This article will undoubtedly put me in some hot water with some within the paleo scene. Bring it on.
After much misinformation, I believe it’s time to come out in defense of dairy. The good news is that I’m going to show you how you can easily test to see, if you can safely tolerate dairy, and reap the health benefits you may be missing out on. I’ve already jumped from the paleo ship , remember? So, let’s begin with dairy: Dairy is a gray area food that (let’s just put it out there) – isn’t for everyone. Honestly, some people just can’t process it, because it causes them problems. But, for those, who can tolerate dairy, it is an excellent nutrient dense food. The catch is that most people have not thoroughly researched, if dairy could actually work for them.
Let’s be honest – those, who read my articles, know that I am a staunch proponent for “testing, not guessing” the main method for determining your own health needs. Truth-be-told, a variety of variables play a role in your body type, metabolism, genetic makeup, and nutritional history, so it’s virtually impossible to make a lot of assumptions on what works for you, without putting yourself through the ringer. In other words, the best way to figure out what effect something will have your body is to – test it out. Remember, different things work for different people at different times.
So, how can you determine, if you can personally tolerate dairy? Well, we’ll get to that – first things first. I assume that the good majority of you already have a good understanding, as to why you can (or should) consume dairy, if possible.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST DAIRY
Before you attack me for suggesting that you include dairy into your diet, let me explain. And, no, I’m not a demon for recommending it; so, let’s take a minute to examine the top two reasons why people argue against dairy consumption.
“Humans haven’t had the time to adapt genetically to process dairy!”
Anti-dairy advocates believe that humans and therefore, should not consume dairy state that consuming dairy has only been accepted in the last century or so. They also assert that dairy isn’t good for people because we have not genetically adapted to consuming dairy products. And, lastly, they argue that we are unable to break down dairy, thus leading to a host of inflammatory conditions. And, although these are common reasons for adopting a limited-food paleo or primal diet, it just doesn’t hold up here. In fact, it has been proven several times that the Northern European regional humans experienced genetic shifts that helped them successfully process dairy. So, even if you did not descend from this region, it doesn’t mean that dairy won’t work for you, as well. We’ll discuss later some of the culprits that can prevent you from safely consuming dairy. I’ll give you a hint, though, you’re probably not eating real dairy. Shocker! Still, eating fake food doesn’t usually lead to genetic problems.
“No other animals drink the milk of other animals!”
This is true. But, other animals also don’t cook their food…like we do. They also don’t domesticate other animals, have any system of agriculture, develop complex societies with millions of people, build shelters from the elements with down blankets, pillows, and/or thermostats, have running water, and/or the internet. So, let me ask you this, “Would you give up any of those things just because other animals don’t have access to them?” Nope, of course not. So, shouldn’t we use whatever means we have at our disposals to thrive?
So, theoretically, there shouldn’t be any problems with dairy, right? Those, against dairy, however, would then ask you, “But, why would you want dairy in the first place?”
BENEFITS OF DAIRY
Properly sourced dairy can be a very micro-nutrient dense source of nutrition.
Dairy is packed with fat soluble vitamins like; A, D, and K2. These nutrients not play key roles in your body, they are also actually pretty tough to get, if you’re not eating a lot of organ meats or fermented soy. Can I get a raise of hands of those, who regularly consume organ meats and fermented soy?
Dairy also contains high levels of calcium. Now, the vegans may say, “Yeah, but you can also get calcium from leafy greens!” Ah, touché! However, vitamins A, D, and K2 (the ones found in dairy, remember?) can lower your need for calcium, so you can obtain a healthy level of it, through your diet. Weird how those things go together, huh?
In addition, certain dairy foods have high probiotic densities (i.e. yogurt, kefir, and cheese) that can help populate your gut with good bacteria – bacteria that is tremendously good for your overall health. These dairy sources (i.e. yogurt) are easier food to eat (for a lot of people) than raw sauerkraut (my personal favorite), kimchi, or other fermented foods.
There are even more incredibly healthy elements of dairy, such as: conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, and other very healthy fats that regulate your hormone levels and help build cell walls. You know – the important stuff.
Okay, so dairy can be a great food source, so why shouldn’t everyone consume it?
PROBLEMS WITH DAIRY
There are essentially two potential reasons why some people are sensitive to dairy – intolerance to either the sugar (lactose) or to the protein (casein) normally found in dairy. Simply put, some people don’t have the enzymes needed to properly break down these proteins and sugars, while others do. And, if you are unable to break down these components, you may experience some very unpleasant and serious side-effects like: fatigue, metabolism issues, skin problems, and/or digestive… flares.
