Exclusion diets

Back to Nutrition

Is it natural to drink milk from another species?

Humans have used the milk of other species (cows, goats, camels and buffalo) for thousands of years. Milk from mammals is therefore recognised worldwide as a nutritious food and 85 countries have included consumption of milk and dairy as part of their food-based dietary guidelines.

Read on for more info:

Ideally all babies should drink breast milk and this is why breastfeeding is the best choice. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months (180 days) for optimal infant feeding. Breastfeeding babies from birth should be encouraged. At six months of age, nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding (solid foods) should be introduced, with continued breastfeeding being encouraged up to the age of at least two years.

Cow’s milk is recognised as a nutritious food to be included in the diet after the age of one year. In general, humans consume the milk of other species for its nutritional benefit, similar to the reason for consuming animal products such as meat or eggs.

Humans recognised the benefits of dairy consumption since the domestication of dairy animals started in the Middle East about 11 00 years ago. This practice subsequently extended to Greece, the Balkans and central Europe. Today, drinking milk from mammals such as cows, goats, camels and buffalo is practised all over the world and milk is seen as a source of many important nutrients. Milk from mammals is therefore recognised worldwide as a nutritious food and 85 countries have included consumption of milk and dairy as part of their food-based dietary guidelines.

What should I do if I can’t consume dairy?

Dairy may have to be excluded owing to cow’s milk allergy (CMA) or limited in the case of lactose intolerance. These conditions should be diagnosed and managed by a medical doctor or registered dietitian to prevent patients from developing protein, calcium and vitamin B12 deficiencies. CMA is rare and requires total exclusion of dairy from the diet. Lactose intolerance can occur more commonly, but does not require patients to exclude dairy completely.

Read on for more info:

Dairy may be excluded from the diet because of cow’s milk allergy (CMA) or lactose intolerance. These conditions should be diagnosed and managed by a medical doctor or registered dietitian to ensure that a patient’s nutritional intake is not compromised.

  • CMA affects only a small percentage of the world’s population. The allergy is more prevalent in infants (2-6%) than in adults (0.1–0.5%), as the dominant immunological factors driving allergic reactions change with age. It is difficult to ascertain the true prevalence of CMA in South Africa, but it is estimated that 2% of children under the age of two years are truly allergic to cow’s milk; CMA in adults is rare.

Once an allergy has been diagnosed by a qualified health professional, the offending food(s) should be eliminated from the diet. Even trace amounts can cause severe symptoms. So, if cow’s milk protein is the problem, avoid all milk and dairy products, including milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, ghee, ice cream, buttermilk, cultured milk, milkshakes and flavoured milk or milk from any other mammals (e.g. goat milk). However, it is advised to challenge the allergy regularly (every 6–12 months) to monitor tolerance.

  • Lactose intolerance is due to the reduced ability to digest lactose, the sugar that is found naturally in milk. Consuming more than 12 g lactose in a single dose (the amount typically found in 250 ml milk) may lead to abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, cramps and diarrhoea.

Complete avoidance of milk and dairy products is unnecessary in most cases of lactose intolerance. People who are lactose intolerant should use milk along with other foods, such as having milk with cereal. If you are lactose intolerant, gradually increase your milk consumption from small quantities. Full-cream milk is also better tolerated than low-fat or fat-free milk, as are fermented dairy products such as yoghurt or amasi. Hard cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar contain almost no lactose and so are generally tolerated well. Alternatively, you can choose low-lactose or lactose-free milk and take a probiotic supplement daily to aid digestion.

Is a vegan diet a healthy lifestyle choice

Excluding all animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) means vegans often need to supplement their diets to avoid deficiencies, especially of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12.

Read on for more info:

Although a vegan diet may have specific health benefits, it is challenging to ensure sufficient intake of all recommended vitamins and minerals. As vegan diets exclude all animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy, people who choose a vegan diet often need to supplement their diet to meet their nutritional needs, especially to avoid iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies.

It may also prove challenging to obtain all the essential amino acids when following a vegan diet, as these amino acids are more readily available in animal foods. Animal proteins are considered to be ‘complete’ proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids that the body needs.

It is further also difficult to meet calcium requirements through vegan diets. Vegetable sources of calcium generally contain small amounts of calcium with a low bioavailability. People who opt for a vegan diet would therefore need to eat substantial amounts of plant-based foods to fulfil their calcium needs.

Why are dairy products important for vegetarians?

People who have vegetarian diets that do not include any meat, poultry or fish can use dairy to add variety to the diet and provide good-quality protein, vitamins (B2 and B12 –found only in animal foods) and minerals (calcium, iodine, potassium, phosphorus).

Read on for more info:

In general vegetarians do not eat any meat or animal flesh products, including red meat, poultry and fish. In a diet that does not include any meat, dairy offers an important source of good-quality protein. It also adds variety to a vegetarian diet and provides important nutrients such as calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, iodine, potassium and phosphorus. As vitamin B12 is generally found only in foods of animal origin, dairy and eggs are an important source of this vitamin for vegetarians.

What would happen if I exclude dairy from my diet?

Dairy foods are well-known sources of the essential nutrients most commonly lacking in the SA diet, namely calcium, potassium and vitamin A. Dairy is also a valuable and economic source of protein. Cutting out dairy may compromise the vitamin and mineral content of the diet, specifically with regard to calcium.

Read on for more info:

Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are well recognised as sources of essential nutrients, especially calcium, potassium and vitamin A. These are three of the four nutrients most South Africans struggle to obtain from their diet. Dairy is also a valuable and economic source of protein when households cannot afford meat.  

Excluding dairy products from the diet or limiting their intake may compromise the vitamin and mineral content of the diet, specifically with regard to calcium. Without sufficient dairy intake, you will likely not meet your calcium requirements. This could affect your health negatively, as calcium:

  • helps to build and maintain healthy bones
  • contributes to preventing lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension
  • helps with regulating body weight and body composition.

Consult a medical expert such as a registered dietitian before you decide to exclude any food group from your diet.