Is the white stuff the right stuff?

It’s funny how what may seem to be a major problem or crisis can actually turn out to be the best thing that could have happened. We certainly grow as individuals and gain much. When I discovered that I had a sensitivity to dairy, I was gutted; all my favourite creamy cakes, desserts and cheese were suddenly off the menu. Major changes to the way I view and ate food were on the way, and looking back now, I am so thankful as it has not only helped me to feel so much better health wise, but it’s also revolutionised my way of thinking and opened up a whole new adventure – The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen.

All my life I was told, and am still told, that dairy is good for me, and a vital part of a healthy diet. People are still aghast that I have eradicated it from my diet – how do I manage? Dairy is an integral part of our societal psyche – it’s hard to break free from the norms. So really, that is why I am grateful for my sensitivity; it’s enabled me to make a massive change for the better and been my excuse for being different. And when it’s hard to resist a slice of gorgeous looking creamy chocolate cake, I no longer feel deprived knowing that it will make me feel so ill it’s not worth it. Plus I know how to make a great alternative myself!

There has been lots of research about the dangers of dairy in our diets, how it contributes towards obesity, diabetes, allergies, osteoporosis, cancer – the list goes on. But even when the research is on a huge scale, some how the health and food industry manage to dispute or deny it, and so milk is still promoted as healthy product that should be consumed in large amounts.

The latest piece of research published last month in the British Medical Journal* seems to be finally bringing the message home – a study in Northern Europe that involved over 115,000 people concluded that those who consumed large amounts of milk (about a pint a day) had an increased risk of bone fractures and death. Women in particular, who are encouraged to consume more milk for healthy bones, have a 60% increased risk of hip fractures. For every glass of milk consumed, the risk of dying from heart disease increased by 15% and cancer by 7% and those who had 3 glasses a day or more, compared with just one glass, had a whopping 93% increased risk of dying. That’s huge! So who says milk is good for you now?

The truth is we just don’t need dairy in our diet – cow’s milk is for calves, goats milk for kids (not human ones!) and human breast milk for babies. It’s packed full of all the nutrients, protein and growth factors that a baby animal needs to do the fastest growth and development it’s ever going to have to do

in it’s life. If we were supposed to consume milk as adults, we would have evolved differently – maybe more like David Walliams character Harvey who wants ‘bitty’…….?
No-one in my house drinks dairy now – not that I’ve forced them to either! My son’s life long eczema and asthma have practically gone since eradicating dairy from his diet (plus teenage acne is much better!); my daughter’s joint pains have massively improved (dairy is inflammatory) and finally my husband continues to lose weight dairy free and plant based.

Change is hard, but good things are worth making the effort for. And the more people who go dairy free, to more it becomes mainstream. So why not give it a go, and give your body a break – it will thank you for it in the long run!  And if you’re not sure where to start, The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen is here to help. Come along to a dairy free cooking demo, or look out for my on-line support course coming soon.

*Michaëlsson  K, Wolk  A, Langenskiöld  S, et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ. 2014;349:g6015.

Milk in wine – surely not?

The more I find out about food and drink, the more I’m amazed at exactly what is contained in the every day products we so readily consume. One of the best things about have a food intolerance is gaining knowledge – you need to be informed of exactly what is used to create your favourite dish.

I am constantly amazed, and often dismayed, to find milk or some form of dairy in the most seemingly innocuous products. Crisps are a regular offender (chilli and lime flavor – where’s the need for milk in that?), as is any form of ready meal or processed food product. It hides in different forms – skimmed milk powder is easy to recognise, but then there’s whey, casein and lactose (check out medicines for that one!). But it doesn’t stop there; whey appears in many forms, including gelling and stabilising agents like lactalbumin and lactoglobulin. And as for casein, the milk protein that is my problem, it appears in a multitude of guises as an emulsifier and binding agent (gets processed foods to stick together!). So watch out for anything that has ‘caseinate’ in it, such as sodium caseinate or calcium caseinate, casein hydrolysate (that just doesn’t sound good full stop!) or paracasein.

My daughter became a vegetarian at the age of 12 after finding out that marshmallows contained gelatin – or rather that gelatin was made from crushed animal bones. She was flabbergasted and has never eaten a piece of meat since (and she was a real steak and roast meat eater before). It was a real ‘OMG’ moment for her. Mine came after I read an article about wine; it often contains some form of milk! 

I love wine, but it really does not love me!! Having a yeast intolerance as well as milk has meant that wine has been a real no no over the last few years. Previously, if I’ve had wine to drink, I was so ill the next day. Spirits just don’t effect me in the same way therefore I had always assumed it was the yeast. Now I realise it’s a double allergen whammy; it explains so much!!!