However, if you aren’t sensitive to dairy, good news! There are some great options for you. But, how do you know if you are sensitive to it? Well, you could ask your doctor to order super expensive labs for you. Companies like Cyrex will definitely help you learn if you have a sensitivity to dairy… or, you could do it the old fashioned way.
Listed below are the old fashioned steps you can take to find out if you are sensitive to dairy:
STEP ONE: ARE YOU EATING REAL DAIRY?
There are a few things to consider, before assuming you are lactose intolerant. Although, you have to run to the bathroom 15 minutes after consuming “dairy,” doesn’t necessarily mean you are sensitive or allergic to dairy. In fact, the likelihood that you are getting the real food version of dairy is highly unlikely. Ninety-nine percent of commercially-available dairy is a “frankenfood,” just as much as the raw wheat growing in a field is nothing like a Pringle. Surprise! The majority of dairy most people consume is weird, watery, over-processed made-up foods – nothing like what comes out of an animal.
Real foods spoil. And, these foods are consumed close to how they are found. So, is this how you are getting your dairy? Well, all people, tolerant or not of dairy, should avoid ingesting milk and dairy that is highly pasteurized, homogenized, and/or processed. Where is the excellent nutrition we talked about earlier? And, where does the so-called “dairy” you find at most grocers come from? FYI: I wrote a post on sourcing your dairy in an earlier post.
The short version is that pasteurization typically kills all of the beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help you digest milk. Moreover, homogenization forces fat through a tiny little screen, which breaks up the fat particles into smaller damaging and oxidized versions of otherwise stable saturated fats. “Processing” is hard to miss. Think of the super bright orange shredded cheese found in groceries, or the “cheese” that comes in brick form. These cheeses last approximately 3 years. Wow! How is that even possible? Alert: Those cheeses are not good for you.
So, regardless of whether or not you are trying to determine, if you can tolerate dairy, it is important to upgrade your choices, if you are currently eating it.
So, the high-level takeaways from my dairy buying guide are:
- Go raw, whenever possible (especially milk and cheese)
- Skip Skim, go with 1%, 2% or full-fat (especially milk and yogurt)
- Opt for grass-fed and organic foods, whenever possible
- Look for non-homogenized milk
- Select local foods, if possible
Step One Goal: Stop eating fake dairy products
STEP TWO: ELIMINATION TIME
Everyone should go 30 days without dairy. Don’t change any other variables and take note of any changes in your health. FYI: Sometimes you may think you feel healthy… until the lights brighten a little bit and it dawns on you just how dim the room was in the first place. Many mistake digestive issues as a lactose or casein intolerance, when in actuality, it’s not that at all. Dairy problems don’t just affect the gut and digestive system. Note: This symptoms typically clear up, only to return in step three.
Some of the symptoms you should be looking out for, however, are:
– Skin Issues (i.e. acne, dry itchy skin, dandruff, and/or patchiness)
– Bloating or Weight Gain
– Digestive Inconsistencies
If you have any of these symptoms, it should be even more of a motivation to try an elimination trial of dairy, and/or take a deeper look into your health. Humans shouldn’t have these qualities.
Step Two Goal: Eliminate any form of dairy for a minimum of thirty days, and track any changes in health
STEP THREE: REINTRODUCTION
Alright, after the 30 days, how do you feel? Has your digestive systems improved? What about your mood? Headaches? Skin issues? Bloating? If so, it doesn’t mean you can never have dairy, but you definitely were reacting to something. The trick here is to understand that not all dairy is created equal. You have to go through a systematic reintroduction phase of dairy, until you figure out how certain types affect you.
If nothing changed, I would start adding back in the high quality, the REAL dairy foods, we talked about in step one, once-a-week. If you’ve had even a hint of improvement in energy, mood, digestion, and/or skin quality, I recommend slowing the reintroduction phase to two weeks, per food.
Do you remember discussing the two main reasons people react to dairy – sugars and protein? Yes? Well, now is the time to test theories out to determine which reason applies to you. So, instead of making it super-confusing, how about you learn how to start and progress in a linear fashion.
Add a food in, wait 1-2 weeks, and see if any symptoms pop up. If nothing happens, add the next food.
This is NOT the extremely ridiculous “dairy reintroduction ladder” sometimes prescribed for children, who appear to be allergic to dairy. This idiotic plan includes a reintroduction phase of dairy in this order: biscuits, more biscuits, cupcakes, pancakes, pie, lasagna, pizza, chocolate, THEN yogurt, cheese, milk formula, and finally pasteurized/processed milk formula. Seriously. Seriously?!
