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Real reasons to skip milk

Real reasons to skip milk
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Whether you have a legit allergy, you’re vegan, or you just want to avoid it, you might be fooled by some of the foods that contain dairy.

With food allergies on the rise and so many people switching to plant-based diets, it’s no wonder dairy sales are down. People need – or choose – to avoid dairy for a variety of reasons, says Dr Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. A true milk allergy, the body’s reaction to a protein in cow’s milk, can be life-threatening. Others have lactose intolerance, which means your body lacks an enzyme that helps you digest dairy products; this causes stomach upset and may give you diarrhea, but it’s not deadly. Still, others choose a vegan lifestyle that precludes dairy for health reasons or because they want to avoid all animal products.

How milk hides

How milk hides
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Whatever your reason for avoiding dairy, it’s not always as simple as avoiding milk and cheese. A lot of dairy ingredients make their way into foods you’d never expect to find them in, like non-dairy creamer (really). “Reading labels is so important because these items may appear in foods you would not suspect,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered nurse and creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. In addition to scanning ingredient lists for any form of milk, cheese, or butter, she says, also keep an eye out for casein (a milk protein that can provoke allergic reactions), caseinate, lactate, lactic acid, lactalbumin, and lactylate. Ingredients are listed by weight, so the higher on the ingredients list they appear, the more of them a product contains (important for people who can tolerate small amounts of dairy). Wonder why you’re always bloated after a meal? Dairy might not be the only cause. Here are other causes of belly bloating worth considering.

Margarine

Margarine
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It’s supposed to be an alternative to butter, but margarine, and in some cases shortening, can contain lactose, says Taub-Dix. This might not be an issue if you’re only using small amounts, but when baking, where larger quantities are called for, it’s best to avoid. Margarine, which is often made from soybean oil, may also contain added whey or casein ingredients for flavouring, adds Julie Stefanski, a dietitian. “If you’re avoiding dairy due to an allergy, steer clear of any butter substitutes that have cow’s milk ingredients,” she says.

Protein shakes

Protein shakes
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“Many packaged protein shakes and bars contain whey as a primary or secondary protein source,” says Gena Hamshaw, author of the vegan recipe blog The Full Helping and a dietetic intern at Columbia University in New York. Whey, a by product of cheesemaking, contains lactose and can trigger milk allergies. It’s also found in many protein powders. Find the convenience of a protein drink too good to pass up? Try these other simple protein sources worth adding to your diet.

Bread

Bread
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That restaurant bread basket may not be dairy-free even if you keep away from the butter. Whey is often added to commercial bread and bread mixes as a “flour conditioner,” says Hamshaw. “It’s also worth saying that many lactose-free products do contain casein,” she says. “This makes them suitable for people with lactose intolerance, but those with true dairy allergies do need to read labels carefully.”

Crackers

Crackers
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The mix used to make crackers – as with other baked goods – may contain whey. Many crackers contain other sources of dairy to give them a buttery flavour and flaky texture, says Hamshaw. Look for some healthier snack options, and be careful to avoid these foods, which nutritionists won’t touch.

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Canned nuts

Canned nuts
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There’s more than one allergy in that tin. “Flavoured nuts are a minefield for those with food allergies, says Stefanski. “It’s important to always check the ingredients to discover what is in the coating. Label readers need to remember that food manufacturers have the choice to list the allergen in the ingredients or at the end of the ingredients – but not necessarily in both places,” she says. “So even if the statement at the end doesn’t list milk, you still need to read through the ingredients to find the key words.”

Vegetarian cheese

Vegetarian cheese
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You’d think cheese made from rice milk would be dairy-free – but you’d be wrong, says Stefanski. Some of these cheese alternatives have cow’s milk components added to them for texture or flavour. A safer bet, she says, is to choose a product labelled vegan.

Deli meats

Deli meats
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Bad news Paleo enthusiasts – even protein isn’t guaranteed to be dairy-free. Deli meats often add lactose and caseinates to their product, says Hamshaw. It helps bind the ingredients together (one more reason to avoid processed meats). A good workaround is to look for products with the kosher seal, which will be dairy-free.

Hot dogs and sausages

Hot dogs and sausages
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Like deli fare, these processed meats often contain milk derivatives to achieve the right texture. Look at the ingredients of even the brands labelled “all beef” and you’ll see a modified-milk product listed pretty high. Here are some healthier alternatives for grilling you may not have thought of.

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– The Reader’s Digest team