Dairy free dilemma

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FOR NON-meat eaters, life in Britain has been fairly easy over the last twenty years or so.

As more and more of the population chose to give up meat, the supermarkets and food producers increased their product ranges and these days, restaurants and cafes always offer at least one vegetarian option.

But throughout the rest of Europe, attemping to adopt a meat-free diet was to put it mildly, extremely challenging.

This was particularly so in Spain, where less than ten years ago, vegetarians were seen as, if not freaks, then at the least, a little bit strange

And as for vegans? …. Well, they may well have stepped down off another planet, for all the understanding they received. ”No milk or cheese? Are you insane?”

Ask for a Sandwich Vegetal in a cafe, and the waiter would invariably reply with ” Si, Con jamon o atun? ”. Even worse, in many cases the ham and tuna would be added without question, forcing a complete dissection of the sandwich before eating.

Skip forward a decade and the situation has changed dramatically for vegetarians and even more so for vegans as health conscious Europeans turn away from traditional eating habits in their millions.

The ‘Clean Eating’ phenomenon, a diet eschewing meat, fish, animal products, wheat, yeast, dairy items and all processed foods, has moved at great pace across the continent and Spain has been swept along too.

Specialist health food shops lined with organic, macrobiotic and meat free goods are springing up all over the country, even in small towns.

Even supermarket shelves have a good selection of gluten and wheat free, vegetarian, vegan friendly, dairy alternative products.

Ready-made, spiralised courgetti, which can be used as an alternative to pasta, mixed with a delicious vegetable sauce, or as a healthy wheat free pizza based, is now available in the chiller cabinet.

With younger people in particular adopting a dairy-free lifestyle, a new report delivered by the National Osteoporosis Society (NOS) in the UK has caused a few shockwaves.

A survey by the charity found four in 10 young adults have tried “fashionable diets” that often involve avoiding dairy, gluten, grain and sugar, while more than a fifth had severely restricted their intake of milk and cheese.

They warned that restrictive diets among younger generations will lead to widespread health issues in later life, including osteoporosis which causes bones to become brittle and break.

A charity adviser said ”Without urgent action being taken to encourage young adults to incorporate all food groups into their diets, we are facing a future where broken bones will become the norm.

“Osteoporosis is a painful and debilitating condition and young adults have just one chance to build strong bones.”

Dairy foods are a source of calcium, an essential nutrient for the health and strength of bones.

It’s unclear why young people are cutting out dairy, but the NOS report suggests it could be linked to celebrity trends on social media sites like Instagram, where photographing of food has become something of a cult.

A survey conducted by the BBC in the UK showed nearly half of 16 to 24 year olds say they have an intolerance to cow’s milk and dairy products, yet only 24% had actually had their condition diagnosed by a doctor, revealing the pressure young women are under to match what their idols on Instagram are eating is really high.

However it’s not all bad news for non-dairy eating youngsters, as studies show it’s not necessarily dangerous to cut out dairy from your diet it’s just important to ensure you get enough calcium from other sources.

Dairy tends to make the biggest contribution to our calcium intakes and so this needs to be replaced by other sources such as bread, cereal, canned fish, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables as well as choosing dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium.

Other sources include kale, pak choi, okra, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds plus alternative sources that can be easily obtained on a vegan diet, such as calcium-fortified plant milk and soya yoghurt, and calcium-set tofu.

Free information on following a vegan lifestyle can be found at the Vegan Society’s website www.vegansociety.com

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