there are also very specific proteins in cows milk such as casein and whey that are designed to help a baby calf grow big and strong! These proteins can also be very difficult for our digestive system to break down.
Did you know that cows have FOUR STOMACH chambers!!?!? Yes, that’s right, FOUR!!
So these proteins are designed to be broken down via 4 stomach chambers before they are ready to enter the intestinal tract and be absorbed and used by the body. So it kinda makes a bit of sense now that us humans, with only one stomach chamber, might find this a little tricky huh!?!
This can also result in an upset tummy! But as well as this, our immune cells in our digestive tract can sometimes be triggered off by these larger proteins. There is strong research linking this immune response to inflammatory conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and other skin conditions, asthma, hayfever, allergies, and even auto immune conditions.
This is not all that surprising when we remember that up to 80% of our immune system is located in our GUT! On top of all of this, many people find that dairy can be problematic for their skin (hello pimples!) and it can also be quite mucus forming, enhancing phlegm production. Adding to this, some just choose to avoid dairy for ethical reasons.
For those of you who need to look for dairy alternatives, my top tip is to make sure the product you’re choosing is not full of sugar, binders, emulsifyers or artificial flavours or preservatives!!
Thankfully there are plenty of alternatives available. With all of our modern technology, they have now figured out how to milk an almond!
Almond mylk, coconut mylk and coconut yoghurt are definitely my favourite dairy alternatives.. but it is so important that you look for unsweetened varieties, and check the ingredient list to make sure there are no hidden nasties! Make sure you read the labels people!!
For those of you who can tolerate dairy, I recommend opting for the best quality whole organic versions you can get your hands on. Avoid skim or low fat, this is code for ‘full of rubbish’!! Plus one of the super crucial nutrients needed for calcium absorption is vitamin D! Vitamin D is a ‘fat soluble’ vitamin, therefore it needs to live in fat. If you take the fat out of the dairy you also take the fat soluble nutrients like vitamin D! Therefore, you won’t be absorbing the calcium optimally.
Fermented dairy options like fetta, good quality yoghurt and kefir are also generally more easily absorbed and better tolerated
BUT HOW WILL I GET ENOUGH CALCIUM!?? Another question I get asked ALOT!!
If you are needing to reduce or avoid dairy for any reason, it is important to make sure you are getting enough calcium. There is no argument that dairy contains good levels of calcium, so it should, it is designed to help a baby calf grow into a huge 4 legged beast; they need lots of calcium!!
But do not worry if this option is off the table for you, there are many other ways to get your calcium in! You just have to put a little more effort and thought into it.
Some of the top non-dairy calcium rich foods include sesame seeds, chia seeds, almonds, figs, oranges, green leafy veggies, broccoli, kelp, organic tofu, beans, tinned salmon and sardines. My favourite way of boosting my calcium intake is to top my steamed veggies, stirfry’s, salads or even soups with a sprinkle of sesame seeds at lunch and/or dinner each day. I basically sprinkle whole sesame seeds or a nice drizzle of tahini on most of my main meals! Super easy.. and super delicious.
Always keep in mind that vitamin D and magnesium are really important for calcium absorption and metabolism. Luckily the food mentioned above are also quite good sources of these nutrients… plus, a nice healthy and safe dose of beautiful sunshine for a some extra vitamin D, never goes astray!
P.S. For more info on tips for choosing dairy alternatives and getting enough calcium, check out my “Wellness Tip” segments on episodes 5 & 6 of Channel 9’s ‘Destination Happiness’. They’ve just gone to air over the last 2 weeks! Catch up any time on www.9now.com.au/destination-happiness