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What you need to know about dairy-free diets

January 09, 2018

Dairy-free diets seem to be popping up everywhere, including on celebrity websites and in diet books and blogs. Is going dairy-free just a harmless fad, or can there be serious health consequences, especially for children and young adults?

As a mom, grandmother and dietitian, I was concerned to learn that six out of ten moms have tried or are currently restricting their dairy intake, according to a new survey from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). Some are even limiting their children’s consumption of dairy foods.

According to social media conversations about dairy-free diets, moms and others are going dairy-free for a variety of personal reasons, including:

  • Wanting to try something new, sometimes on the advice of celebrities who attributed their health or appearance to a dairy-free eating plan.
  • Concern about animal welfare or strong-held beliefs against eating animal-based foods.
  • Seeking relief from health issues. For example, some parents of children with chronic constipation, autism or developmental delays tried eliminating dairy, gluten or soy.

As a health and wellness professional, you may have clients in these situations or faced some of these challenges yourself. You can help guide people to sources of credible information, clear up misperceptions and help them make sound health decisions in collaboration with their doctor.

As you talk to clients, family or friends, here are a few things to consider:

  • There are health reasons, such as a diagnosed milk protein allergy, for cutting dairy foods from the diet. When a person removes dairy or any food group from their eating plan, they may be missing out on important nutrients.
  • People who go dairy-free may reach for non-dairy alternatives made from coconut, almond, rice or other plant sources. However, non-dairy beverages may not have the same nutrition as cow’s milk and vary by brand.
  • Lifestyle factors, such as getting enough physical activity and consuming enough calcium, vitamin D and dairy foods, are important to support children’s bone health. These were the conclusions of a joint scientific statement of the NOF and the American Society for Nutrition. A diet that lacks bone-building nutrients and inadequate physical activity during the growing years may make children more vulnerable to breaking a bone or developing osteoporosis as an adult.
  • Among Americans over the age of 2, milk is, on average, the top food source of calcium, vitamin D and potassium – three of the four nutrients Americans don’t eat enough of.

People have choices in what foods they eat or don’t eat. But it’s important to consider what nutrients might be missing when eliminating dairy foods. Those choosing to eat dairy foods can have confidence that dairy foods provide a simple, wholesome and affordable way to get the protein and other key nutrients they need. 


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