Apparently, a multitude of odd products are used by wine makers, and brewers, either directly to add flavour, or in the filtration process. These include casein, egg white, honey, sea shells and isinglass (fish bladders) to name a few. Casein is often used for fining, a process that removes particles and soluble substances that achieves clarity quicker and more economically than leaving wine to mature over months, or years.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before; I even had a previous boyfriend with a degree in wine making, but I only remember him going on about sulphates and tanins. Oh, and drinking lots of wine……

So what to do? One option is to not drink wine! But, if you don’t have a yeast intolerance, then why? There are vegan wines available on the market; check out websites such as or that provide pretty comprehensive lists. The wines listed will not contain any animal product, covering a huge range of allergens, which is really handy!

The government is making it easier too – at least in the UK. All wines with a 2012 vintage onwards must state on the label whether milk or egg derivatives are used in the manufacturing process, along with sulphur dioxide levels greater than 10mg/litre.  This will make it easier to buy wines at the supermarket, but not sure how a snobby sommelier will react!!

Thankfully, for me there are always spirits to enjoy, although not all of these products are unadulterated so care is still needed! And of course, I have to say, any alcohol must be consumed sensibly and in moderation. Hangovers cannot be blamed on additives alone!

No dairy, no calcium?

We are taught from an early age that milk is an essential part of our diet. If we drink lots of it, we grow up big and strong. Without it, we will have weak bones and teeth. Milk and dairy products are the best source of dietary calcium, as well as other essential nutrients – this is the message put out by dairy producers and successive governments.

So being dairy intolerant, how do I get enough calcium? This was a big concern form me when I first cut dairy from my diet. What I’ve come to realise is that eating a wholefood plant based diet, it’s easy to consume fantastic amounts of easily absorbed calcium to keep my bones and teeth healthy and strong, maybe even better than dairy.

Although the marketing says otherwise, cow’s milk is not the best dietary source of calcium. For example, it has about a 10th of the calcium levels as sesame seeds and only 30% of the calcium in milk is absorbed by the human gut, whereas with seeds and nuts it’s much higher.

So where do I get my dietary calcium from? Green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds are the best source. 100g of watercress contains 151mg of calcium, compared to 120mg in the equivalent of milk. Oats, beans, chickpeas (there they are again!) and tofu also all have good amounts, so it’s really not too hard to reach the recommended daily intake of calcium of 800mg. A large green salad has as much calcium as a glass of milk, plus it’s well absorbed (as long as there’s not too much spinach in it, as this can block calcium absorption). A bowl of porridge made with rolled oats has 100mg of calcium – add some fortified soya milk and some dried figs, and it’s getting up to half your daily dose, just in one bowl!

As a relatively fit and healthy woman in her mid 40’s, I don’t have to worry too much at the moment about my bone health, but in 10 years time or so, once the menopause has hit big stylie, then calcium becomes more of an issue. Osteoporosis is a massive problem in the western world, and dairy is promoted as a necessity to keep bones healthy. However, it seems that maybe dairy might be part of the problem. Countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest number of people with osteoporosis – something to discuss another day.

Sesame seeds really are an incredible source of calcium – there is a fabulous 975mg in just 100g. However, being so tiny, that’s a lot of seeds to consume in one day! By incorporating them into a wholefood diet, it’s pretty easy. Being a hummus addict, I get a good dollop of sesame in the tahini, one of the key hummus ingredients. They can be added to cereals, baking, salads, stews and used in lots of Asian dishes. Sesame can be an allergen for some though, so it’s not for everyone which is a shame, as it’s also an amazing source of iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Quite something for such a tiny seed.
I have found an amazing ‘bread’ stick for dipping that not only tastes amazing (almost cheesy without the cheese) but is gluten free and contains calcium boosting sesame and chickpea all in one. Use it to dip in some hummus or other tahini containing dip, and your bones will be just zinging with strength and happiness!

Chickpea and sesame dipper sticks
1 cup chickpea flour (gram/besan/garbanzo)
3 tbspoon sesame seeds
1/2 tspoon salt
2 tbspoon fresh lemon thyme
1 tspoon olive/sesame oil
up to 1/4 cup water
Heat the oven to 180oC. You can toast your sesame seeds if you like to bring out the flavour, but the sticks work just as well untoasted.
Place the flour, sesame seeds, salt and thyme into a bowl and mix together. Stir in the oil then add the water a little at a time, stirring all the time, until you get a good supple dough. Knead for a couple of minutes until all the ingredients are incorporated, adding a little more flour if it gets a bit sticky. Flatten the dough into a disk, then place on a sheet of baking paper. Place another sheet on top and roll out until the dough is really thin – 3-5 mm if possible. Carefully peel off the top layer, leaving the dough on the bottom layer, and slice the dough into sticks with a knife. Prick each stick with a fork a few times so it doesn’t puff up when cooking. Place the dough and the baking paper underneath onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes or so but check after 10 –  you want a golden brown top. Too light and the sticks are not crispy, too browned and they’re a bit hard on your teeth! Once ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Then break up the sticks where you have previously cut them and they’re ready to eat. Happy dipping!
NB: these sticks soften after a few hours, so are best eaten soon after cooking. If you have any left over, leave out in the kitchen, not in a plastic tub, or they will sadly go soft.