Should you cut dairy?

Should you cut dairy? Is it healthier?  How can it be done safely?

Recent reports from the National Osteoporosis Society show that many people are cutting dairy from their diets in the belief that it is healthier.

The charity surveyed 2,000 adults, including 239 under the age of 25 and 339 aged 25-35. It was found that a fifth of under-25s are cutting out or reducing dairy in their diet possibly as a result of many health bloggers, claims of better skin or ethical issues.

A survey by the Food Standards Agency found that nearly half of 16-24 year olds believed they had an intolerance to cow’s milk and dairy products, compared to just 8% of over-75s. Yet only 24% had actually had their condition diagnosed by a doctor.

The difference between intolerance and allergy:

Dairy intolerance is the bodys inability to digest the sugar lactose and can lead to symptoms such as nausea, stomach cramp and diarrhoea.
The severity of the symptoms depends on the individual.  Some people will produce enough lactase enzymes to consume a glass of milk with no problems, some people will able to manage much less.

In contrast dairy allergy is caused by a reaction by the immune system in response to the dairy.  Symptoms include a rash, wheezing and itching and can be triggered by minute amounts.

Deciding to avoid dairy under the belief that an individual has an intolerance is not inherently dangerous.  The biggest problem with avoiding dairy is that it is one of the main sources of calcium in the public diet.  However, there are many dairy free alternatives, as long as adequate amounts are consumed deficiency can be avoided.

How much calcium do you need a day?

For adults, 700mg of calcium per day is recommended but boys and girls between 11 and 18 need up to 1000mg.

However, a quarter of teenagers in the UK are thought to consume less than the minimum 400mg of calcium every day, dietary surveys suggest.

Cow’s milk is the great source, but soya and almond milk may also contain calcium if they are fortified.   Other sources include vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and white flour products.  For example, 45g of Cheddar will yield 378mg of calcium.  In contrast 100g tinned sardines will contain 550mg. Other alternatives include a 200ml glass of Alpro Ca-enriched soya milk containing 240mg or 90g spinach containing 144mg.

There’s no evidence to suggest that avoiding dairy is beneficial unless there is confirmed intolerance or allergy.  Dairy may be avoided in order to reduce weight. Obtaining calcium from vegan sources may help in weight management by avoiding the fat content of cheese. A prospective study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 linked the consumption of cheese and whole milk with weight gain over two decades.  In contrast, a diet which included yogurt, vegetables and whole grain was associated with less weight gain over time (Mazaffarian, 2011).

I have also seen claims that dairy consumption is linked to acne however, cohort studies in 2006 and 2008 including 6094 teenage girls and 4273 teenage boys showed no significant associations between total, whole and low-fat milk consumption and acne breakouts (Adebamowo, 2014). Other studies have suggested a correlation but no causal links. More research is required to understand the impact on acne on dairy consumption.

In summary, if you like it go ahead and eat it.  If you think you may have an intolerance visit your doctor who can put you mind at ease or point you in the direction of dietitians who can help you navigate a dairy free life safely.  If you wish to cut dairy for ethical or personal reasons be sure to obtain calcium, potassium and vitamin D from a wide variety of quality sources and consult a professional if unsure.


Adebamowo (2014) Is there a link between acne and milk products? Summary of evidence. Dairy Nutrition website. Accessed 15/04/2017.

Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willet WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011;364:2392-2404.



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