Food

7 Good Things That Happen to Your Body When You Cut Dairy Out of Your Diet

It might be hard to imagine your life without cheese. But it depends on what kind of life you want.

Photo Credit: Georgy Dzyura/Shutterstock

Connections to certain foods often echo human relationships. There’s that sense of familiarity and warmth that comes with biting into a combination of flavors you’ve grown familiar with over time. But just because you’ve eaten something for a long time doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for you. Cutting a food item or group out of your life can be hard. But for those who find the strength, the benefits often outweigh the costs.

There is no better example of this than dairy.

Many find it hard to imagine existence without milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. According to the USDA, each year Americans on average chow down on 36 pounds of cheese and 24 pounds of ice cream or frozen dairy products. But since 2005, those numbers have been steadily declining. According to an American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics survey cited on Prevention.com, 22 percent of Americans report they've decreased their intake of dairy foods. 

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Why? It's simple, really: health. Yes, most will associate the ill-health effects of consuming dairy with lactose intolerance. Stomach pain, cramps, bloating, and diarrhea are some of the more obvious signs of the condition. But there are others issues, including simply having flatulence. 

“After weaning, humans no longer need the ability to digest their mother’s milk,” writes Alisa Fleming, author of Go Dairy Free. Fleming explains that as we age our bodies naturally begin to lose lactase, the enzyme responsible for helping us digest lactose in dairy milk. Fleming explains that this is a “relatively new phenomenon in our evolution.”

Need more reasons to be convinced? Here are seven of them.

1. Better skin condition

Babies need to drink breast milk to help them grow. One of several chemicals that assist the growth process are “testosterone-like hormones that can stimulate oil glands in the skin,” explains a study from Dartmouth Medical School. Adult humans are not babies, and so it doesn’t take a dermatologist to know what consuming dairy could mean for skincare. As a result, cutting down on diary can drastically reduce the breakout of acne, caused by an excess of skin oil.

To get a personal take on this, read Annie Tomlin's article on XoJane, "I Gave Up Dairy and All I Got Was the Best Skin of My Life."

2. Weight

Here’s the thing: You’re not guaranteed to lose weight if you cut dairy from your diet. But done in combination with eating the right foods, it can work wonders. Registered dietitian Rebecca Blake told MyDomaine, "Dairy is a rich source of fat and protein in people's diets, and keeps you full because your body digests them more slowly.” And so, instead of replacing that with “other foods like simple carbs, which can lead to weight gain," said Blake, try eating other energy-rich sources of food like nuts, seeds, eggs, and beans instead.

3. Cancer

According to some researchers from Sweden, drinking more than a glass of milk a day can double the risk of ovarian cancer. And a Harvard study found that men who enjoyed one too many sips from the milk fount had a “34% increased risk of developing prostate cancer, compared with those who consumed little or no dairy.” The reason? Once again, we’re back to those pesky dairy hormones as the likely cause. Specifically, those that promote insulin-like growth in your blood, a hormone directly attributable to cancer cell growth.

4. Stronger bones

This might sound contrary to popular thought, but drinking less milk might actually be better for your bones. An epic 12-year Harvard study that surveyed over 78,000 female nurses found that “women consuming greater amounts of calcium from dairy foods had significantly increased risks of hip fractures, while no increase in fracture risk was observed for the same levels of calcium from nondairy sources.” To that, Fleming adds that “study and population reviews” have commonly found that “countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are also the largest consumers of dairy products.”

5. Healthier environment

You had to have seen this one coming. Like many forms of industrial farming, mass milk production is no exception when it comes to the large environmental footprint it leaves, reports the Organic Center, through greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions, and degradation of water quality caused by runoff of fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and pathogens. That’s not to mention the effect it has on soil, the report adds. All those negative environmental effects, in turn, have serious impacts on public health, including pollution-related conditions like asthma and respiratory issues, as well as exposure to dangeous pesticides that make their way into waterways.

6. Sense of smell

This is possibly one of the most immediate health benefits you may notice living a post-dairy life. One possible theory is that it has to do with a naturally occurring protein found in dairy products known as casein, which some attribute to the formation of mucus. Both Jenny Sugar, writing for Shape.com, and Go Dairy Free's Fleming swear by its effects.

7. Happiness

When you give up dairy—particularly dairy products made from industrialized factory farming—you're removing yourself from the brutally cruel cycle of dairy agriculture. According to Compassion in World Farming, "Given a natural and healthy life, cows can live for 20 years or more. High-yielding dairy cows will last for only a quarter of that time. They are often culled after three lactations or less because they are chronically lame or infertile."

The nonprofit animal welfare group also notes that the majority of dairy cows in the United States are prevented from accessing pasture all year round. Knowing that you're no longer part of the animal cruelty that is a overriding aspect of the dairy industry can give you a boost of dopamine that just might exceed the one you used to get from cheese pizza.

Changing habits you enjoy often seem pointless, until you try. Just because something is familiar, doesn’t make it essential. In the end, the only way to truly test this when it comes to dairy is to reduce your intake and witness the effects for yourself.

Have you tried to cut dairy out of your life? Share your experience in the comments.
 

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.