One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients (besides weight loss) is about their digestion, feeling bloated, even nauseous. It can be linked to a number of items, but more times than not the culprit is dairy.

All those “Got Milk?” ads suggest that dairy is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, providing essential nutrients, fortifying our bones, and knocking out osteoporosis.

And for many this is an effective campaign. But for a vast number of people, dairy plays a bigger role by causing inflammation in the gut. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to lactose. It may mean you have a difficult time digesting specific sugars and/or proteins.

People who are lactose intolerant don’t produce the lactase enzyme, which is required to break down lactose, a sugar found in milk, causing digestive issues whenever they consume dairy products. People who do produce the lactase enzyme but still react poorly to milk are responding to the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey. Casein is a protein with a very similar molecular structure to gluten and 50 percent of people who are gluten-intolerant are casein-intolerant as well.

Dairy in different forms can be tolerated, depending on your level of sensitivity. For instance, I can’t digest cow’s milk, but I am one happy girl after a helping of goat cheese soufflé.

There are many alternative milks on the market now, and many you can make yourself (almond milk is a favorite.) If you’re confused about their health benefits, here is a breakdown of a few:

— Coconut milk (organic) – most of you know I am a huge fan of this one, not just for flavor but for the rich creamy texture and good fats. Coconut milk contains five electrolytes that help with hydration (think Gatorade – but don’t) It also is high in fiber and fat, which help insulate the body and give you that ‘full’ feeling. Coconut milk is metabolized as energy not stored as fat, which is how dairy milk is processed in our bodies. It has zero cholesterol and provides one-quarter of our daily requirement for iron with a one cup serving. Great in smoothies and as a creamy alternative in desserts!

— Almond milk (unsweetened) — the benefits from almond milk come from the nuts themselves, although some of the nutrients are reduced when processing it into milk (less with homemade.) Almonds are high in vitamins like E (great for skin), and A – good for vision. They also contain a nice amount of calcium (10 percent of the recommended daily allowance, RDA) and no cholesterol. Another consideration is pH. Almond milk is alkalizing, whereas dairy can be highly acidic.

— Rice milk (unsweetened) — low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, rice milk actually has the highest amount of calcium of all the nut or seed milks — 25 percent of RDA. Being that rice is rich in B vitamins, it helps reduce arthritis (inflammation), aids in digestion and brain function and is a protector of the heart.

I am not a proponent of soy milk, the liquid residue of cooked soybeans. Unless organic, soybeans are genetically modified. Many types of soy milk on the market are highly processed and not even made with real soy beans.

If you can make your own, great. Otherwise, try to choose whole-bean soy milk to avoid those made from soy protein or soy isolate. Also, check the label for hidden or added sugars. Look for “brown rice syrup” or “evaporated cane juice” — especially if they are one of the first ingredients listed.

— Golden Milk

With the days getting shorter, you may want something natural to help you sleep. This lightly spiced drink (similar in flavor to chai) is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, thanks to a dose of turmeric. A touch of honey adds just the right amount of sweetness, while the ginger and black pepper add a little heat. Make sure not to omit the pepper in order to fully benefit from the soothing properties. The pepper interacts with the turmeric for maximum results.

2 cups of milk of choice (could be any of the above or oat, quinoa, too)

1 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. raw honey, molasses or maple syrup

Pinch of black pepper (increases absorption)

Tiny piece of fresh, peeled ginger root or 1/4 tsp. ginger powder

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth.

Pour into a small sauce pan and heat for 3-5 minutes over medium heat until hot but not boiling.

Drink immediately, best 30 minutes before bed.

Golden milk can be made five days ahead. Store in an air-tight container and chill. Warm before serving.

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Got questions? Contact your Napa Nutritionist for answers. Karen@karenschuppert.com