In recent years, the idea of a casein-free diet has become more popular, and is often adopted in addition to a gluten-free diet. But is going casein-free right for you? We’ll look at some of the primary reasons people make this diet choice, so you can decide if it is a good option for you.
What is Casein?
Casein is the general name for a family of phosphoproteins that are commonly found in milk. Typically, these proteins make up 80% of the proteins in cow’s milk, and are also found in other dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. The word itself comes from the Latin word “caseus,” which means cheese. This protein is also found in a number of other non-dairy foods including some pastas and sports drinks.
Initially, casein-free diets were recommended for people with celiac disease, because casein can sometimes have similar effects on the gut as gluten for those with celiac. As a result, going without dairy sometimes can be beneficial, and provide relief from digestive discomfort. As gluten-free diets have become more popular, even among those who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, the idea of removing casein has also become a mainstream diet choice.
Why go Casein Free?
One of the most common reasons for a casein-free diet is allergies. This allergy may be confused with lactose intolerance since it has many of the same symptoms, but with lactose intolerance, the body is unable to process lactose (milk sugar). Casein allergies occur when your body’s immune system believes that these proteins are harmful. As a result, your body produces antibodies as protection and the reaction between the antibodies and proteins can cause symptoms including:
- Swelling of lips, mouth, and tongue
- Congestion, sneezing, runny nose, or coughing
- In extreme cases, you may experience anaphylaxis, which is a serious reaction to allergies that needs to be treated immediately, usually with a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline).
If you have these kinds of allergies, a casein-free diet might not only be beneficial, but also necessary. If this is the case, make sure to read food labels carefully, as it can be found in substances other than dairy. You can also try a supplement like this one to support gluten and casein digestion.
Potential Health Benefits
However, there are reasons other than allergies that some people might choose a casein-free diet. Many people make this diet choice for health reasons. Some people who experience digestive problems find that going dairy and/or casein free helps with bloating, constipation, and other digestive issues. It is also suggested that acne and skin problems can stem from too much dairy in the diet, so eliminating these proteins may help promote healthier looking skin.
Potential Support for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Finally, one of the most popular reasons for a casein-free diet is that it may reduce behavioral and gastrointestinal issues in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. This theory emerged in the 1970s, and postulated that children with autism spectrum disorders aren’t able to process casein properly. Instead, the proteins cause the formation of certain peptides, and because of what is referred to as “leaky gut syndrome,” these peptides are able to escape the digestive tract and travel to the brain. It is thought that this can cause some of the behavioral symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder. As a result, many parents choose to follow a gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet for their children.
While there is no concrete evidence that following a GFCF diet has beneficial effects, some parents have reported seeing positive changes in behavioral and gastrointestinal issues. Click to read more about studies being done about GFCF diets and autism spectrum disorders.
If you do decide to go casein-free, it’s important that you make sure you are supplementing your diet with enough protein to compensate for the lack of casein. This can be achieved with a protein powder. Luckily, there are several dairy-free protein powders that are available in flavored and unflavored options. We like these two choices— both are made with plant-based protein so you can get the nutrients you need.
If you can’t live without milk, try an alternative such as almond milk, rice milk, or coconut milk. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try making your own almond milk at home (we love this recipe from the kitchn— it’s delicious and incredibly easy to make!). In addition, some dairies are starting to find natural ways to produce milk without casein, like Clover Meadows Farm in Wisconsin. No matter the reasons, make sure you read all the information before deciding if a casein-free diet is right for you.
Have you made the choice to go casein-free? Share your story in the comments!