Dairy foods are high in calcium and vitamin D, but do you really need dairy? No. You do need calcium and vitamin D, but the possible dairy risks--which include saturated fat and cholesterol content, possible cancer risk, undiagnosed lactose intolerance, and evidence that dairy foods are not as helpful in bone health as reputed--outweigh the benefits.
The Potential Health Risks of Dairy
It is recognized in the clinical world that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol can increase cardiovascular and metabolic risk. Dairy products contain saturated fat and cholesterol. Even in non-fat forms, dairy can supply cholesterol.
Although more evidence is needed, studies have suggested dairy products may be linked to some ovarian cancer due to lactose, breast cancer due to estrogens, and prostate cancer due to a compound called insulin-like growth factor.
Does Lactose Cause Fatigue?
Lactose intolerance, another concern of dairy products, is common and commonly overlooked as a cause for bloat which leads to fatigue. Lactose intolerance refers to not enough lactase, an enzyme in your digestive tract which digests lactose. Oftentimes clients will report that they feel better after cutting out dairy from their diet. It is an overlooked dietary issue that when tackled, can benefit you by helping you feel more energized because you feel more comfortable, less bloated, and not weighed down.
The Bone Health Claim
Diets high in phosphorus and animal protein can lead to calcium leeching from the bones. Interestingly dairy foods, touted as a good source of calcium such as milk, yogurt, ice cream, and cheese, are also high in phosphorus and animal protein. If the phosphorus in your blood is high, calcium blood levels need to match. If your diet is too high in animal protein, there is a rise in the acidity of your blood and your blood needs calcium buffering to maintain pH balance. In both cases your blood may pull calcium from your bones.
It is not hard for most people to consume enough calcium and vitamin D in one day from non-dairy sources.
Non-dairy sources of calcium include almonds and other nuts, seaweed, seeds, figs, white beans, tofu, and dark green vegetables. Actually the calcium in low-oxalate vegetables such as kale, broccoli, turnips and collard greens may be better absorbed than the calcium in milk.
As for non-dairy sources of vitamin D, if you are in the sun for 30 minutes or more daily, you probably are getting sufficient vitamin D, but note skin pigment and other factors affect vitamin D absorption. Some foods containing vitamin D include cold-water fish, shitake mushrooms, and fortified cereals.
Until further studies arise, it may benefit you to experiment on your own body and see how you feel after a week without dairy.
Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition, and expected Certified Diabetes Educator (C.D.E.) fall 2013. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.