5 Reasons to Go Dairy-Free
Better Nutrition|February 2021
Most of us grew up with the idea that milk and other dairy products were key to strong bones, sturdy muscles, and robust health. But as we learn about the health risks associated with dairy, more people are ditching it. If you’re one of them, here’s what you need to know about a dairy-free diet.
By Lisa Turner

There are many reasons why people consider giving up cow’s milk and related products, but lactose intolerance is usually at the top of the list. Defined as an inability to fully digest lactose (the sugar in milk), this condition causes a constellation of unpleasant gastrointestinal issues including bloating, gas, cramps, and diarrhea. And it’s surprisingly common: an estimated 30 million to 50 million American adults experience adverse reactions to dairy. Lactose intolerance appears to have a genetic component, so some populations have an even greater risk: 60–80 percent of African Americans, 50–80 percent of Hispanics, 95 percent of Asians, and 80–100 percent of Native Americans are likely to have adverse reactions to milk and other forms of dairy.

Lactose intolerance aside, there are other compelling reasons to decrease your intake of dairy—or avoid it altogether. Some studies suggest that people who consume high amounts of dairy have a greater risk of health problems compared with those who consume small or moderate amounts. For example, excess mucus production, leaky gut syndrome, and inflammatory skin conditions are thought by some to be exacerbated by dairy.

Researchers suspect that a variety of factors, including lactose, hormones, and even calcium, could be responsible. While the science is far from definitive, some research findings are cause for concern.

Dairy May Increase Your Risk of Cancer

Although studies are mixed, some research links high dairy consumption with an increased risk of certain cancers. In one study, women who consumed ¼–¹⁄³ cup of cow’s milk per day had a 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Consuming 1 cup per day increased the risk by 50 percent, while 2–3 cups per day were associated with an 80 percent increased risk. Other research has linked regular consumption of dairy products with increased prostate cancer risk. In one study, men who drank two or more glasses of milk a day were almost twice as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer as those who drank no milk.

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