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Problems with Dairy: Daily Solutions

Monday, May 10, 2021



Dairy is one of the most commonly used ingredients in food dishes, yet as recent data has begun to show, it can also be problematic for digestive health.  It may be best to avoid for many people, especially those with inflammatory bowel disease. Although it may be difficult to avoid due to its popularity, there are certainly strategies and healthy substitutions available. First however, lets learn about IBD and explain the importance of avoiding dairy.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term that is used to describe autoimmune disorders that involve chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. The two major types of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). They primarily differ in disease location, where ulcerative colitis is limited to the outermost lining of the large intestine while Crohn’s disease can be found all along the digestive tract and can affect deeper layers. Research suggests that the immune system attacks the body's own cells (“autoimmune”) in the digestive tract causing inflammation. The symptoms include diarrhea (sometimes constipation), fatigue, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and weight loss (or weight gain).  All of this is caused by inflammation in the digestive tract.

So where does diet come in? The symptoms of IBD significantly affect the quality of life of any patient with IBD and can lead to disability. Although the exact cause of the disease is unknown, it is known to have genetic factors. These genetic factors may be triggered by environmental factors, such as smoking, pollution, viruses, stress, and diet, to name a few, and can exacerbate the severity of symptoms.

Therefore, diet can be used as a tool to help those with IBD:  reduce their symptoms and improve management of their disease. The IBD-AID (IBD-anti-inflammatory diet) diet is a clinically proven diet that is targeted to reduce inflammation and assist with remission in patients with IBD.

The IBD-AID diet is made up of four components that can be grouped into two categories: do’s and don'ts. The “do’s” emphasize eating foods that containing probiotics (good bacteria) such as plain yogurt, kefir, kimchi, miso and other fermented foods, prebiotics (foods that help the good guys grow) such as steel-cut and oat groats, ground flax seed, chia seeds,  bananas, and asparagus (for more information on pre- and probiotics, look into one of our previous newsletters). Additionally, maintaining a diet that consists of quality nutrition foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

In contrast, the “don’ts” highlight foods to stay away from. These foods include limiting saturated fats, avoiding trans-fatty acids, and avoiding wheat, lactose, refined sugar (sucrose), corn, and the main topic for today: unfermented dairy.

But why is unfermented dairy a “don’t” food? For starters, diet has a direct effect on the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is essentially all of the bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that exist in the gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms play a role in digesting food, priming the immune system, producing vitamins, and other related functions. The gut microbiome in most people is made up of important microorganisms and bacteria that aid the body. However, to put it simply, many patients with IBD have microbiomes that are imbalanced, comprised of an unequal amount of relatively harmful bacteria in proportion to helpful bacteria. Therefore, following a dietary pattern consisting of foods that promote the growth of helpful bacteria and starves out the harmful ones (by avoiding those foods) can help restore balance to the gut.

Unfermented dairy, along with wheat, corn, and sugar promotes growth of harmful bacteria in the microbiome. Hence, avoiding these foods can lead a decrease in harmful bacteria, effectively leading to a better balance of bacteria in the microbiome and less bowel inflammation. Thus, avoiding certain types of dairy would allow for the gut to recover and overall lead to improvement in IBD symptoms.

The easiest strategy for avoiding regular milk products is to use some dairy alternatives products. Luckily, dairy alternatives are becoming increasingly popular, with plant-based milks being available in most grocery stores. Soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, and cashew milk are a few of the most common examples. These products contain great nutritional value (vitamins and minerals), and you can use these products just as you would regular milk, either as a drink or in many recipes. These alternatives have become more popular; thus it is possible to even request them from many popular locations (such as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts).  Just watch out for added emulsifiers to these products, such as carrageenan and maltodextrin. 

One of my favorite desserts/snacks recently has been acai bowls. This can easily be made with one of the milk substitutes listed above. Acai bowls incorporate many prebiotic and probiotic foods and can be an easy and great way to start your morning. The following is a recipe adapted from Bakerita for a vegan (non-dairy) acai bowl:


  • 1 (100g) packet unsweetened frozen acai puree(can be found at most grocery stores).
  • 1 banana, frozen
  • ½ cup of additional frozen berries (can choose from blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or combination of all)
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk or plain yogurt
  • Fresh berries, coconut, or granola


  • Combine the frozen acai puree, frozen banana, ½ cup of additional frozen berries, and ½ cup dairy-free milk of choice in a high-powered blender.
  • Blend until completely smooth. If smoothie is not blending, adding more dairy-free until it will blend smoothly.
  • Pour into a bowl.
  • Place the toppings of additional berries, coconut, and/or granola.
  • Enjoy!

Adapted from: 


Abegunde, A. T., Muhammad, B. H., Bhatti, O., & Ali, T. (2016). Environmental risk factors for inflammatory bowel diseases: Evidence based literature review. World journal of gastroenterology22(27), 6296–6317.

“Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Nov. 2020,