Dairy free diet - the commonest diet I use for children

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Cow's milk is one of the commonest foods to cause allergic disease. There are no reliable blood or hair tests for milk allergy and the best way to find out if cow's milk is the cause of symptoms is to do without all milk and beef products for at least one month. Since goats and sheep are related to the cow, these milks are not suitable substitutes and should also be eliminated from the diet for the time being.

Apart from avoiding all milk products in the home you must get into the habit of checking all labels on manufactured goods before purchase. Labels may be confusing since many foods have milk in them in various guises. Look out for mention of lactose (milk sugar), whey (present in many margarines), casein and caseinates (present in whiteners such as Coffee Mate). Non-milk fat on a label does not necessarily mean milk free. Many medications contain lactose as an excipient.

Foods to avoid

A complete list of all foods containing milk would be very long; but such a list would be the obvious MILK (dried, tinned, skimmed, low fat), BUTTER, CHEESE, YOGURT, CREAM, ICE CREAM. Also BAKERY PRODUCTS that are unlabled (milk or butter is added to many breads, cakes, biscuits, ready-made puddings, pastry, and crumbles), CONFECTIONARY (chocolate, toffee, fudge, caramel), SAUCES, BATTER, BEEF (sausages and salamis, beef spreads, suets, Bovril, Oxo, gelatin), STOCK CUBES (check the label), PATES (many contain lactose or milk proteins), some FLAVOURED CRISPS (smokey bacon!) and so on.

Milk substitutes are available and are usually based on soya. If you need to use them for babies and infants try Prosorbee soya milk, S-Formula soya milk and Wysoy, but these are all very sweet! However, it happens sometimes that an allergy to soya can develop, in which case try Pregestimil or Nutramigin, which are hypoallergenic preparations. For children and adults it is possible to buy "long life" soya milk in cartons such as Granose. Try to use a sugar free preparation.

Use milk free margarines such as Granose in place of butter. Granose can also be used in cooking and baking (for example in making white sauce). Most mayonnaises are milk free and can make the basis of a good sauce.

Completing the diet

To test milk properly you should remain on the diet for one month. Unless it is done strictly, the diet is useless - you must not cheat! If you do break the diet then you'll have to start all over again. You may worsen on the diet before seeing improvement and get withdrawal symptoms, but these usually clear up after the first few days. If you find you are milk allergic, try testing goats milk. Most milk allergics can tolerate a certain amount of milk occasionally, but get into trouble if they take it on several days in succession. Some people can be desensitised to milk (EPD), a few respond well to taking Nalcrom before a meal containing milk. However, this is an expensive drug, which should be reserved for special occasions. Some people react to milk because they cannot digest it. Using lactase (either added to milk before drinking - lactaid, or as a digestive supplement with milk), an enzyme to digest the milk sugar, lactase, can help this.

Calcium

Many people worry about calcium intake when dairy products are avoided. Actually there is plenty of calcium in meat and vegetables, the problem is absorption. To absorb calcium you need vitamin D and the best source is sunshine. The daily requirement is one quarter of that time necessary to tan or turn pink on arms and face. This is achievable in summer but not winter. Either use a sun lamp, or a winter holiday, or vitamin D as cholecalciferol 2,000i.u. daily. Vitamin D deficiency is extremely common and partly responsible for our epidemics of immune disorders, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease!

Other advantages of dairy-free

Dairy products may cause serious health problems for reasons other than allergy. It has been estimated that 30% of the population make antibodies against cow's milk protein which cross reacts with platelets to make them more sticky - not desirable if you wish to avoid thrombosis and embolism. Furthermore, milk is meant for calves, which are fast growing and milk contains growth promoters. This is undesirable if you wish to avoid cancer! For more information, and a good read, look out for "Your Life in Your Hands" by Prof Jane Plant.

Actually we should all be aiming to eat a Stone Age Diet

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