I have been dairy-free for 4 ½ years.
Initially, I felt frustrated and let down by my body. I didn't know why this had happened or what I had done to make this happen; I felt trapped and thought I would always be like this.
It can be challenging being dairy-free; even now, I sometimes feel very isolated. When going out for food, I always have to check the menu. Sometimes, only limited options don't include dairy.
With the growth of veganism and understanding of allergies and intolerances, more and more restaurants are offering more suitable options.
Even though there are challenges, I have learned more about food than I ever would. I am more aware of what I am putting into my body, and honestly, I get more excited about foods.
What does it mean to be dairy-free?
Dairy-free means what it says on the tin; it's free from any dairy. This milk could be cow's milk, goat's milk, or sheep's milk. Unlike lactose-free items that are usually still dairy products with the enzyme lactose added, dairy-free items are generally made from soya, oat, almond, hemp, or coconut. Those following a dairy-free diet may still eat other animal-based products, for example, meat or fish.
People may also follow a Vegan diet, which excludes all animal and fish-based products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. As well as this, vegans avoid by-products of animal culture such as gelatine. Some may favor a vegan diet for health or ethical reasons. As a vegan diet eliminates a lot of food groups, some may favour a plant-based diet instead. This option is less strict and based on foods from plants, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fruits, with little or no animal-based products.
Becoming dairy-free or vegan can be initially very daunting. For some, this may be down to health reasons; this is known as having a dairy allergy or intolerance.
Having an allergy to dairy means when you consume dairy, your body's immune response identifies the proteins found in dairy as a threat, albumin, casein, or whey. As the body cannot digest these proteins, those with a dairy allergy may experience reactions ranging from acute skin and digestive responses to more severe reactions such as anaphylaxis. When treating an allergy, the only practical way is to eliminate dairy from one's diet.
A dairy intolerance differs from an allergy as it is non-immunological. This means the sufferer cannot digest lactose found in cow's, sheep's, and goat's milk. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose when it enters our body; however, those with a dairy intolerance do not make enough of this sugar (lactase) and therefore cannot digest and break down lactose. Although an intolerance is less severe than an allergy, symptoms may appear on the skin, indigestion, or through inflammation. Everyone with a dairy intolerance differs; some may still eat dairy in small quantities without any symptoms, whereas others avoid it altogether.
People may also follow similar gluten, wheat, egg, or soy allergies or intolerances.
From infancy until age 2, the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed, given formula, or whole milk. Throughout history, human infants have always been able to digest milk; it provides babies everything needed, from digestion to brain development to protection from illnesses and viruses. It is not until more recently in our history that adults have developed the enzyme lactase to digest milk.
One huge 'myth' about dairy is its calcium properties that help grow strong bones and teeth. However, a 12-year-study wanted to test the idea that drinking milk made your bones stronger. Seventy-seven thousand women drank either 1 or 2 glasses of milk. They found that those who drank more milk had a 50% chance of getting bone fractures. Although calcium has does have some benefits, those in Asia and Africa, where milk is consumed less, are less likely to get osteoporosis.
With 65% of adults being unable to digest dairy, this can lead to many symptoms such as bloating, cramps, and an upset stomach. Probiotics or targeted symptom medication can be offered as treatment, but dairy-free can significantly reduce or eliminate these symptoms.
Dairy has been shown to increase inflammation within the body and is high in saturated fats. Cutting our dairy can also improve metabolism and help support healthy weight loss. Plant-based, dairy-free alternatives sometimes include sugars to make them sweeter; however, unsweetened options are also available and are a great alternative.
30% of younger adults are now abandoning dairy for other alternatives; health was the driving factor behind this. Scientists link dairy to numerous health conditions such as acne, cancer, and diabetes.
On the other side of the coin, people may become dairy-free for ethical reasons. As we have previously discussed, going vegan means removing all animal-based products (meat, dairy, and fish) from one's diet. Awareness of the ethical and sustainability issues surrounding dairy consumption has also led to younger adults reducing their dairy intake.
Unnatural, the dairy industry follows shocking animal welfare practices. Dairy cows are now producing 6 to 7 times more milk than they did 100 years ago. Cows are forced to make milk on average 305 days a year. Unlike dairy cows, organic cows will spend more time outside in a field, where they can graze naturally on grass, and on average, they produce 1/3 of what dairy cows do. Therefore, if you are shopping for dairy items, opt for organic.
Dairy-free products are more expensive, which is a huge downfall when choosing items in a shop, especially if you're on a tight budget. However, with most dairy-free items being manufactured ethically and sustainably to dairy, the extra charge is worth it.
The thought of not eating chocolate, pizza, ice cream, and drinking coffee can be hard, so where to start?
Nowadays, there are so many dairy alternatives.
There are a lot of great milk alternatives now available in shops, cafes, and coffee shops. There is oat, soy, almond, coconut, hemp, pea, cashew, and so many more! Starbucks has recently dropped its extra charge for plant-based kinds of milk, which is a massive step in the right direction. The great thing about the array of alternatives available is even if you suffer from a soy allergy or don't like one of the milk, you have so many more options to try. Over the past seven years, there has been a 30% increase in plant-based milk sales. A wide selection of yogurts is also available in many flavors and alternatives.
Olive oil-based, coconut-based kinds of butter. If you are a baker, you can substitute butter completely and use mashed bananas, Greek yogurt, or avocado!
Mozzarella to swiss to blue to cheddar, cheese options are second to none. The thought of not eating cheese for some is enough to sway them away from going dairy-free. Dairy-free cheese, or as some brands call it, 'cheese,' is a growing market with a lot more choice being made available!
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans. Naturally, these are very dark and bitter; adding milk makes chocolate very smooth and creamy tasting. There are many other alternatives to chocolate, with KitKat, Dairy Milk, and Galaxy bars now offering vegan-friendly options!
Ben and Jerry's and Magnum are leading the way for big brands offering dairy-free options! Many non-dairy ice creams will use soy, almond, or a coconut base. Some people are even using avocados for their dairy-free ice cream!
Having been dairy-free for four ½ years now, I have collected some of my tips for starting to be dairy-free.
Firstly, don't be afraid to try out new things! There is so much out there now than there was 4 ½ years ago; I remember trawling the aisle of my local supermarkets trying to find the 'free from' section only for me to get there and see a small selection available. I've tried almost all alternative milk; my personal favorites are Alpro My Cuppa and Oatly. Even if you don't want to go dairy-free, make a switch to your milk, or go to your local supermarket and try out a dairy-free bar of chocolate.
Follow Instagram accounts for inspiration. I follow several Instagram accounts that are helpful with inspiration for vegan and dairy-free items and where to find them. Also, they keep you up to date with the newest products available! Brands like Cadbury's, Ben & Jerry's, and Nestlé now offer vegan items! Keep an eye on your favorite brands and shops' Instagram to see what new items are in store.
Be your own chef! Although the world is becoming more dairy-free friendly and there is a lot of choice with products, it can be limited. Do you want a Lasagne? Make your own! Fancy a pizza? Make your own! Becoming dairy-free has made me a lot more aware of ingredients and what is in our food; I have gotten so used to reading the back of packets! This mindset can be exciting but disappointing when you can't find your favorite foods because they have dairy!
Although I miss chocolate, there is no better feeling than being free from dairy.
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