Dairy: Try a plant-based alternative for World Plant Milk Day

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'Giving up milk and opting for a predominantly whole food, plant-based way of eating has substantially improved my relationship with different foods and my digestive experience'

There are a wide range of dairy-free milks available (Photo: Adobe. Don't use without permission)

Dairy is traditionally one of the most commonly consumed food groups in the Western world. It is inadvertently promoted as a core food group in the *Eat Well Guide and suggested to be a reliable source of calcium, which is beneficial for bone health. As a result, dairy can be found in many foods.

There are many reasons for people choosing to give up dairy: animal welfare, concerns about sustainability, concerns about the impacts on long term health, and even simply a move to tastier plant-based alternatives.

'Sustainability and health'

When I gave up dairy, my motivations were based on sustainability and health. I had an ongoing concern about the impact of animal agriculture - specifically the stark and direct correlation with greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation.

I was also becoming more aware of scientific studies demonstrating that milk and dairy products were major sources of saturated fatty acids which are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease* and even premature death.

I had also read about observational studies showing that despite people in the Western hemisphere being amongst the highest global consumers of milk, they also had the greatest levels of osteoporosis.

Since I was experiencing digestive discomfort when I did consume dairy, often left with a feeling of lethargy and bloating, I decided to take the plunge to cut out dairy and later become a plant-based vegan.

Lactose intolerance

It is not uncommon for people to have sensitivities to dairy products, with research suggesting that between 30 million to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant* - up to 75 percent of these being non-Caucasians, including African Americans.

This is said to be due to an impaired ability to digest lactose, which is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose is normally broken down by an enzyme called lactase, which is produced by cells in the lining of the small intestine. As we consume less milk after weaning, we generally produce less lactase to digest the lactose in milk in later life.

Generally, symptoms of lactose intolerance or sensitivity show up through the digestive system, including feelings of bloating, gas, nausea, and even diarrhea which can start soon after or within a few hours of consuming dairy.

I found that dairy would leave me with a painful cramping stomach and bloating. Giving up milk and opting for a predominantly whole food, plant-based way of eating has substantially improved my relationship with different foods and my digestive experience. Bye-bye dairy bloat!

In the U.K, dairy milk consumption appears to have considerably reduced*, perhaps because people are interested in the health benefits of increasing plant consumption, and perhaps also due to health concerns and also personal choice.

With a huge diversity in plant milks available, there is definitely something to suit everyone's palate. Whilst the rhetoric may not be an immediate incentive for change, joining in with World Plant Milk Day offers the chance to try plant-based milk, and may also encourage you to reduce your dairy consumption in the long term.

Whatever your motivations, I would love to hear about your experience if you make your own, try a packaged version, or are encouraged by this article

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1. The Eat Well Guide is the Government’s policy tool used to guide and recommend eating habits for a healthy balanced diet.

2. Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Cardiovascular Diseases: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, Javier Fontecha et al, May 2019.

3. Research conducted by the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

4. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB) released a report in February 2020 stating that the UK now consumes 50% less milk than in 1974