As illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and cancer are all reaching levels unheard of in previous generations, people today are expanding their awareness when it comes to healthy living. Through scientific research, there have been a number of reports that link the rise of these diseases to a sedentary lifestyle as well as an unhealthy diet. The phrase “you are what you eat” has never been more relevant, with obesity being declared an epidemic in the United States, and the number of unhealthy individuals steadily rising around the world.
The good news is that this rise is causing people to examine both their lifestyle and diet, with many giving the latter a complete overhaul. The link between the increase of diseases due to animal product consumption is making many people choose a diet that is dairy-free or entirely vegan. However, there is a lot of confusion over the two terms, as well as if one dietary lifestyle is healthier than the other. We want to clear up the misconceptions for you, so you can proceed with a diet that is best suited to your lifestyle.
A vegan diet means you only consume food that does not contain animal products: things like dairy, meat, and eggs. The manufacturing process of vegan food does not include using living animals or products derived from animals.
Contrary to popular belief, vegan products are not regulated by a government body (such as the FDA). This lead to vegan products having to communicate their status with a logo, which can either be designed by the manufacturer, or provided by an international certification body. A logo from an internationally recognized organization will give the product more “credibility” on the market, compared to one that is designed by the manufacturer itself.
However, with no strict guidelines or boundaries across the board, these international labels will fluctuate in defining how “vegan” their product actually is. They will all meet minimum criteria for the vegan claim, but how far they go (ie. no GMO’s, zero palm oil, etc.) is at the discretion of the organization.
Vegan food is also not safe for those with dairy-related allergies. This isn’t because its not healthy, but rather the manufacturing plant is most likely used for a range of products, and foods that contain dairy may be one of them. This means cross-contamination may occur, which can lead to serious repercussions for those that are allergic to dairy.
Dairy-free diets are geared to those that are allergic to dairy products. When taking a close look at them, it is important to note the distinction between the labels “dairy-free” and “non-dairy”, which sound similar, but are anything but.
Products that include the words “dairy free” on their package must meet federal regulations in order to obtain this status. This means the foods are produced through a strict manufacturing process, and in a fully segregated area that is free from dairy products and any instances of cross-contamination. This ensures there is no dairy present at any point in the manufacturing process, and in many cases the air is also filtered for good measure. Dairy-free products also won’t have a “may contain” warning on their package, as they are 100% dairy-free.
The “non-dairy” label is easily confused with “dairy-free”, and in some cases can actually be 100% dairy-free. However, trace amounts of dairy can make all the difference when it comes to those with dairy allergies. These traces are usually in the form of casein, which is a milk protein that can potentially show up in traditional dairy products such as creamers, and whipped toppings. As time goes on, even these products are becoming more strict and removing all traces of dairy from them.
So, if that’s the case, why not just say they’re “dairy-free”?
A lot of companies feel the term “non-dairy” is a less intimidating, more familiar wording to market to consumers. Another reason (and probably a more honest one) is that these companies are protecting themselves from potential litigation if they claim their product is 100% free of dairy.
The FDA, however, states that “non-dairy” products still have to disclose if there are any amounts of dairy in the their product, due to allergen labelling laws. This shows up in the form of a parenthesis in the ingredient list, and usually uses terms like “a milk derivative” to identify itself.
For those with a dairy allergy, it is imperative that you always read the ingredients listed on the product label. Dairy allergies also differ from lactose intolerance, so let’s take a peek at how both of these work.
Lactose intolerance is an issue with your digestive system. Basically, your body doesn’t produce an enzyme known as lactase, which aids in breaking down lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in milk. The lactose can’t break down in your stomach and small intestine, and instead, moves straight to your colon, where it’s broken down by bacteria. This results in bloating and gas. While, uncomfortable, it’s not a life or death matter.
Dairy allergy is an issue with your immune system. For these people, your body recognizes dairy as harmful and causes an allergic reaction that can range from mild to severe. Symptoms that lactose intolerance and dairy allergy have in common are abdominal cramps, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and nausea. However, dairy allergy can also cause hives, rash, swelling of the lips and face, trouble swallowing, wheezing, and throat tightness.
They are both extremely common issues, but dairy allergy is a more lethal one to deal with. In extreme cases, it can cause anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction that occurs seconds or minutes after being exposed to an allergen. For this reason, a lot of dairy allergy sufferers will keep an epinephrine auto-injector (such as an EpiPen) with them at all times.
For those that are looking to clean up their lifestyle, starting with your diet is a great way to go about it. If you think of your body like a high-performance vehicle, it needs the right fuel to work effectively. A clean diet that is vegan, or dairy-free will provide you a wide range of benefits, as they are nutrient-rich, can aid in lowering your blood pressure, your risk of heart disease, and help to keep cancer from developing.