Giving up dairy has almost become a fad. While some people embark on a dairy-free diet for genuine health reasons, others do so with the belief that it will magically clear up their skin and instantly relieve any discomfort. But what really happens to your body when you give up dairy for only a week? Will you notice an effect at all? Or does it take a lot longer for the diet to have an impact?
First of all, think about why you're giving up dairy. "I would not advise any client to completely remove a food group from their diet unless I suspected that there may be an underlying allergy," says Caroline Piper, nutritionist at Civilized Health.
A lot of people struggle to digest lactose— a type of sugar found in dairy products— reports the Independent. Nutritionist and author of Real Lunchtime Food, Jenny Tschiesche, confirms this. "Plenty of people do not produce enough of the enzyme (lactase) responsible for breaking down [lactose]," she says.
Negative reactions to the ingredient can be rapid. ("Somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours after eating food with lactose in," notes Tschiesche.) Bloating and abdominal discomfort may occur along with sneezing and a runny nose as the lactose "moves into the colon instead of being processed and absorbed." Here, Tschiesche continues, "bacteria interact with undigested lactose, and it is this reaction that causes the unwanted symptoms."
If you are truly lactose-intolerant, you are likely to find that these symptoms disappear pretty quickly when dairy is not consumed. People who aren't lactose-intolerant and consume a lot of dairy, however, may also "experience weight loss or, at the very least, a reduction in bloating," says Piper.
This may not have anything to do with dairy, but the fact that cutting out any major food group for a week is likely to result in weight loss. But, Piper adds, "losing weight this way can be difficult to 'keep off', [so] you should always stick to the age-old 'everything in moderation' and exercise."
According to Tschiesche, improved skin is another potential short-term benefit: "Hormones and growth factor, naturally present in cow’s milk, are thought to stimulate acne in prone individuals." (However, this is still a much-debated topic, per Health.) And if you're a migraine sufferer, you may experience less headaches.
But, Piper states, by cutting out dairy even just for a week, "you are depriving your body of essential nutrients." These include calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Not consuming enough B12, for example, "can cause excessive tiredness and weakness." So Piper recommends taking a B12 supplement if you do go down the dairy-free path.
Certain types of dairy can be more beneficial than others. Fermented produce, says Tschiesche, can provide even more nutritional benefits due to its probiotic bacteria content which, in turn, can boost the immune system. And grass-fed dairy is much better for you than produce from "intensively farmed animals."
Note that people who give up dairy may then find they are intolerant to it, per the Independent. If this is the case, try getting your body used to it by consuming small amounts of lactose alongside other foods. Over time, adverse effects may subside.
A lot to digest. But it's important to know that giving up a big part of the human diet may not be as miraculous as it seems.