What’s the Deal With Dairy? Understanding Its Benefits—and When to Reach for an Alternative 
June 23, 2023

Dairy comes in many forms, making it a versatile ingredient in both savory and sweet recipes. Simply adding milk to a smoothie not only boosts its protein content, it also offers a creamy and satisfying mouthfeel. Enjoying a celebratory ice cream after a successful performance can be a joyful experience. But over the last decade, consumer demand reflects that more than ever, dancers and educators alike are opting for dairy-free alternatives to replace yogurt, milk, cheese, and even ice cream. Is the swap necessary?

A milk allergy or intolerance is the most common reason to opt for dairy-free alternatives. Regarding suspected food sensitivities, be wary—unless a medical diagnosis exists, dairy avoidance may not be necessary. Intentionally restricting dairy for reasons beyond personal preferences, allergies, or intolerances can underscore generalized food fears and make mealtimes challenging. Some consumers even believe dairy to be a cause of acne, but evidence doesn’t support the claim. To alleviate any confusion, Dance Teacher uncovered the benefits of dairy, and when it—and its alternatives—can be added to your meal plan.

Promoting Muscle Recovery

Dairy is rich in protein, most notable for its composition of all essential amino acids. This makes it a fabulous option for tissue repair and muscle growth—especially after intense dancing. It’s no myth that a glass of chocolate milk after dancing provides the body with a unique combination of carbohydrates and protein to replenish muscle glycogen and rebuild muscle, respectively.

Maintaining Strong Bones

More well-known is dairy’s composition of calcium and vitamin D—both of which are vital in supporting the growth and maintenance of strong bones. When combined with other bone-building nutrients, such as phosphorus and magnesium, foods like yogurt and cheese can help to support natural bone turnover and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life. Dairy alternatives fortified with calcium can provide a comparable nutrient profile, allowing for dance educators with allergies and intolerances to maintain a food-first approach in supporting bone health.

Promoting Gut Health

Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and some cheeses contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria. These probiotics populate the lining of our intestines, making up the gut microbiome. In recent years, a large body of research continues to associate a flourishing gut microbiome with digestive regularity, immunity, and even improvements in mood. While dairy alternatives may not naturally contain probiotics, some manufacturers fortify their products to offer a similar advantage for gut health.

Alternatives Abound

Dairy offers a unique combination of essential nutrients that can support post-performance recovery, strong bones, and even gut health. And, thankfully, today’s food landscape now offers an abundance of dairy-free alternatives made from soy, almond, oat, coconut, and more. These alternatives offer viable substitutes to help educators reap the same benefits while catering to their food preferences and medically necessary restrictions. Ultimately, the choice between dairy and dairy-free alternatives depends on personal preferences, dietary needs, and cultural considerations. When making your choice, it’s important to build an informed decision. Relying on credible sources like registered dietitian nutritionists can help ensure that your overall meal plan is adequate to meet your individual needs.

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