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Why would anyone choose
a dairy free diet?

Americans love cheese, ice cream, milk, and yogurt. A dairy free diet sounds extreme, even to many vegetarians. They understand the reasons for avoiding meat, but dairy products seem to be healthy, maybe even essential. Everyone believes we need dairy products for calcium.

Yet the truth is that dairy products are linked with dozens of health problems, both major and minor.

John McDougall, MD says that the most important dietary change a person can make to improve their health is to follow a dairy free diet.

Read these milk facts to understand why he says this.

So why do people cling to dairy products so desperately? Because they have been brainwashed.

Dairy industry brainwashing

The dairy industry has been distributing "educational" materials to schools since the early 1920's.

Cash-strapped teachers are grateful for the free posters and pamphlets. Children love the colorful interactive materials.

In many schools, milk is the required beverage with cafeteria lunches.

Every five years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 2010 MyPyramid poster in the guidelines tells Americans to drink 3 cups of milk per day (2 cups for children age 2 - 8).

a dairy free diet omits milkMore than half the members of the advisory board that creates the guidelines have close ties to the dairy industry. And as with the tobacco industry, their goal is to promote their products, not to protect public health.

Also, the U.S. dairy industry has a huge advertising budget. When we turn on the TV or open a magazine, we see attractive models and celebrities wearing silly milk mustaches.

They tell us to drink milk. It reinforces our childhood conditioning. We believe that milk is good. We maintain our emotional attachment to dairy products. The brainwashing works.

The typical American consumes nearly two pounds of milk, cheese, and butter a day. That is six hundred pounds of dairy products per person per year. However, the American obsession with dairy products is somewhat unusual. Billions of people around the world naturally follow a dairy free diet. Many of them are lactose intolerant.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in cow's milk and human breast milk. Children produce the enzyme lactase from birth to digest their mother's milk. World wide, three-quarters of humans stop producing it around the age of four. This varies by racial group, as the chart below shows:

Race Lactose intolerance
Asian 85 - 100%
African-American 75%
Hispanic 50%
Native American 50%
American Caucasian 25%

When people who are lactose-intolerant drink milk, they suffer from abdominal cramping, gas, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating. Milk is obviously not a perfect food if it makes so many people sick. When lactose intolerant people understand the connection between milk and their misery, they usually follow a milk free diet.

If so many people around the world (and in the U.S.) survive and thrive on a dairy-free diet, we clearly don't have to panic about giving up dairy. Our biggest challenge will be finding the hidden dairy products that lurk in so many of our foods.

Hidden dairy products

The easiest way to avoid hidden dairy products is to eat whole plant foods in their natural form: vegetables, fruits, beans, intact whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 

When you buy packaged foods:
  • Read nutrition labels carefully. Look for obvious dairy products like milk, butter, cheese, ice cream, cream, sour cream, and yogurt. This includes skim milk, milk powder, butterfat, buttermilk, kefir, lassi, whey, and most margarines.

  • Check for any ingredient that contains the word casein, such as sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, or casein. Casein is the main protein in cows milk. Many soy cheeses contain casein.

  • Beware of lactose and galactose, which are milk sugars.
If you have been using a lot of dairy products, you may wonder how you can switch to a dairy free diet. What about dairy substitutes?

Dairy substitutes

Although there are vegan substitutes for most dairy products, many of them are highly processed foods. See our page on vegan foods to learn about soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, soy yogurt, soy cheese, soy ice cream, and other vegan ice cream substitutes.
Uncheese cookbook for a dairy free diet
If you crave cheese, get a copy of The Ultimate UnCheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. She has many delicious and creative recipes to make your dairy free diet interesting.

You may want to use dairy substitutes occasionally, but it is better to re-educate your tastes to like simple plant foods. Instead of soy milk, we eat our oatmeal with no milk at all. The oatmeal stays hot that way, and we love it.

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