By Catriona Harvey-Jenner
Most nutritionists wouldn’t recommend giving up an entire food group unless you have very good reason to; like an allergy, for example. That’s because each group provides different, vital nutrients and energy to enable our bodies to work properly.
But in the event that you don’t have much choice but to give up dairy, you might well notice some changes to your body. Frida Harju-Westman, in-house nutritionist at health app Lifesum explains what they might be and why…
- You might not get as many headaches
It’s all to do with a natural chemical that’s often found in cheeses, tyramine, which can for some people contribute to the onset of migraines and headaches. “If you suffer regularly from these then you may find that cutting dairy items such as cheese, from your diet, has a positive effect on this,” suggests Frida.
You might not be so lucky, though. “Dairy products contain the important vitamin B2, and a deficiency of this vitamin is also associated with the possible side effect of migraines,” the nutritionist points out. If you do decide to go dairy-free, make sure you don’t become deficient in B2 by eating plenty of mushrooms, almonds and spinach, all of which contain a considerable amount of it.
- You might become less bloated
You might not have an officially diagnosed lactose intolerance, but according to the US National library of Medicine, 65% of the world’s population actually has difficulty digesting milk. “This is due to the fact that many people lack lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest cow’s milk,” explains Frida. “If you cut out dairy, you may find that your digestion improves, perhaps making you feel less bloated,” the nutritionist suggests. But just as before, there’s every chance it could go the other way. “It’s also possible that cutting out dairy may cause you to feel more bloated, as your body reacts to the change in diet,” she adds.
- Your gut health can suffer
Improved digestion is one thing, but that doesn’t guarantee the health of your gut will get any better if you cut out dairy. Frida explains why: “Your digestive tract contains many different types of bacteria, both good and bad. Dairy products such as natural Greek yogurt and Kefir are packed with good bacterias and probiotics which help to improve your gut health. If you go dairy-free, then it’s important to replace your natural yogurt with a dairy-free option that still contains live active cultures, and you should perhaps consider taking probiotic tablets in order to help keep the gut stable.”
- You can miss out on essential nutrients
Just like protein, fats and carbohydrates, dairy can be an essential component of a healthy diet. “Dairy products tend to be rich in important nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, so if you decide to eliminate this food group from your diet, then you need to ensure you do not miss out on your intake of these essential nutrients,” says Frida. “Be sure to eat fatty fish such as sardines, which are a good source of calcium, as well as certain plant-based milks which are often fortified with vitamin D and calcium.”
- You can get sick more easily
“When you stop eating dairy, you might find that your immune system becomes considerably weaker,” the nutritionist highlights. Explaining why, she says: “This may because you are lacking the important vitamin B12. B12 is commonly found in dairy products and assists in regulating the immune system and helping the body to fight bacteria.
“If you lack B12 you may find that you feel weaker and may pick up unwanted illnesses more easily, so be sure to combat this deficiency by eating foods that are fortified with this vitamin, or consult your doctor about whether to take a B12 supplement,” Frida adds.
- Your skin can improve
It’s quite widely known that cutting out dairy can improve a person’s skin. “Cow’s milk often contains hormones, which may react to the hormones in your own body and lead to an increase in the production of sebum in your skin, responsible for clogging your pores,” explains Frida. “As a result you may find that cutting dairy out of your diet improves the look and feel of your skin.”
But as a word of warning, the nutritionist adds: “However, remember that a good diet is essential to maintaining good skin and preventing outbreaks, so it’s important to ensure you eat a healthy balanced diet containing plenty of nutrients.”
- You might have more energy
“It’s easy to fall into a habit of regularly eating unhealthy, dairy rich foods such as creamy pasta, cheese and pizza,” says Frida. “When you give up dairy, you may find that you begin to think more carefully about the foods you eat. For example, in order to combat the lack of calcium in your diet traditionally gained from consuming dairy products, you will likely replace these with other calcium rich foods such as spinach, kale and white beans. Eating vitamin rich foods such as this may well lead to having more energy as your diet becomes packed with more nutrients,” she explains.
- Your moods can become more stable
“Due to the high number of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone found in cow’s milk, when you consume dairy your body takes in these hormones as a bi-product,” says the nutritionist. “These additional hormones, when mixed with your own, may cause mood swings that you might find are alleviated when you cut out dairy from your diet.”
- You can experience a withdrawal period
If your body is used to consuming dairy, then you should expect that you might experience withdrawal symptoms if you cut the entire food group out of your diet. This, Frida explains, is your body “reacting to the dietary changes. You may find that you are more tired than normal and may even have trouble sleeping,” she notes.
- Your body can lack protein
“An important macronutrient you gain from dairy is protein, which is essential for building muscles and helping your organs and bones to correctly function,” explains the expert. “While other foods can provide your necessary intake of protein, you may find if you decide to go dairy-free that you need to pay closer attention to this. Try to make a point to eat more protein-rich foods such as quinoa and almonds.”