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BULNES: It’s time to (moo)ve away from dairy products for your health

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet


When people think of dietary restrictions, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets are the first to come to mind. But only 35 percent of the global population can digest lactose without difficulty, which shows the importance of observing how our own bodies react to dairy consumption. Whether you are lactose intolerant or do not have a dairy allergy at all, avoiding milk and cheese can be beneficial to your overall health.

Lactose intolerance is a deficiency of the lactose enzyme in the small intestine, which is needed to digest dairy products. The inability to produce this enzyme causes a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms when lactose is consumed. Why is this deficiency prevalent in our society to begin with? Think about it — we are the only species that consumes the milk of another species. If goats don’t drink cow’s milk, and cows don’t drink breast milk, then why do we drink cow’s milk? Once infants surpass the young age of drinking milk, the body no longer needs to depend on milk for survival since the same nutrients can be obtained from solid foods. That being said, as long as you are consuming other calcium-rich foods such as spinach, broccoli and beans, there is no need to be concerned with calcium deficiency and bone weakness when removing dairy from your diet.

Over time, I started to realize that the majority of the foods I had to ignore to live a dairy-free lifestyle are unhealthy anyway. There are better sources for nutrients than ice cream, donuts and nachos. Once you accept this, you learn how to skip all of those options when browsing through the supermarket or ordering dinner at a restaurant. What you are left with is a simple selection of food items and meals that are actually beneficial for your health. This lifestyle change can certainly lead to healthy weight loss since it requires you to cut out many junk foods and be conscious of the ingredients your meals contain.

Another advantage of living dairy free is the unmistakable improvement in your skin. "The relationship of diet and acne," an analysis published in the Dermato-Endocrinology Journal, suggests that restricting dairy consumption could lessen its severity. This is important for those who feel like they have tried everything to get rid of their acne. If eating dairy causes breakouts and blemishes and you eat cheese at least once a day, just imagine the damaging effect that can have on your skin. Your body is negatively reacting to something you are consuming regularly, so topical treatments will never remove the acne fully. Eliminating dairy from your diet is the first step to clear skin.

Health benefits aside, people eat cheese and drink milk because it tastes good. Resisting temptations may be hard, but it is possible with a little willpower. There are many alternatives available to make the transition into a dairy-free lifestyle a bit easier on the taste buds. For example, almond, coconut and lactose-free milk can be paired with your morning coffee and provide the same amount of calcium as milk. In wraps and sandwiches, use mashed avocado to replace the creamy consistency of cheese. For dessert, trade in ice cream for an apple and almond butter. Getting creative with substituting dairy will make you discover healthier alternatives that leave you feeling satisfied instead of bloated and guilty.

Changing your eating habits is not easy, and I admit that the first couple of weeks will be hard. Once you get past it and your mindset begins to change, this could be one of the best choices you have ever made for your body. I have been dairy free for five months and cannot imagine ever putting dairy back into my diet. Your body, stomach and skin will thank you and you will feel a significant change in how you feel after your meals. I encourage you to try being dairy free for a month — what you discover may be the necessary improvement to your health that you have been searching for.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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