Dairy and I have a complicated relationship.
Ten years ago, I was trying to sort out my diet to feel better and have more energy. Caffeine had to go, along with cheese and cream.
Only one problem:
I couldn’t live without dairy.
I could NOT live without it.
Eliminating dairy from my diet would turn me from a vegetarian—which I was quite happy being—into a vegan. And I did not want to be a vegan. I wanted to be able to eat when I went out.
Any time you have a special diet, whether it’s gluten-free or peanut-free or spice-free, eating out becomes excruciating. You don’t know if a new restaurant will have anything you can eat. You can always ask for dishes to be made especially for you…
At the risk of annoying your friends and being labeled a “difficult” customer.
I’d struggled enough as the only vegetarian in my group of friends. When we all went out and they got a huge plate of meaty nachos to share before the meal, I pretended to be quite satisfied with my glass of ice water. When the menu came and there was only one vegetarian dish available, that’s what I had. And usually, that vegetarian dish contained cheese.
I’d have to wave goodbye to my social life if I cut dairy out.
So I didn’t.
I reduced it instead. I had rice milk in my cereal and tea (often thickened with a splash of cow’s milk). I didn’t keep cheese or butter in the house to tempt me. I still ate yogurt on a daily basis but reasoned that fermented dairy wasn’t as bad. And I tried to make myself like soy lattes, though that didn’t last long.
It was then that I realized just how pervasive dairy is in the standard American diet.
Why We Drink Milk
Critics joke that Americans don’t have a coffee habit; they have a milk habit. Lattes are 75% milk. In fact, if you order a “latte” in Italy, you’ll get a glass of milk.
Milk is the food of the wealthy. Europeans and Americans love the stuff, while milk consumption is almost non-existent in Africa and Asia.
As developing countries advance, they’re more likely to take up drinking milk. Not because their diets need it, but because it’s a habit they associate with other developed nations.
Which suggests that milk isn’t just a food.
Anthropologist Andrea S. Wiley argues that “milk has been able to succeed in India and China by being positioned as a food with special qualities that enhance physical growth, which in turn serves as a powerful metaphor for individual and national power and wealth.” 
So why wouldn’t you want to drink milk, then?
If milk is the beverage of powerful nations, then surely we should all be tossing down a glass with dinner every night.
The problem comes down to lactase.
The Problem with Milk
Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a sugar found uniquely in dairy products.
And 75% of the world’s population lacks the lactase needed to digest dairy products.
Which means that it’s GOOD they don’t eat dairy. They shouldn’t. It would make them sick.
But in the U.S., 90% of adults have the lactase needed to enjoy dairy products without any ill effects…
Leaving 1 in 10 of us out in the cold.
The biggest cause of stomachaches in children, according to Dr. Henry Holmes, is dairy. (Stress and attention-getting are the other two.)
We consider dairy a children’s food, but in fact children’s bodies are made to process human dairy, in the form of breast milk.
Cow’s milk and human milk have significantly different percentages of fat, carbohydrates and protein. Cow’s milk has more protein in the form of casein than human milk, which has been linked to illness such as type 1 diabetes.
For those reasons and more, parents in the UK are advised to not to feed their infants cow’s milk until they reach 1 year of age.
Isn’t Milk Good for Your Bones?
Yet those of us who watched years of formative ads asking us if we “Got Milk?” or assuring us, “Milk: It Does a Body Good,” have a hard time believing that milk can be anything other than the perfect food.
Some remember being served free cartons of milk in school, as part of a government scheme to build strong bones.
Middle-aged women learn that drinking milk will help them avoid early menopause, while the extra calcium will prevent against osteoporosis.
There are better ways to get strong bones, like eating lots of leafy greens, taking vitamin D supplements, and weight-training.
Dr. Susan E. Brown is the author of Better Bones, Better Body. She found that cultures with high dairy consumption also have high levels of osteoporosis, leading her to conclude that calcium isn’t the issue.
“Bone health depends not so much on calcium intake, but rather on its metabolism and utilization,” she explains. 
And for that, you need the right amounts of vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium…
Not more glasses of milk.
A Future without Dairy
Life without dairy is daunting.
No ranch dressing. No buttercream frosting. No whipped cream on strawberries.
There are alternatives. Coconut cream, avocado, cashews, and soft tofu can act as substitutes.
But it’s not the same. It can’t be.
That’s because there’s nothing like dairy. Especially not in your coffee.
Too many non-dairy substitutes add sugar to make up for the weird taste—or lack of taste.
Recently, a friend went dairy-free. It hasn’t been easy for her, but she felt she needed to do it for health reasons.
When I saw her several months later, I couldn’t help but notice her complexion. It was glowing. (Which is why so many models swear by going dairy-free.)
She told me that it was best to think of it as a whole new way of eating. Don’t try to find non-dairy substitutes for your favorite foods. Find new favorite foods. Ideally, ones that involves vegetables rather than animal products.
Perhaps one reason going dairy-free agrees with so many people is that it forces them to choose healthier options. If you can’t eat a cheese pizza, then you might end up choosing some vegetables instead.
In the end, you can get your calories any way you choose.
You can get them from cheese, cream, a venti Starbucks latte…
Or you can get them from avocadoes, cashews, tofu, and coconut milk.
Which sounds better to you?