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Should you be cutting out dairy?

Things to consider before cutting out dairy and which dairy alternatives are the best

Dairy products such as milk, cheese, egg, yogurt and butter.

by Madeleine Kelly

Dairy products such as milk, cheese, egg, yogurt and butter.
Dairy alternatives have been big in the running world for several years. As more people pay closer attention to their nutrition, many find themselves trying new things like cutting out food groups in an effort to improve their health.

In the endurance sport community, many people are looking for a competitive edge and doing so through their diet. Katherine Jessop, registered dietitian with a specialization in sports nutrition says, “I think there is generally an interesting trend in trying different kinds of diets in hopes of a competitive advantage. Dairy has often been associated with negative implications that may or may not actually effect people.”

Jessop says that many people try eliminating dairy to limit bloating or gastrointestinal issues but that it does have its benefits for an athletes health. “Calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are all crucial to bone health and they’re easily found in, and absorbed from dairy products.”

Fresh organic dairy products on white table

Jessop explains that there are lots of foods that are high in calcium, but that calcium may not be as easily absorbed, or bio-available, from that particular food. Calcium is most easily available in animal products.

If an athlete is concerned that they have a lactose intolerance, Jessop recommends adopting lactose-free foods instead of turning to plant-based alternatives. However, if a cyclist has an allergy or is vegan, soy milk is her first recommendation. “If you are cutting out dairy, start with soy milk over almond, oat or hemp milk because it’s higher in calcium and magnesium. Also be sure to include a source of protein, as dairy alternatives have about one third of the protein of cow’s milk.”

Oat milk, which has become very popular over the last year, is also a good alternative. When compared side-by-side with cow’s milk, oat milk is higher in carbohydrates, roughly 60 percent lower in protein and also lower in vitamin D, but the calcium and vitamin A are both similar to cow’s milk due to product fortification.

Pitcher of milk and bags with oatmeal flakes on light background

Calcium and magnesium are naturally occurring in cow’s milk, so whenever you’re buying a dairy alternative, make sure that they’re fortified with those nutrients. Jessop ensures that it’s entirely possible to adopt a vegan diet or eliminate dairy as an endurance athlete, it just means paying more attention to what you’re eating. “If you’re eliminating dairy, there needs to be a significant commitment to understanding nutrition that doesn’t have to happen when you’re eating animal products. I recommend having a very broad diet. You’re more likely to get what you need nutritionally if you’re eating a wide variety of foods.”

A version of this story first appeared on Canadian Running Magazine