Safety Considerations with Dairy Exclusion

Is it possible to avoid all dairy safely?  Certainly.   Are most people who avoid dairy in their diet doing so safely?  Very often, no they are not. The major concern is around calcium; the mineral needed in humans in the greatest quantity every day for optimal health, not just of bones but for normal muscle, nerve and brain function.     


FACT:  There is no food source of calcium intake remotely comparable to dairy.  (The next best, a very distant second, is probably hard water!)


" Obtaining sufficient amounts of absorbable dietary calcium to optimize bone density and to protect against bone resorption is a protective measure to lower the risk of osteoporosis. This goal is difficult in Western-style diets without the inclusion of dairy foods, fortified foods, or supplements. ... Few other foods provide concentrated sources of absorbable calcium "

Quote from: Weaver, C. M. & Plawecki, K. L. "Dietary calcium: adequacy of a vegetarian diet". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition vol. 59 no. 5 1238S-1241S


If excluding dairy, the next best sources of calcium contain not even a small percentage of a comparable serving of dairy by weight.   Typically most people believe they are getting adequate spinach in green leafy vegetables such as spinach.  Unfortunately, these are the very same foods that are high in phytic acid, a substance dubbed by some nutritionists an "anti-nutrient" and known to bind out or remove calcium from the body.  This means that it is possible that even the small amount of calcium that is provided in say a serving of spinach may, with the inevitable involvement of the phytates in those same leaves, result only in a minisucle net gain or even a tiny net loss of calcium.


The whole calcium issue is made worse by the fact that are 2 particular demographic groupings who are most commonly exclusing dairy these days: small children and "women of a certain age".  Unfortunately these are precisely the same 2 groupings who are the most at risk from calcium deficiency: the former for healthy growth and the latter to avoid the risks of osteopenia and osteoporosis, believed to now affect fully 1/2 of all older women.


Most researchers who have studied the above issue would agree with the following statement:

If avoiding all dairy, supplementation with calcium daily (at a rate of about 1,000mg for an average adult) is essential.


The downside to this is that numerous studies over the past decade or so have suggested, if not entirely conclusively, that use of supplemental calcium (as opposed to dietary calcium) is associated with a greatly increased risk of death by heart disease and/or stroke. (Some studies found an increased risk of 200% or more)


Summary advice.  It is best for all of us if we can get our calcium from dairy.    For the reasons previously explained above, regular dairy may not work well for some of us.  Happily however, kefir fermented dairy seems to work for very close to everybody:  no intolerance issues, massive and incomparable probiotic benefits and oodles of vital calcium.  The alternatives are just not that good: without a lot of knowledge and daily commitment, very probably some level of calcium deficiency or else a reliance on lots of artifically fortified foods or supplementation with known cardiovascular risk increasing concerns.    


To end on a positive note if you have decided that you never want to have any dairy again: It is possible to get adequate calcium daily but it takes a good deal of education about the best sources and a steady and knowledgeable commitment daily to getting all the small bits from here and there to get the required total every day.  White legumes, white seeds, and nuts are a good place to start.


Good luck with that.  Mine's a bowl of Kefi !