Dairy: Keep It or Ditch It?

Should you or should you not be drinking milk? Is it healthy for everyone or is it inflammatory? Also, what's the difference between having a milk allergy vs a milk intolerance?

My school of thought is that milk and dairy products work for some people - but definitely not everyone and yes, they can trigger inflammation.

The term allergy is thrown around a lot these days because almost everyone is familiar with what an allergy is (for the most part at least). If you have an allergy to something, exposure to whatever it is can become life threatening. While having a food allergy is socially acceptable, having a food intolerance is less understood and is less socially acceptable. People tend to think that if something won't potentially kill you, there's no reason why you'd need to avoid that food. But repeated exposure to something you have an intolerance to can create a lot of health problems related to inflammation.


An allergic reaction happens when the body sees a substance as a foreign invader. This causes an immune system reaction with a release of histamine.

Food allergy symptoms can include: difficulty breathing, closing off of the throat, vomiting, coughing, hives or rashes, a drop in blood pressure, and swelling. These symptoms can develop almost immediately and can become life threatening!


With a food intolerance - there's gut irritation because of an inability to breakdown the specific food. In the case of milk/dairy - the inability is due to a lack of the enzyme lactase.

Unlike an allergic reaction which can happen immediately - symptoms of a food intolerance can be delayed for hours or even several days and can include: bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, nausea, gas, frequent diarrhea and/or constipation, heartburn, migraines, mood issues like depression and anxiety, muscle/joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin eruptions like cystic acne, rashes and eczema.

An intolerance to milk products is more common than an allergy. Some people don't recognize their symptoms until noticeably feeling better after strictly eliminating the culprit food for a few weeks.

Let’s continue focusing on milk/dairy specifically and explore the main components of it that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.

LACTOSE (Milk sugar)

It’s estimated that up to 65% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose-free products you can find at most grocery stores are treated with the enzyme “lactase” to break down the lactose before you consume it.

When someone doesn't have enough lactase, the lactose doesn't get broken down the way it should. Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.

In the <40% of the world’s adult population who maintain full lactase function - their intestines naturally release lactase to break down the lactose in the gut.

Did you know there's a genetic and racial component when it comes to lactose tolerance?

According to research - Swedes having the world's highest percentage of lactose tolerance! Then we have 90% of northern Europeans, 50% of Mediterranean people, 25% of African and Caribbean people, 5% of Asians, and 0% of Native Americans.

Lactose tolerance is actually called lactase persistence. "Lactase persistence is the continued activity of the lactase enzyme in adulthood. Since lactase's only function is the digestion of lactose in milk, in most mammal species, the activity of the enzyme is dramatically reduced after weaning."

Besides the genetic/racial factor, people who are lactose intolerant as adults weren't necessarily lactose intolerant their entire lives. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is caused by reduced production of the lactase enzyme after infancy.

Lactose is in all dairy but is in lower amounts in hard cheeses, fermented dairy (e.g. kefir & yogurt) and ghee (clarified butter). This is why some people have fewer issues with these types of foods but cannot drink milk.

If you find that you are absolutely intolerant - be sure to read the small print on ingredient labels. Lactose if often found in packaged foods, baked goods, soups, and sauces. Just this past week 150,000 half-gallon containers of refrigerated Almond Breeze vanilla almond milk were recalled due to a possible contamination with dairy milk! It's also important to check the small print on medications or supplements. Lactose is a common ingredient in them.


When people have a milk allergy this is typically a reaction to milk's two main proteins: casein and whey.

Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too so it's important to, again, read the small print on all labels.

Some of the symptoms of a milk protein allergy can include: nasal congestion, mucus (phlegm), sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face, or throat, hives, a rash, or red, itchy skin, coughing, wheezing, and anaphylaxis.

Interestingly, people who have Celiac or gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins (casein and whey).

If you have a concern about milk/dairy, you can try removing it from your diet for a few weeks. If you find that one or more symptoms are alleviated, try reintroducing the milk/dairy and see if that brings them back or not. If the symptoms returned - you likely have an intolerance or even an allergy.

If you decide to remove milk/dairy from your regular diet - you might be concerned with nutrition such as calcium. Some great non-dairy sources for calcium include: seeds, sardines and canned salmon with their soft bones (my favorite source!), lentils, almonds, dark leafy greens like collards, amaranth, edamame, and figs.

If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience!

I want to give you something. I LOVE ice cream but me and dairy DO NOT MIX. There are a lot of really nice brands of dairy-free ice cream on the market but the best ones are $8-$10! Besides the price point, I like knowing what I'm eating so I've been making my own ice cream (or sorbet) at home for years now. Here are 10 quick recipes for you. Homemade ice cream can be QUICK when you use frozen fruit and a food processor. I don't use anything fancy. I've been using the Ninja Master Prep Pro with the medium container since I started making my own.


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