If, for whatever reason, you've decided to 'give up' diary, then there are some key things you need to consider when looking for an alternative because not all dairy alternatives are created equal.
The chart below helps to show this with a 'yes' or a 'no' as to whether the dairy alternatives are sources of the nutrients mentioned.
The * means that these nutrients are added to the milk by the manufacturer because they are not naturally present. It is important to remember that organic versions of dairy alternatives are not permitted to contain any added vitamins and minerals and will therefore have a 'No' for calcium, iodine, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
What Does This Table Mean?
Every single cell in our bodies contains protein. It is needed for keeping these cells in good condition and it is also involved in masses of interactions within our bodies every second of every day.
Over 40 per cent of the protein in our bodies is found in our muscles but around a sixth is in our skin and another sixth in our blood. Women on average need 45g of protein per day and men 55g, although these needs can be higher depending on our age and physical activity levels for example.
If you usually drink half a pint of dairy milk a day, this is will be giving you around 10g of protein. While soya milk has around the same protein, other dairy alternatives don't. You need to consider this if swapping from dairy milk to other alternatives, especially for children and older people for whom dairy milk protein may be particularly important.
Lots of us know that this mineral is vital for helping to build and maintain strong bones. It's also essential for muscles to be able to work properly and is involved with lots of other reactions in our bodies as well.
Half a pint of dairy milk gives us around 40 per cent of our calcium needs. If you usually have this in your daily meals or drinks, then it's important to make sure that the alternative you opt for is fortified with calcium to make up for this at every stage in life.
This mineral is vital for helping our bodies to make thyroid hormones, which help to keep our metabolic rate (this is the speed at which chemical reactions take place) working healthily.
Half a pint of milk gives us over half of our daily iodine needs and so finding alternative sources is important if you stop using dairy milk. Soya milk can be fortified with this mineral, but check the label to be sure but other alternatives often aren't.
Diary is a big contributor of iodine in our diets along with fish and other seafood. If you don't eat either and are following a vegan lifestyle, it's important that you consider taking a Vegan Society www.vegansociety.com recommended supplement containing iodine on a daily basis.
Found in all animal products, it is also added to most dairy alternatives so a switch to a non-dairy alternative won't usually reduce your daily intake. You need vitamin B12 to keep nerves healthy and if you don't get enough, can do permanent nerve damage.
This is where dairy alternatives tend to score 'better' than dairy milk because most manufacturers add this vitamin to their products. We are all advised to take a 10-microgram supplement during winter months and some of us are also advised to take them in the summer as well.
If you are giving up dairy because you think you are intolerant to lactose, the natural sugar present in milk and other dairy products, remember that the symptoms usually occur within a few hours of consuming dairy foods. The symptoms can include wind, diarrhoea, bloating, stomach cramps and rumbling and feeling sick. The severity of any of these can depend on the amount of lactose you have consumed.
It is really important that rather than self-diagnosing lactose intolerance or taking advice from other people, even people that seem to be qualified to give you this advice, that you speak with your GP because the symptoms mentioned above can also be triggered by irritable bowel syndrome or an allergy to the protein in milk, which unlike an intolerance, may be life threatening.
Symptoms like bloating can be caused by other serious health issues including for example in women, ovarian cancer. This is why it is important to check with your doctor before just cutting dairy foods out of your diet.
If you are intolerant to lactose, this can develop at any age. Some people need to cut all lactose out, some can tolerate certain amounts.
There is no cure for lactose intolerance, it must be controlled through diet.
Lactose can help your body to absorb zinc and other nutrients. It is therefore important to eat a healthy and balanced diet and to do weight bearing exercise to help to keep your bones healthy.