Especially for those under the age of 25. Here's why you need to be extra careful about replacing the nutrients dairy provides.
From celebs (like Khloé Kardashian) to über-famous trainers (like Tracy Anderson) it seems as if everyone is talking about the supposed benefits of ditching dairy products—proponents say that going dairy-free can change not only how your body looks, but also how you feel. And as anyone who is lactose intolerant will tell you, drinking milk is just not worth the stomach distress. (Here, find out about what can happen when you give up dairy.)
In fact, a recent survey by the National Osteoporosis Society of more than 2,000 people found that a fifth of young adults have given up dairy or significantly reduced their intake, possibly due to the "clean eating" trend that's especially prevalent among bloggers and social media fitness personalities. The downside, however, is that milk provides some super-important nutrients that *need* to be replaced in your diet if you're going to give up dairy altogether. One especially important nutrient? Calcium, which is key for strong bones (as you might remember from elementary school).
While you may not think osteoporosis—a condition that causes bones to become extremely brittle and prone to fractures and breaks—is something you need to worry about right now, your diet before age 25 is actually one of the key factors in determining your bone health later in life, according to Susan Lanham-New, Ph.D., head of nutritional sciences at the University of Surrey and clinical advisor to the National Osteoporosis Society.
"Diet in early adulthood is so important because, by the time you get into your late 20s, it is too late to reverse the damage caused by poor diet and nutrient deficiencies, and the opportunity to build strong bones has passed," says Lanham-New. Considering that one in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis, you can probably see why it's concerning that young people may be coming up short when it comes to calcium. (Related: Can Lactose Intolerance Be Cured?)
In fact, milk products have several benefits that shouldn't be overlooked by those wanting to clean up their diets, such as high concentrations of protein and vitamin D. While it might not be right for some people, the key for those who decide to give up diary—particularly for young adults—is to replace milk with other sources of calcium, such as fortified nondairy milks, nuts, and leafy green veggies. Still, you'd have to eat a lot of these kinds of dairy-free sources of calcium to meet your daily recommended value, and many people miss that mark. So experts say it's a good idea to carefully consider your choice to cut out dairy. (If you're not sure how to reach your recommended 1000mg of calcium daily, read the fit woman's guide to getting enough calcium.)
Remember, "drinking dairy is an individual choice," as Mike Roussell, Ph.D., told us. If you think you might be lactose intolerant, check in with your doctor or cut out dairy for two to three weeks and see how it impacts your body, he says. "Whatever you do, don't cut out dairy for no reason—it is too jam-packed with nutrients to do that."