When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I cut out dairy for a while because of lactose intolerance. I hoped the intolerance would go away, but it didn’t, and I simply began using lactose free milk and Lactaid pills. At times over the years, though, I have wondered if I would benefit from going dairy free. So many people who are gluten intolerant also have problems with dairy, specifically casein, a protein in dairy products.
I was never motivated enough to give up my beloved cheese and butter until I learned that going dairy free could help control autoimmune reactions related to my Hashimoto’s thyroid disease. In many ways, my thyroid problems have been more life changing than my celiac diagnosis, and I was eager to do anything that would help.
I went dairy free for a month last June, then went back on it. After consulting with a naturopath, I went dairy free again in September and have stuck with it since then. How dairy contributes to autoimmune thyroid problems is not something I understand well, and is a topic I may address in a later post. It is also not something that one would see immediate results from. However, I think there are other reactions I have to dairy which became evident when I recently had some dairy by accident. It happened when I was eating out and simply forgot that I needed to check for dairy ingredients as well as gluten.
I had two reactions. The first, not surprisingly was congestion. Just a couple of nights prior I was thinking about how perfectly clear my sinuses were—something I had not experienced in a long time. The second reaction was itching, specifically on my abdomen. I had that itching before I went gluten free, and it went away after going gluten free. It came back later, though, and then went away again. When the itching started this time it dawned on me that when I first went gluten free, I also went dairy free for a while because of lactose intolerance. I then understood why it had come back later.
Those symptoms alone are enough to keep me dairy free. It has not been easy, but it has been easier than I expected. For that reason, I want to encourage any of you who are thinking about going dairy free and share with you some things I have learned.
1. Do it for several months if you are doing it on a trial basis. It needs time to completely get out of your system before you will see all the benefits.
2. Don’t assume that recipes won’t work. I’ve adapted many of my favorite recipes to be be dairy free, and most of the time my family doesn’t notice the difference, or they like it even better.
3. Accept the fact that some things don’t have good substitutes. I’m thinking of cheese here. I know that many dairy-free people rave about Daiya. It is probably the best cheese substitute, but it doesn’t come close to real cheese for someone who can still remember what it’s like. It does help to make the loss easier, though, and is better than eating pizza with no cheese at all.
4. Focus on foods that are naturally dairy free. Eating real, unprocessed foods is healthy and most of the time those foods are naturally gluten and dairy free.
5. Use your gluten free skills. The label reading and ingredient checking you do to be on a gluten-free diet is exactly what you need to do for a dairy free diet. Since milk is one of the top eight allergens, it is required to be listed on labels, making our job easier.
6. You can do it! I wish I had gone dairy free sooner. I know it’s not easy, but our health is worth it.