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Got milk? Making the dairy free transition easier.

Over the years I've practiced as a naturopathic doctor, I've worked with many people navigating dairy intolerance.

Yogurt granola and berry parfait

In my experience, it is the most common food intolerance.

Why? The simplest answer is that our bodies were built to digest human milk, as young children. And, beginning around age two, our ability to digest milk & milk products naturally declines.

While their body's have more resources to digest milk, infants and young children may have a hard time digesting other animal milks, due to the differing nutrient profiles of milks of different species:

Nutrient profile of human milk versus cow's milk and goat's milk

***Please Note: The chart above considers only nutrients. Breast milk also contains antimicrobial factors, growth factors, cytokines, anti-inflammatory factors, digestive enzymes, hormones, transporters & other biologically important compounds.

Dairy intolerance, like other foods intolerances may manifest in the gut, with constipation and/or diarrhea, gas, bloating and/or cramping. For some people, symptoms move beyond the gut to inflammation in the joints, irritation in the nervous system (sleep challenges, mood challenges, behaviour challenges - especially for children), generalized swelling, eczema, acne, menstrual challenges, chronic nasal/sinus congestion - sometimes even without any signs that the gut has been affected.

When discussing dairy alternatives with clients, I often teach them that being dairy-free also requires avoidance of other animal milks (ie: goat, sheep) along with all products made of animal milks - cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter - and those that contain animal milk products (including whey, caisein, caseinates, lactose).

The biggest concerns that arise include finding alternative sources of calcium , healthy fat (especially for young children) and protein. And, many people are also worried about feeling deprived of some of their favourite comfort foods.

Dairy Free Calcium Sources

Most diary alternatives are enriched with comparable amounts of calcium:

Also, there are a variety of other calcium rich foods:

Dairy free calcium sources

Dairy Free Healthy Fats

Healthy fats are not just found in milk alternatives like coconut milk and hemp milk. You'll find them in fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds, cold pressed olive oil and avocado.

Dairy Free Protein

If a health care provider has recommended that you avoid dairy products, and historically you've relied on cheese and yogurt for protein, remember to include other sources of protein like raw nuts & seeds, beans & lentils, hummus, fish, and naturally raised animal products (eggs, poultry, meat).  If needed, you can also consider a good quality dairy-free protein powder to combine in smoothies. There are a wide variety of products available, so ask your naturopathic doctor for specific recommendations.

Comfort Foods + Dairy Free Eating

Worried you'll be missing out on some delicious comfort foods while you're eating dairy free? There are lots of great recipes available online. This is one one of our family favourites Dairy Free (Grain Free!) Chocolate Cupcakes - they can be made without the chocolate chips or you can often find dairy-free chocolate chips in the health food section of your local grocery store.

A Note About Vitamin D

Whether you consume cow's milk products (which are fortified with vitamin D) or you are dairy-free, most people need to supplement vitamin D to ensure optimal health. This topic deserves a post all it's own but until then, explore The Vitamin D Society's research based website and talk with your naturopathic doctor about optimizing your vitamin D levels.


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