WEGO Health Soapbox: Why I (Mostly) Avoid Dairy

I’ve signed up for the WeGo National Health post prompts (thanks to Sassy). I won’t touch on all 30 days, but I think it’s a great way to get some (hopefully) thought-provoking posts up here.

So, for now, we take a break from running…and I step on a soapbox.


The back-story: After a lot of back-and-forth deciding what may be causing D some chronic discomfort, he finally let me play dietitian and test out a few theories. Eventually, we cut dairy and gluten from his diet – ergo, mine at home, too – and voila! Problem (mostly) solved! Just in time for the summer and his cycling season, whew.

got milk you dont need it
(Photo source)

Further back: I stopped drinking cow’s milk right after college, finally realizing I very obviously didn’t tolerate it well*. I stuck with yogurt and hard cheeses because they have little-to-no lactose thanks to the fermentation process. For the lactose-intolerant, they’re generally safe. For the dairy/milk-intolerant (often associated with the protein, not the sugar), they’re not.

*Cow’s milk is the number one cause of food allergies among infants & children.

Approximately 33% of adults are lactose-intolerant, and 75% have a decrease in lactase activity (the enzyme that breaks down lactose). These numbers significantly higher in African-, Native-, Mexican- and Asian-American populations (75 & 90% respectively).

For long-time readers, you may recall a love-affair with vegetable pizzas – homemade or a la the pizzerias of the world. After cutting out meat and poultry, it was a fun dish to be creative with and never miss the meat! When eating out, it was an easy go-to for a “vegetarian” option.

Alas, you may have noticed less pizza appearing on these pages as of late…

I’ll be  the first to admit that melted cheese leaves little to be desired in any dish. But knowing what I do now, and with all stomach discomforts left in the dust, it’s easy to avoid. And we have.

cow milk production then and now
cows milk production 2
(Photo source)

Cows treated with hormones means you’re drinking those hormones. The solution? You can opt to buy organic milks and look for packaging that clarifies something along the lines of “not treated with rBST”.

If nothing else, do this!

{There are a handful of companies responsibly producing dairy products that I’ve supported – notably, Chobani & Stoneyfield – and continue to follow for their quality initiatives, health promotion and community outreach.}


So, let’s say you’re in the minority of adults that are fully able to digest lactose and you buy organic, hormone-free milks, cheeses and yogurts…

Then, what’s the problem?

milk studies
(Photo source)

Here are a few other reasons to think about decreasing your dairy intake:

  • “In multiple, peer-reviewed animal studies, researchers discovered that they could actually turn the growth of cancer cells on and off by raising and lowering doses of casein, the main protein found in cow’s milk.”
    China Study Cheat Sheet
  • “Some of the “experts” who helped create the pyramid actually work for the dairy industry, which makes the US Department of agriculture’s {dairy} recommendations reflect industry interests, not science or our best interests.”
    “Countries with the lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.”
    Dr. Mark Hymann – Dairy: 6 Reasons you Should Avoid it
  • “Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, may worsen asthmatic symptoms…High-fat dairy products may worsen inflammation.”
    Foods to Avoid When Asthmatic
    Of note: there isn’t significant research (yet) to support this. The only testament is word-of-mouth & posts like this.
  • “…the truth is that {milk}  isn’t the only way to work toward your 1,000-a-day {recommended mg of calcium}. We gathered some of the most calcium-rich foods out there (including many vegan and vegetarian options) — just be sure to pair each of them with adequate vitamin D intake (the body needs this nutrient to absorb calcium, and milk is already fortified with it).”
    Surprisingly Calcium-rich Foods that Aren’t Milk


What are those other calcium-rich foods? Things that I would bet most of you already eat, anyway!

white bean salad bowl of kale almond trail mix

Things like: salmon, kale, almonds, white beans, oranges, dried figs, arugula, broccoli, sunflower seeds & soy products (milk, beans/edamame, tofu, etc.).

Milk-substitutes: I primarily drink Almond Milk because I prefer the taste and consume other soy products throughout the week (tofu, edamame, etc.).


I do believe in approaching all things with moderation. If you’re not up for cutting out dairy completely, just consider reducing your intake.

We’ve learned it can be frustratingly hard to completely avoid dairy – most restaurants use butter/creams in various cooking methods and sometimes  I’ll find “milk” on the allergen list of random foods like BBQ chips or dark chocolate (not okay – that’s what milk chocolate is for!). Sometimes it’s in dips, sauces, etc that I wouldn’t think of. And there are some random days when my 80/20 attitude kicks in, and that’s okay. For me.

Last week I bought organic peppermint patties at Whole Foods, and then saw “milk powder” low on the ingredient list. I didn’t care enough not to enjoy and indulge.

I’m not perfect and I would never expect anyone else to be. But, I care passionately about my health; the information here is too hard to ignore, and it’s worth mentioning that we are the only  species that drinks another animal’s milk. It’s not healthy nor environmentally responsible. Even reducing your intake – vs. eliminating it entirely – will make a difference.

“Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” – this will never steer you in the wrong direction. {Michael Pollan}


And with that, I step off my soap box!

There’s always a sensitive discussion to be had around food. I think it’s important to be open and honest, especially as a dietitian, and I hope you’re along for the ride.


Lactose Intolerance Statistics (source: National Digestive Disease Information)

China Study: 10 Things You Need to Know

Learn Stuff: Got Milk? Infographic

USDA ERS – Dairy: Background



Filed under about me, Dietitians, food, health, Nutrition

22 responses to “WEGO Health Soapbox: Why I (Mostly) Avoid Dairy

  1. You might want to specify – only canned salmon is a good source of calcium. Whole filets really are not.

    • Heather C

      Good point! The bones in fish are sometimes the best source of their calcium, and hopefully we’re not eating those…

  2. Love this- you made it so easy to understand. my husband is vegan and people never understand things like how he gets calcium and why he chooses not to eat dairy.
    I’ve cut back, making the switch to soy milk with him. But I still eat yogurt and cheese on pizza!

  3. Really great information! I can’t believe hormones make them double their production-so sad.

  4. Nice post Heather, I have to say a lot of health professionals really seem to buy right into the food pyramid without seriously considering the politics and biases that are behind it’s creation. Thanks for looking at the issue (it’s a controversial one!) with a balanced perspective.

  5. Great info here! I am admittedly a cow’s milk drinker and never gave it much thought – but you have given me plenty to mull over. Excellent post! Thanks RD!

  6. mary

    Thank you Heather. As another RD I am always trying to teach consumers/patients the value of small changes as well as the need to consider the possible political/marketing impact on government recommendations. I also have moved away from most dairy ( although I too am realistic and also addicted to a GOOD real parmeson reggiano 🙂 ) This column provides a realistic talking point.

  7. This is such a touchy subject but you handled it a professional, educational way. I’ll never forget when I was younger at elementary school someone scared us out of drinking milk and the parents flipped out.

    I really appreciate hearing all aspects – looking forward to learning more from you:)

  8. I mostly cut out dairy last year when I realized it affected my seasonal allergies (I get a lot of sinus congestion & post-nasal drip). It seems to also have eliminated what we think was rosacea that appeared suddenly and recurred for six months. I’m not super strict all the time, though. My menu is already limited as a pescetarian, so when at an event or party there aren’t always dairy-free choices … And sometimes I just need REAL pizza 🙂

  9. FANTASTIC POST!! i 100% agree with limiting dairy, but not obsessing when it’s very low on the ingredient list! Plus the non-dairy sources of milk/calcium are so delicious!! This is another great infographic on plant based sources of calcium http://myvega.com/blog/2012/plant-based-sources-calcium 🙂 xo

  10. Yeah, I stopped drinking cow’s milk for the most part with cereal as my body just didn’t feel as good as when I had almond milk. But this does make me want to buy organic for the manfriend. I also love goat cheese as an alternative to a ton of moz/cheddar. Just a little bit adds a ton of flavor.

  11. runningoutofsteam

    I am fully with you. I am already vegetarian, and I would love to be vegan. What’s stopping me? My husband and two girls aren’t veggies. We enjoy eating out once or twice a week, and I think it would be too difficult for my husband if I wouldn’t eat dairy or eggs.

    I do try to cut out milk when possible. I bought soy milk (tried to get almond but the store was out) to use with my oatmeal. Always looking for good recipes that cut out the dairy without changing the flavor or texture too much.

  12. Thanks so much for this information! I was having a lot of digestive issues in the winter and decided to cut back on my dairy consumption during the spring and have been amazed with how much better I feel.
    This information about calcium is greatly appreciated. Happy to hear I’m not alone in cutting back on dairy.

  13. Thanks for sharing – and for the great inforgraphics. I switched to almond milk recently and boy oh boy, my stomach is thanking me. Especially when I use it before workouts. The only thing I worry about is some brands seem to have tons of sugar. Do you have one or two you’d recommend?

  14. This was a great post, Heather. I’ve been toying with the idea of strictly reducing my dairy/milk intake for a few reasons. This post gave me that extra push I think, thanks!

  15. jos

    I’ve been lactose-intolerant (LI) all my life. Alternatives to milk growing up was to drink water and eating greens like spinach, broccoli and kale. I have to watch my consumption of dairy in dishes. I have tried various cheeses and some are fine while others are disastrous. As I add on miles for running ultras and marathons, I make kale/cherry/orange smoothies to increase my levels of calcium. Running outside is great since Vitamin D can increase the uptake of calcium! Great write up!

    • Heather C

      You are so knowledge about your alternatives! Love it. I can imagine it was a challenge growing up – I think now the stigma of food allergies is taking a blow, and it’s much more normal to have options, which is good!

  16. Pingback: Spiced White Bean Pumpkin Soup (Vegan, GF) | Dietitian on the Run

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