One-week challenge: dairy

by | Dec 3, 2013

One-week challenge: dairy

One-week challenge: dairy

Because I believe that there is no one diet, fitness regimen, daily routine, or productivity program that suits everyone, I would like to begin conducting one-week challenges (alternating elimination or inclusion of a specific food item/group). Experimenting through trial and error is a great way to figure out what may or may not work for a person and, while there has been a lot of hullaballoo about dairy products—from causing lactose intolerance to acne to cancer—not all reports and studies pertain to every person on the planet; therefore, I invite you to join me (yes, I will be including myself in these challenges) for one week, from Thursday, 12/5/13 – Wednesday, 12/11/13, to find out how we react to eliminating dairy from our diet. As a thank you, anyone who participates in this challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win a FREE one-hour nutrition consultation with me ($125 US value).

According to the USDA, dairy is defined as “fluid milk products and foods made from milk that retain their calcium,” which means that cream cheese, cream, and butter are not included in the dairy group, but calcium-fortified soymilk is. For this challenge, however, I would like to include all products that are made from animal’s milk, meaning that we would eliminate fluid milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc., but can keep soymilk in our diets for the week.

What you need to know: fluid milk products contain carbohydrates (lactose, a milk sugar), protein (casein and whey), fat (saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, and cholesterol), vitamins A, D, and B2 (riboflavin), and the minerals calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sodium chloride, and sulfur. Many fermented milk foods like cheese and yogurt contain less vitamins and carbs than their fluid counterparts since most are lost in production, but they still contain protein, fat (mostly saturated and cholesterol unless you choose a low-fat or non-fat version), and the minerals calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and sodium.

What you need to substitute: to be sure you’re replacing the beneficial nutrients you’d normally be getting in dairy, I suggest you consider the below as viable options.

  • vitamin A – sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, collard greens
  • vitamin B2 – whole grain Total cereal, oatmeal, eggs, mushrooms
  • vitamin D – salmon, sardines, or go play outside for 20 minutes every other day
  • calcium – collard greens, sardines, kale, salmon, eggs, and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice and tofu (note: spinach, while high in calcium, has a low bioavailability/absorption rate due to the naturally occurring oxalates found in it, so you wouldn’t be getting quite the calcium bang for your buck on this one)
  • magnesium – halibut, spinach, black beans

Should you choose to take part in this challenge, please e-mail me or submit a note in the comments below by 8pm ET on Wednesday, 12/4/13. I will ask you to take a starting weight (which you will not share publicly) and keep a daily log of your progress including any issues that arise or seem to lessen. You may document your progress in the comments here daily, if you wish, though, at the end of the challenge, I will send you an anonymous survey to complete and then post the results on this blog.

Thanks in advance to those of you interested in participating. I look forward to seeing what this challenge holds for us!

Photo credit: University of Wisconsin-Madison


  1. DishWithDina

    The last couple of days have been both fun and challenging (I guess that’s the point of a challenge). On Sunday night, I ordered from a vegan restaurant in the West Village called Quantum Leap ( and had a delicious black bean burger topped with avocado, corn salsa, and onions. I also opted for soy cheese on my burger, but my feelings about being dairy-free are that I shouldn’t be substituting my dairy with overly processed foods, just as I wouldn’t normally eat anything with a crazy, long list of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce or recognize (a sample list of ingredients in soy cheese includes Pea Protein Isolate, Vegetable Glycerine, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan, and Titanium Dioxide). In this particular case, it was more of an indulgence for the cheesy texture, but I can be sensitive to these foods sometimes, and, sure enough, I felt a little “off” afterwards. So, to make up for that, I only ate clean, whole foods yesterday and am doing a juice/liquid fast today.

    I have diligently been keeping track of my progress here and in my food log at home and noticed I am not nearly as bloated as I regularly get. I used to think that symptom occurred after I ate bread or wheat products, but I now believe it might be the dairy that accompanied them because I’ve had both non-wheat bread and wheat foods over the course of this challenge and haven’t been noticing any tummy puffiness afterward. Interesting…

  2. DishWithDina

    As much as I consider myself an avid reader of food labels, I realized yesterday I had been taking for granted some of my vegetarian packaged foods. I reached for a veggie burger and found it had whey in it, which was a bummer because I was craving it, but also because if I intended to keep dairy-free after this challenge, I’d have to replace these with vegan versions and I hate wasting food. (I ended up making pasta with kale & chickpeas instead.) The good news is that I was able to satisfy my sweet tooth once again with vegan cookies (peanut butter and chocolate chip) from Sustainable NYC/Ciao for Now on Avenue A here in the East Village. Highly recommended!

  3. DishWithDina

    Day Two proved to be less challenging than expected. Mexican night was a success as I ordered my usual vegetarian taco salad without the cheddar cheese and sour cream. Normally, we go out for dessert or ice cream afterward. This time, to satisfy my sweet tooth, we indulged in the homemade, rich, dairy-free frozen desserts from the sweet shoppe formerly known as Lula’s Sweet Apothecary on E. 6th Street in the East Village. I chose a double scoop of the banana and chocolate flavors. Yum!

  4. DishWithDina

    Day One down: not too bad. Didn’t really crave anything with dairy nor did I have to avoid anything with dairy in it. The real challenge will be tomorrow during our weekly Mexican dinner out. To be continued…

  5. DishWithDina

    I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s challenge! If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time! Send me an e-mail or leave a comment on this post. If you just want to do your own challenge, remember that we are eliminating all dairy products for one week. These are food items that are made from or include animal’s milk, such as fluid milk, cheese, cream/whipped cream, yogurt/frozen yogurt/kefir, butter, croissants/brioche, chai, lassi, custard, ice cream/gelato/semifreddo, and milk chocolate. Read the product’s ingredients list to determine if it includes dairy (sometimes listed as casein, nonfat milk powder, whey protein, or whey protein isolates) or avoid the item altogether if you are unsure. You may drink soymilk and eat dairy substitutes/vegan items like Earth Balance spread, Daiya soy cheese, Tofutti, and Rice Dream frozen desserts, for example.

  6. Yasmeen Coaxum

    This is an awesome idea!!! I’m fully down with the challenge!

    • DishWithDina

      Sweet! This means we can’t have queso together on Friday, though. Quite the challenge indeed!

I’m Dina R. D’Alessandro, MS, RDN, CDN. I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in New York City, and I provide nutrition counseling to women.

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