Go Dairy-Free: Wellness Challenge
Eliminate dairy products for one week
“Dairy is nature’s perfect food – but only if you are a calf.” – Mark Hyman, MD
This week’s wellness challenge is to remove dairy from your nutrition plan for seven days. Use this week to explore how you feel when you do not consume dairy products. If you feel better without dairy, continue for another week and decide whether or not you will keep this nutrition habit.
- For the next seven days, completely remove the dairy products listed in #2 from your nutrition plan.
- Foods to avoid include cow, goat and sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, half-and-half, condensed and evaporated milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, frozen yogurt, kefir, ice cream, sour cream, non-clarified butter and buttermilk.
- Eggs and grass-fed ghee (also known as clarified butter) are allowed. Regular butter is NOT allowed. Milk proteins found in non-clarified butter could impact the results of your challenge.
- Throughout the week, use this challenge as a small experiment to see how being dairy-free makes you feel, both mentally and physically. After sevens days, decide whether or not to continue this dairy-free practice for another week (or two).
Helpful tips for going dairy-free
- Use this wellness practice to cultivate awareness. Look at it as a chance to explore your health. What happens when you change a nutrition habit for a short period of time? How do you feel? What do you learn?
- Instead of focusing on what you cannot eat, think of all the things you CAN eat.
- Replace cow, goat and sheep’s milk with plant-based non-dairy alternatives. Some options are: unsweetened coconut, almond, hemp, flax, oat, macadamia and rice milks.
- If you drink black coffee, I recommend buying high quality organic coffee beans. The better the coffee source, the better the taste.
- If you normally drink coffee with cow’s milk or cream and do not want to switch to black coffee, there are some options you can try. You can substitute one of the above mentioned plant-based milks. Canned coconut milk (blended) and almond milk work well. Another option is to make bulletproof coffee with ghee and/or coconut oil. You can also enhance the flavor of your coffee by brewing it with a cinnamon stick and/or whole vanilla bean.
- Read labels every time you purchase a product and be weary of hidden sources of dairy. Avoid the following ingredients: milk, milk proteins, malted milk, whey, curds, casein, caseinates (in the form of calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium and ammonium), rennet casein, lactose, lactulous, hydrolysates, lactalbumin and lactoglobulin. At the very least, be weary of foods that seem “creamy,” “milky,” and “cheesy.”
- When cooking and baking, replace regular butter with coconut oil or ghee.
- Plan your meals. At the beginning of each week, plot your breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Keep meals simple and don’t be afraid to try new things. There are a lot of dairy-free options. Some examples include stir-fries, burgers (meat or veggie), fajitas, grilled skewers, salads, your favorite protein with roasted vegetables, chili, soup, etc. Search this dairy-free recipe database for recipe ideas.
- Increase your intake of calcium-rich foods. Consuming certain nuts, seeds and vegetables can help you meet your recommended daily allowance of calcium. Plant-based foods that contain calcium include: chia seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli rabe, broccoli, spinach, boy choy, white beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, oranges and figs. Calcium-rich seafood includes sardines (with bones), wild-caught canned salmon, caviar, clams and oysters. Another excellent source of calcium is bone broth.
- Use nutritional yeast to add a cheesy, nutty and umami (pleasant and savory) flavor to foods. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast high in vitamin B12 and protein. You can stir it into soups and sprinkle it over popcorn, eggs, veggies, rice and pasta dishes – just like you would Parmesan cheese.
- Help your body make vitamin D naturally. Spend 15-20 minutes in the sun a few times a week with your arms and legs exposed. The best time for significant sun exposure is between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Why go dairy-free?
For many, a dairy-free nutrition plan relieves symptoms connected to milk protein allergies, lactose intolerance and hormone sensitivities. Allergies, intolerances and sensitivities are linked to symptoms such as: gastrointestinal issues (gas, bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain), weight gain, mental fog, headaches, arthritis, joint pain, fatigue, eczema and acne.
- Omitting dairy from your life is a great way to experiment with a new nutrition habit. Removing dairy gives you an opportunity to see if you feel better without it.
- Dairy is an inflammatory food and hard to digest. In many of its forms, dairy can provoke an inflammatory effect in the body, and omitting it may result in a healthier and happier you.
- Casein, a protein found in dairy, causes a histamine response. This immune response can cause gastrointestinal issues, headaches and congestion and exacerbate seasonal allergies and asthma.
- Lactose, a sugar found in many dairy products, causes health issues in several people. These symptoms include bloating, abdominal cramps, gas, nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, blood sugar disruption, and an imbalance of gut bacteria.
- Natural hormones are found in all sources of dairy, including organic varieties without added hormones. Because cow dairy is sourced from pregnant cows, hormones from both the male and female involved in the reproduction experience are found in the products made from this dairy. For example, studies have shown there are over 60 hormones in one glass of hormone-free raw milk. Many of these hormones create inflammatory responses that cause skin issues like acne and eczema as well as hormonal imbalances such as elevated estrogen and testosterone levels within the body.
- Milk from conventionally raised cows often contains hormones, steroids, chemicals/pesticides, antibiotics, and inflammatory compounds that are linked to the above mentioned inflammatory symptoms as well as diseases such as cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
- When metabolized, dairy products are acid-forming. Our bodies strive for biochemical balance to keep our blood pH around 7.4. Eating excessive acid-forming foods (like dairy) can cause our bodies to overuse some of its acid-balancing mechanisms found in the bones. Alkaline calcium stored in the bones is released when our bodies are too acidic. Over time, this can lead to mineral bone loss and osteoporosis.
- It is believed that as adults, we do not need dairy for optimal health. Humans are the only species that consume milk after infancy, as well as the milk from another animal. Dairy was not consumed until after the agricultural revolution, which means that from an evolutionary perspective, dairy is not “needed” for optimal health.
Will you eliminate dairy this week?
Please share your thoughts and experiences with me.
- What do you think of this dairy-free challenge?
- When I limit dairy, my skin is clearer, my joints hurt less, my energy is higher and I feel less bloated. How do you feel when you limit or eliminate dairy from your diet?
- What are some of your favorite dairy-free tips?
- Is this a wellness practice that you will stick with after this week? Why or why not?
Past wellness challenges
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When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.