A look at dairy products, their relevance to food allergies and food intolerances, and why free from foods can benefit everyone.
Firstly our team and I respect the views of others, and we’re well aware that many companies are operating because of Britain’s consumption of dairy products, and therefore many people owe their employment to the dairy industries. In fact, although UK represents only 20% of the EU population, we consume 40% of its dairy products with an average weekly intake of 4 pints of milk. From the early 1930’s, the government introduced and funded the Milk Marketing Board, an organisation that continued until 2002 to actively encourage initiatives on new types of dairy foods, and widely promoting the consumption of dairy products.
However, not all countries have become as reliant on dairy as a major component of their diet. For instance, China with a population of 1.3 billion, consumes only a very small percentage of dairy in comparison to the UK. It is therefore interesting that researchers comparing major health issues in the west with the same health issues in China have come up with some staggering results – one case in point is new research that suggests dairy consumption may be the main reason that people in the west have a massive risk of breast and prostate cancer, while Asians don’t. The chance of a Chinese woman dying from breast cancer is 1 in 10,000, as opposed to 1 in 10 for the UK! The figures for prostate cancer are even greater; in rural China the incidence is 0.5 in 100,000, yet estimates suggest that by 2015, 1 in 4 men in the UK will be diagnosed with prostate cancer some time in their lives. Greater amounts of research are continually taking place in this field, and I can only think that the links between dairy and chronic diseases will continue to get stronger.
Research into food allergies
When I began researching food allergies on behalf of Jake a number of years ago, a conversation I had with a nutritionist, Liz, comes to mind. She pointed out the obvious, and yet at the same time really made me think.
‘Firstly,’ she said, ‘milk is the food of babies and the very young, so why, do we continue to drink it in great quantities in our 30s, 40’s 50’s and so on?’ She continued: ‘Let’s face it, not only are we drinking a food designed by nature to feed babies, but we’re drinking a food designed for a baby cow! It just doesn’t make sense.’
This simple observation encouraged me to conduct further research on food allergies and food intolerances, and it became clear that Liz's intuition was not so far off the mark. It turns out that our bodies produce an antibody against milk - and on top of that, once weaned, 70% of us stop producing lactase, the enzyme used to digest milk sugar. This inability to digest lactose is also commonly referred to as lactose intolerance. Symptoms are bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhoea, which disappear on taking lactase as a supplement. Just as common, however, are food allergies to dairy produce, which can produce numerous symptoms such as nasal congestion, excessive mucus production, respiratory complaints, bloating and tummy pains.
Of course, even if you’re one of the lucky ones and can eat whatever you please, it’s worth remembering that milk, butter, cheese and full fat yogurt are full of saturated fats (check out our section on fats) – which are potentially partly responsible for a number of chronic health conditions and never a friend of the waistline! I think it’s also worth considering the impact that intensive, large scale dairy farming has on the quality of the milk we drink. It’s well documented the extent to which antibiotics are used to treat cattle in the industry, and in some case antibiotics are used as a prophylactic; I don’t think it’s a great leap of logic on my behalf to say milk from such cattle will contain an antibiotic residue. I, for one, would not like my immune system compromised in such a way! I do appreciate that everyone has different views though - we have a forum on the website, so feel free to get involved and share your thoughts - a healthy debate is always welcome!
A healthy diet can help you to balance food intolerances and allergies
Interestingly, since Jake and I began our dietary journey all those years ago, I’ve had the privilege of chatting to countless mums and dads, swapping interesting anecdotes and healthy tips about our offspring. One item that comes up time and time again is the correlation between dairy and skin conditions, notably eczema, the classic being: my son/daughter’s skin has never been well since stopping breastfeeding and introducing cows’ milk. Or, and probably just as common: as soon as I stopped my daughter/son’s dairy intake, their skin condition has been much better (and in some instances cleared completely). Like I said earlier, this very much represents mine and Jake’s experiences.
Like many parents, when I first began to think about limiting my child’s dairy intake, I was concerned that I was denying him precious nutrients, especially calcium. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that milk is not a very good source of many minerals. Manganese, chromium, selenium and, most importantly, magnesium, are all found in higher levels in fruit and vegetables. It’s important that our intake of calcium should be in the correct ratio to magnesium which is 2:1 (twice as much calcium as magnesium); although high amounts of calcium are found in dairy products, it’s ratio to magnesium is 10:1 in milk, and 28:1 in cheese, so relying on dairy products for calcium is likely to lead to magnesium imbalance. Seeds, nuts, kale, cabbage, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower all provide calcium and magnesium in a ratio more in line with our bodies’ requirements, plus with the added bonus of other important minerals and vitamins.
800mg is the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of calcium, with slightly less needed for young children, and rising up to 1200mg for teenagers – for more information on calcium, click the link to visit our article.
The following foods are great alternative sources of calcium:
- Per cup kale - 200mg
- Cup of mixed sea veg - 2100mg
- Cup almonds - 750mg
- Cup sesame seeds - 2100mg
- Cup sunflower seeds - 260mg
- Cup tofu - 1721mg
- Cup fortified cereals - up to 1000mg
I’m very much aware as a mother that identifying alternative calcium-rich foods is the easy part of the dairy free transition; the hard part is getting our little angels to eat the right foods! The severity of Jake's symptoms meant that even though we had to be more creative with our food preparations, I could demonstrate the benefits in the change of diet by the correlation of improved health. Those of you who wish to try to make the change and are fortunate enough not to have children with severe symptoms to their food allergies or food intolerances may need to be even more creative.
We’ve put some child-friendly calcium recipes on our kids section - however, I would love to hear some of your own suggestions and solutions to this common dilemma, and invite you to visit our forum section so we can share our knowledge – together we can help to nurture a happy and healthy future generation, who can enjoy a tasty and healthy diet, free from the trauma of food intolerances and food allergies.