Going dairy or gluten free these days seems to be all the rage, especially with babies and children. Humans are huge consumers of dairy products (and what I mean by dairy is anything made from cow’s milk)… from milk to cheeses to all kinds of products being made from milk protein stabilizers and additives (many times as bases to keep flavors in-tact of certain products). The problem is that lactose, one of the primary sugars in cow’s milk, and casein, one of the primary proteins in cow’s milk, are both added to a wide variety of foods; lactose is added for flavor while casein is often added for emulsification, texture and protein supplementation. The attached table (SOURCE: www.whfoods.com ) contains a list of some of the foods where casein can be found. As you will note, it is found in a variety of diverse food products. Therefore, the only way to tell for sure whether it is added to a food product is to read the food label.
Interestingly enough, the human race is the only known species on the planet to drink another species’ milk. Hmmm. Even more interesting is what was once considered the “perfect food” is now raising many eyebrows in regards to perhaps being the culprit of many allergic responses in children and adults… from rashes to gastrointestinal mayhem, to eczema and recurring cases of strep and ear infections. www.whfoods.com stated a great summary differentiating allergy/intolerance response versus a dairy sensitivity:
Food allergies are reactions that involve the immune system. Typically reactions to the casein in dairy products will involve a full-fledged immune response, manifesting as specific as a skin rash, or as general as fatigue. What happens during an allergic reaction is that your immune system cells treat the certain “offending” molecules, casein for example, as if it were foreign and dangerous. Some immune system cells will bind to the offending molecule in the food, triggering a cascade of physiological events that will activate other components of the immune system. This would then harness chemical messengers such as histamine to ‘alert’ the body that there is ‘danger’. Inflammation and the creation of immune complexes that disrupt normal physiological functioning may ensue as a result.
Yet, as noted above, an allergy may not be the only culprit if you have a negative reaction to a certain food such as dairy. Unlike allergies, some adverse reactions to food do not involve the immune system. These types of responses are called food intolerances with lactose intolerance being the most common food intolerance in the United States, affecting as many as 30% of adult Americans. Individuals who have lactose intolerance are sensitive to the milk sugar lactose that is found in dairy products. This intolerance may occur because they do not produce enough of the digestive enzyme lactase, which functions to break down lactose in the small intestines. If the lactose does not get digested it makes its way into the large intestine, causing a host of symptoms, including flatulence and/or diarrhea.
Here is an awesome link explaining how the body would “attack” a dairy product in the body if an allergy or sensitivity was present:
Some common allergic responses that point a finger at dairy include:
OK, so what if you suspect you or your children (or any other family member) could suffer from a dairy allergy/sensitivity? Practical tips – how to test for dairy food reactions
For a two-week period, eliminate the following: (based on READING FOOD LABELS!!!!)
After the two-week period, begin to reintroducing dairy-containing foods into your meal plan. Start with organic low-fat cow’s milk, organic skim cow’s milk, or organic nonfat cow’s milk, and just try about 4 ounces total at two different times during the day.
On the following two days, go back to your dairy-free meal plan, and wait and see if you experience any of the reactions you noticed before you removed dairy (the two day rule). If not, introduce another dairy-containing food that you would like to keep in your meal plan, for example, organic cow’s milk yogurt. Stick with the highest quality and least complicated product when you conduct your test – for example, try 4 ounces of a plain, nonfat organic yogurt rather than a flavored product or a product containing fruit on the bottom. Follow the two-day rule again. If you still experience no problematic reaction, you may want to go on and experiment with a non-dairy food that contains dairy protein, like a soymilk cheese that contains casein.
The process is time-consuming, and it takes a lot of patience! But it is still the best way to decide if dairy is a problem for you or not.
Now let’s suspect that there IS a dairy allergy detected for your and/or your child(ren). Do you hide under a rock and cry realizing that much of the food you love and enjoy (and is available all over the world) needs to be avoided? Another huge issue is what kind of milk do parents give their children if cow’s milk is not an option? Nut and seed milks are widely popular now… just check out the “alternative milk” aisle in your store… (yes, they exist…gasp!). Milks such as rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk, and coconut milk (and now all kinds of combinations of every nut/seed/plant known to man seems to be available). I, myself, found myself staring at row upon row of seed and nuts milks the other night when I went to Whole Foods. My son Lucas just turned 1 and he does not fare well with dairy. I am choosing not to give him cow’s milk as he transitions off of breastmilk and formula, namely because of the horrible gas, diaper rash, and eczema on his facial cheeks he gets whenever he eats any form of cow’s milk. Instead, I am going to give him an array of hemp, coconut, and almond milks. These milks are just as nutritious….and they conveniently come in non-refrigerated containers…..but after investigating these choices further, I felt like I was duped….sort of. These cow’s milk alternatives ARE healthy… but in which form you choose makes all the difference. Milk in containers contain many additives that are NOT healthy and here is a bit of info you should know about them if you decide to choose these types of milk or currently use them in your home (SOURCE: The Healthy Home Economist):
Organic coconut milk, almond milk and other nut and seed milks are common purchases at the health food store by those with dairy allergies. Usually, these people are savvy consumers who know enough nutritionally to avoid soy milk with its endocrine disrupting isoflavones and gastric inflaming phytates. Rice milk is also steadily declining in popularity as it is really not much more than a glass of sugar water nutritionally speaking.
Organic, unsweetened coconut milk and almond milk in cartons seem like great alternatives at first blush, but are they really as “healthy” as people believe? Taking a look at the labels can be shocking: most brands contain the same dangerous additives that should be avoided for foods consumed on a daily basis.
You probably feel like stabbing daggers in my eyes right now for enlightening you with this info if you were relying on alternative milks for you and/or your children. So now what!?! What DO you use if cow’s milk and now these awesome milk alternatives aren’t all that “healthy”? No fear.
Healthy Alternatives to Coconut Milk and Almond Milk in Cartons
Nut and seed milks should be healthy and they can be if they are produced at home without these dangerous additives. Here is another awesome post by The Healthy Home Economist describing in detail on how to easily make these healthful beverages yourself: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/the-three-best-substitutes-for-a-child-allergic-to-milk/ .
Another viable solution would be to even use organic coconut milk in BPA free cans .
While I may not be a favorite to the dairy industry after writing this article, I hope it at least shed some useful info for you in deciding whether or not dairy is best for your family, and if you need an alternative, which ones are the healthiest ones to choose.