I love really, REALLY love ice cream..and cheese, and yogurt, (and all things dairy related, basically). But for years now I have seen varying opinions about dairy consumption and whether or not it is good for you. So, I decided to bite the bullet, cut it from my diet completely and see if what they say is in fact true (or a bunch of hoopla).
For some background information, last spring before I graduated college I took a Biology course on food and health in the 21st century. I went to a small liberal arts college that works on a trimester system as opposed to semesters, so my terms were only 10 weeks long. When I was looking at the syllabus on the first day of class I noticed that our professor had set aside an entire week to discuss dairy, which seemed a bit much to me (because how much was there to say about dairy, really?). I had already begun to eat clean, switched to Greek yogurt, and had [sadly] cut back on my ice cream intake, so I figured this week would be a cake walk.
We kicked off the dairy discussion with lactose intolerance, something I do not have but 5 of my classmates happened to be gifted with. I suppose I never really put much thought into what being lactose intolerant really means, because we learned that being allergic to lactose is actually normal. I thought I was genetically gifted because I could consume copious amounts of cheese and milk without the side effects my less fortunate lactose intolerant peers had, but it turns out that we are all allergic to lactose. We, as differing human beings, simply have varying levels of reaction to it.
Think about it: milk is from cows, and we are not cows but humans. Yes, when we are born we drink milk, but it is from our mothers and we stop once we reach a certain age because, well, we don’t need it anymore. Our bodies are not designed to break down lactose, and there are studies that have shown that individuals who drink milk their entire lives are actually more susceptible to bone fractures. That’s right, all that stuff about milk making your bones stronger may not be true after all! There are a many alternatives to milk for healthy, calcium rich bones, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Needless to say, all of this new information left me with a lot of questions, mainly that if I (as a human) am technically allergic to lactose, have I been having any side effects to it that I am unaware of? The only way to answer this question was to go cold turkey and see if I felt any different without it, and then again when I reintroduced it after the allotted amount of time. I do want to reiterate that everyone’s reactions to dairy will be different depending on their tolerance, but these are my findings after cutting it out for 15 days.
Yes, I still get bloated from other foods (I eat a lot of veggies), but in general my body appears far less puffy than before. I notice it mainly in my stomach of course, but I feel far less gas-filled after just 15 days without dairy. Typically everyone is their thinnest in the morning because they are dehydrated and haven’t eaten, and are their most bloated by the end of the day. Since removing dairy, however, I still appear quite thin after a day of eating and drinking water. Is this because of the loss of dairy? Since I have not altered any other part of my diet I have to believe it is!
I don’t claim to have terrible acne, but I do get it on my chin and the tops of my shoulders fairly regularly. Since removing dairy my skin feels much softer, looks a lot more dewy (is that a thing?) and yes, I have significantly less acne. The pimples I had at the start of the week cleared up faster than ever before, and none have popped up in their place. This all makes sense because dairy products contain growth hormones, fats, and sugars -none of which are good for your skin.
There had always been studies claiming that dairy makes you tired and drowsy but I never put much stock into them. Turns out, they were right! I felt far more alert in the mornings, more energized while at work, and I fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer when I stopped having dairy. This was one of the most obvious differences to me.
I already eat clean, but man oh man you don’t realize how many things have dairy in them until you can’t have it anymore! I already had switched over to almond milk, and I had yogurt in my smoothies and as a snack every once and a while but goodness, cheese is everywhere! Not having that as an option cuts out so many options, and I found myself eating even more veggies and fruits as snacks, and using alternatives in smoothies. I was already aware of what I was eating, but being forced to actively ignore dairy products made me realize just how much better I could be doing, and how much shredded cheese I ate on a regular basis.
I Am, In Fact, Allergic
By the end of the 15 day long trial I went out to dinner with my co-worker and her daughter and capped off the night with a big ‘ole apple crisp, complete with ice cream and whipped cream on top. While it tasted delicious, my stomach had never hurt so bad in my entire life. Within minutes of putting the spoon down my tummy was rumbling and cramping, and I suddenly realized light bulb it was because of the dairy.
I had never gone more than a few days without it before in my entire life, and after 15 consecutive days my body had already adjusted itself. My professor was right, I was lactose intolerant and I never even knew it. Just like how your body goes through withdrawals when quitting something cold turkey, it also goes into shock when your reintroduce it. My body hated me after that apple crisp, it was an eye opener.
If you’ve ever thought about cutting out dairy I do suggest you try it, if only to prove to yourself that you should be having less of it. I will definitely eat less now that I know how my body really feels about it, but I think it is unrealistic to say I will never eat dairy again. I want to have ice cream in the summer (and the winter, and every time in between), I will simply have less of it. If you have a dairy-based vice like cheese pizza, try eliminating all dairy except for having it on your pizza, or at the very least limit it to once and a while.
It is also true that it takes longer than a week to see the full side effects of cutting out dairy, but if I felt the difference this quickly I felt as though it was worth sharing because, well, you may only need 15 days to be able to tell what dairy does to your own body! I can only imagine how I would feel if I went a full 30 days without it and then ate that apple crisp…I probably wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale. A lot of people aren’t willing to commit to an entire month without dairy, and that’s fine!
All and all this “experiment” was really eye opening for me, and I will be much more conscious of my dairy intake from now on! If you’ve cut out dairy, let me know of your favorite alternatives. I am always looking for dairy substitutes for smoothies and such!