We have received this inquiry about weight gain from half a dozen Go Dairy Free viewers in the past month alone, so it seemed time to address the concern. Below is the question as worded by just one of those viewers.
Q: Natasha – I need to know about how thin people can maintain their weight on a dairy-free diet. Due to a liver upset some months ago, I haven’t been able to regain a healthier weight, and worry that on the dairy free diet I’ll get way too thin. Milk provides some calories that I need. What to do, please?
A: Alisa – First and most importantly, too much unexplained weight loss and the inability to maintain a healthy weight is serious issue. Though most of America is fighting an obesity epidemic, there are millions who struggle to keep the pounds on. Too low of a body weight can have serious health consequences …
If this is a problem for you, consult a physician immediately. We as humans do not require a single food to maintain a healthy weight (ie milk, wheat, broccoli, oranges, etc.), we require nutrients. If you are intaking and absorbing the proper nutrients and calories for your body and lifestyle, then keeping your weight up should not be a problem. If it is, then there may be an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.
There are numerous conditions that can cause unexplained weight loss including food allergies / intolerances (I will briefly address this below), gastrointestinal disorders (such as Celiac Disease or Crohn’s Disease), endocrine / hormone disorders, infections, medication, etc. This is not something which I can diagnose, as I am not a physician, and most importantly, I am not your physician. Again, consult your doctor.
What I can discuss is how to replace those nutrients found in milk with other healthy foods and the potential role of food allergies and intolerances. Though the vitamins and minerals some people rely on dairy for are important, today I am just going to discuss the basic caloric nutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
If you have a copy of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook, flip to page 56 (same page whether you have the paperback version or the eBook version). That is the first page in a section entitled “When Gaining Weight is a Good Thing” (for those of you with the Kindle version, this section is in the chapter entitled “Other Dairy-Free Concerns”). This should give you a good primer on obtaining healthy fats and protein sans dairy. I do not address carbohydrates as an issue in this case, since the primary carbohydrate in milk is lactose, or milk sugar. I think most of us do just fine getting enough sugars, and lactose is probably what many of you are trying to avoid.
Fat: Adequate fat is important in our diets, and some people rely on dairy products (whole milk, sour cream, yogurt, cheese, etc.) to obtain calories in the form of fat. Some great “healthy” fat sources include nuts (brazil, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, etc.), seeds (flax, hemp, sesame, sunflower, etc.), coconut products (coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut oil, shredded coconut, etc.), avocados, and oils (hemp, flax, olive, etc.). Those who consume meat and/or fish will also be consuming natural fats from those products. Also, if you aren’t vegan or allergic, enjoy the whole egg. Those yolks contain some valuable nutrients and a nice dose of fat to help you absorb those nutrients.
Here are a couple of prior Ask Alisa Q&A’s that discuss the topic of dairy fats:
Here are just a few of my favorite recipes in Go Dairy Free for obtaining healthy fats:
Protein: Fortunately, there are many great sources of protein beyond dairy. The basic sources include eggs, meat, and seafood. At least a little bit incorporated into each meal will help. If you are vegetarian or vegan, then nuts, legumes, and gluten-free grains are a good option. Think almonds, walnuts, pecans, soy products, beans, quinoa, amaranth, etc. You can also supplement your diet with protein powder, which goes well in smoothies. Protein powder is quite varied these days, and dairy-free options include egg white, hemp, soy, pea, brazil nut, and rice protein powders.
For those of you who have a copy, the following are some vegan-friendly recipes from Go Dairy Free that contain a good dose of protein without the animal products:
You can also use p161 as a guide to incorporate healthy fats and protein powder into the smoothie recipes in that chapter.
Keep in mind all foods are a balance of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, so even fruit and vegetables contain some protein. The options noted above just contain a higher ratio of protein than other foods. Also, a high protein diet can actually cause fat loss, and assist in weight loss. So it is important to obtain the right balance for you.
Food Allergies / Intolerances and Malabsorption of Nutrients: Though many underweight people are afraid of losing more weight without dairy, in some cases the opposite may be true. For some individuals, food allergies can damage the intestinal mucosa and actually be the cause of nutrient malabsorption. In such cases, when the allergen is removed (such as milk) and the intestines are allowed time to heal, weight gain may actually occur.
Of course, if you are simply concerned about obtaining enough calories, simply enjoy more dairy-free foods! Keep your intake at the same level. But once again, if you are losing weight or having trouble maintaining weight, consult a physician promptly. I can only offer information based on my own personal experiences and research, but I am not a doctor. It is essential to speak with your doctor to discover if there may be an underlying health issue.
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.
If you have a question for Alisa, contact us.