Is it dangerous to cut out dairy?

A news story recently caught my attention. The headline read ‘dairy free diets warning over risk to bone health’.

You can read the full BBC News story here.

So, what do you do if you or your children are dairy free?

Should you be concerned by this headline?

Are you setting your child up for later problems in life?

Here are the facts:

  • Calcium is a major component of bone but other nutrients are also important (i.e. vitamin d, magnesium, boron etc)
  • Dairy foods are high in calcium
  • Countries with the highest consumption of dairy foods also seem to have the highest incidence of osteoporosis
  • Countries that do not consume any dairy have a low incidence of osteoporosis

The problem is that we didn’t evolve consuming dairy foods. Despite being around for millions of years we’ve only been consuming dairy foods for a few thousand years.

We are the only mammal consuming milk after weaning and consuming another animals milk.

The digestive enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose in milk declines from age 5 years.

Cow’s milk is meant for a calf!

Bone health in prehistoric specimens have not shown any signs of degradation.

So, why would health professionals tell you to give your children plenty of milk and dairy foods?

Dairy products actually contain a lot of nutrition and provide a good source of protein, fatty acids and micronutrients.

Milk contains good levels of the following nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Vitamin B12
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus

It also contains reasonable amounts of:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B1
  • Vitamin B6
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium

This means that whole milk contains a little bit of almost everything we need.

However, there are many different types of dairy. Products like cheese, yoghurt and butter contain a different ratio of nutrients.

The nutrient composition also varies depending on what the cows ate and how they were raised, especially when it comes to the fatty components.

And there’s other animals such as goats and sheep which also provide milk and milk products under the umbrella of dairy foods.

Many people find it easier to digest goats or sheep’s milk products when compared to cow’s milk products. Goats milk contains less lactose, smaller fat molecules and doesn’t contain the protein A1. The protein, casein (A1) is difficult for many to digest making goats milk a good choice. You can now also buy cow’s milk without A1.

Goats milk is also approved for use in baby formula milk. Given the number of children being diagnosed with dairy issues this could be a very useful alternative.

Also, bear in mind that some of the nutrients (especially the fat-soluble ones) are removed during the processing of skimmed milk and low fat dairy foods. Instead these products contain more sugar which can never be a good option. For this reason, whole milk is recommended for children under 5 years.

Always choose organic dairy products due to the added hormones, antibiotics and types of feed used.

What’s the alternative?

I think we can all agree that calcium is important and it’s this nutrient that usually have us consuming dairy foods. However, what do you do if you or your child can’t tolerate it and you are faced with news stories that suggest excluding it could damage your future health?

First of all you need to know how much you actually need!

Recommended daily calcium intake: Calcium (mg):
Infant 0-12 months 525
Children 1-3 yrs. 350
Children 4-6 yrs. 450
Children 7-10 yrs. 550
Boys 11-18 yrs. 1000
Girls 11-18yrs 800
Adults 700
Pregnancy 700
Breast feeding 1250

Dairy foods and calcium content

Food: Calcium (mg):
Glass of cow’s milk 200ml 250
Glass of goat’s milk 200ml 335
Portion of cheddar cheese (30g) 210
Portion of feta cheese (30g) 108
Yoghurt (100g) 120

Dairy free sources of calcium.

Almond milk 200ml 150
Hemp milk 200ml 240
Oat milk 200ml 240
Soya milk 200ml 240
Rice milk (not for children under 5yrs) 200ml 240
   
Tinned sardines with bones 100g 460
Tofu, 100g 510
Sesame Seeds 1 tbsp. 80
Tahini 1 tbsp. 220
Dried figs, 2 no. 92
Almonds 15g (handful) 40
Blackstrap molasses 1 tbsp. 172
Oranges, 1 medium 65
Green leafy veg – average serving 100
White beans 90g serving 100
Wholemeal bread, 2 slices 40

How to boost your calcium intake

  1. Use fortified milk
  2. Eat an orange a day
  3. Add ground almonds to your breakfast
  4. Whizz green leafy veg in to any sauces (especially useful for children)
  5. Make your own snacks using blackstrap molasses instead of sugar
  6. Snack on dried fruit (in moderation)
  7. Add white beans to stews, chilli, pasta dishes
  8. Try tahini on toast with mashed banana
  9. Go meat free and enjoy a tofu stir fry
  10. Add sesame seeds to homemade cereal bars
  11. Eat foods that help calcium consumption i.e. vitamin D foods such as oily fish, eggs, mushroom, liver
  12. Take a supplement (use a good quality multi that includes vitamin D with calcium)

Summary

I prefer not to give my children cow’s milk as a drink. They both have a history of CMPA (cow’s milk protein allergy) but I personally do not feel that drinking cow’s milk is a good option. They both now consume butter, cheese and yoghurt but I limit the intake for many reasons. I ensure that as a family we have a good intake of a wide range of nutrients which I believe is key to good health and well-being.

However, if you need to exclude all dairy and have been advised to do so by a medical professional or nutritionist then make sure you are including foods to boost your calcium levels. If you have excluded this food group and need help to make sure you have the right balance of nutrients then please get in touch here.

FREE help:

For Mum’s and healthy families click here

For Fussy Eaters click here

For Weaning here

Always seek help from qualified professionals before removing a food group from your diet.

 

 

 

4 Comments
  • Katherine B
    Posted at 00:49h, 02 May Reply

    Morning Julie! Please can you point me to more reading/ the source for the information on bone health in prehistoric times? I’m fascinated with things like that (like finding where people came from and what they ate etc).

    • Julie Clark
      Posted at 15:49h, 04 May Reply

      I will find the link for you and post it up.

  • Mandy
    Posted at 10:17h, 04 May Reply

    This is so interesting – especially interested to see that some types of plant milk have almost the same level of calcium as cow’s milk!

    • Julie Clark
      Posted at 15:49h, 04 May Reply

      Hi Mandy, thank you for your comment. The plant milks are all generally fortified which is why they have a constant level of calcium.

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