Thought Leadership

Avoiding the cows

By Colin Walls

I am carrying out an experiment. On myself. It started about 10 days ago and will run for 2 weeks. It is nothing too invasive or difficult: I have simply adjusted my diet to avoid dairy products. I decided to do this as I have a few medical symptoms that, after some investigation, do not seem to have an obvious cause. I have had some digestive system issues for a while and many people report an intolerance to dairy being a cause. I have also had a slight nagging cough; I have not been overcome by paroxysms of coughing, but commonly and frequently find I need to “clear my throat”. This, again, is commonly attributed to dairy intolerance. The only effective way to verify any dietary intolerance is to eliminate the item from one’s diet. So that is what I have been trying to do …

It seems that intolerance to various types of food are common and are on the increase. There are various possible explanations for their increasing prevalence. The one that sounds most likely to me is the excessive use of antibiotics, which is killing off our gut flora; there is a lot of evidence that this correlates and, given that the bugs in our digestive tract are instrumental in our digestive process, this makes sense.

Another suggestion is simply that the food items are “new“ to our diet and evolution has not yet had a chance to catch up. I would have thought that, since we have been consuming dairy and gluten, for example, for thousands of generations, we would have become used to them by now. On the other hand, some people report issues with the “nightshades” [potato, tomato, etc.], blaming them for joint problems. This is much more credible, as Europeans have only been consuming these foods for about a dozen generations.

Avoiding dairy starts with the obvious: not consuming milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese. I only really use milk in coffee [once each day] and with breakfast cereal etc. Using rice and almond milk seems to work fine for me; I have not tried any of the other options. Soya yoghurt seems OK. Butter can be replaced by a non-dairy spread, which is acceptable. It is really only cheese that I have needed to avoid entirely, as I am assured that the non-dairy equivalents would be disappointing. The hard thing is avoiding all the other products that are made using milk or milk products [like whey powder]. Fortunately, European food labelling rules are very helpful and ingredients lists highlight possible issues. It is surprising [and disappointing!] how many products do use dairy. If, like some people, I was in the habit of using a lot of pre-prepared food, I think that I would find it hard to find anything to eat!

Some more subtle labelling says things like: “May also contain milk …”, “May contain traces of milk …”, “Made in a factory where milk products are handled” or the odd “Unsuitable for consumers with a milk allergy”. I assume that these are to cover the manufacturer in the event of a tiny amount of contamination occurring and making certain people, who are very sensitive, get sick. I have been avoiding these products, as I have attempted to expunge dairy entirely from my diet over this period.

At the time of writing, I am not at all sure that I see any positive change in my digestive system. The cough seems to have become less prevalent, so maybe there is a benefit …

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at