These are the stair steps I think real humans should take to reintroduce dairy after an elimination:
- Butter (grass-fed)
- Cream (raw)
- Hard Cheeses (raw)
- Yogurt (full fat)
- Whole Milk (raw)
- Soft Cheeses (raw)
- Other dairy (cottage cheese, sour cream, etc)
1. Butter contains only trace amounts of lactose and milk proteins, and is almost entirely fat. It does have traces of lactose and milk proteins, so if you react to butter, sorry, but you should probably just stop here. Dairy is not for you. Look for grass-fed versions to reap the benefits of butter. Note: Stick to the most expensive butter, not the cheapest one. And, it should be yellow, when you unwrap it (look, micro-nutrients!) and not white. It should also be soft(ish), when refrigerated, not rock hard. Kerrygold is a popular high-quality brand.
2. Next up is cream. Raw cream can be purchased at a premium price. If you have the money to spend on it, spring for it. You get active enzymes, high quality saturated fat, vitamins A, D, E and K, amongst other beneficial micro-nutrients. Pasteurization is a questionable way to process cream, but because cream is less than 3% lactose or sometimes less, depending on where get it, you may not react to the food like you would homogenized, pasteurized milk. If you’re purchasing cream, and it comes in a cardboard carton, not a glass jug, you’re probably not getting high-quality cream. So…the fats in it may be inflammatory and void of nutrition. The cream should have little chunks of fat floating in it. Stay local, and, as raw as possible. And, no half-and-half. Cream. Real. Food. Feeling better after consuming cream? Well, then it’s time to move on.
3. Hard cheeses are the next test. Because of the fermentation process (bacteria-chomping sugars), you’re looking at a very low milk sugar content, probably the lowest of any dairy. Think feta, Parmesan, cheddar, Gruyere, etc. Same thing here, the cheese should not be cheap, and in brightly colored plastic bags or shrink-wrapped blocks. We are looking for real dairy here. Go to a counter, where they are cutting it, where you can choose from raw or not, and which animals you are getting the cheese from. Your cheese should NOT have a nutrition facts or ingredient label.
4. Fermented dairy (i.e. full-fat yogurt and kefir) shouldn’t be much of an issue for those, who worry about lactose, because this sugar is metabolized during fermentation. In addition, the bacteria created, during the fermentation process, aid in digestion, and supplement the beneficial gut flora.
5. However, these sources are pretty high in dairy proteins, so if you can’t tolerate those, the reintroduction phase will stop here. Kefir has more probiotics and less processed than yogurt, which is why it ranks ahead. Find it in the yogurt aisle, but look at the ingredient list and make sure it doesn’t contain a bunch of weird stuff. Yogurt should be full-fat and unflavored. If you need it flavored go buy some berries or nuts and put those in there and don’t go with the super processed cheap sugars they use. This is important. Look at the ingredient list. If there are other things than dairy in the ingredient list — skip! Not real food.
6. Raw milk contains many of the enzymes and micro-nutrients that you need to adequately process and absorb dairy, and can be thought of as an incredibly well balanced and nutritious food. It is the complete food that can raise a baby animal, so by default it has to be pumped full of nutrients.I don’t recommend drinking much milk if it is not raw. You are just missing out on too much and it is just too far away from the real food. There are some good non-homogenized options if you really want it, but I just think you’re wasting your money at that point. Some states unfortunately outlaw raw milk, which is insane, but if you can get it and afford it, spring for it. As a bonus, it tastes far better than any milk you’ve ever had. Think milkshake.
7. Soft cheeses like real mozzarella (comes in liquid), burrata, and the like come after raw milk as it typically doesn’t have the same nutrient and enzyme profile. See the notes above on hard cheeses about how you should be choosing cheeses.\
8. Other dairy products include things like sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, etc. This is last on the list because the vast majority of time they are very processed. It is tough to get good products from good brands, but if you want this stuff, test it separately. Look for the words “grass-fed” and “fermented” on the tub. For instance, Kalona SuperNaturals has a really good grass-fed cottage cheese and Nancy’s has a really good fermented sour cream and cream cheese.
DAIRY DIET TEST RECAP
- Keep your diet pretty similar for a month, and entirely eliminate all dairy products, including butter.
- For a week at a time, start adding dairy products back into your diet – from top to bottom. So, after 30 days, start using butter again. Are you feeling okay? Excellent! Then, the next week incorporate cream. Still feeling great? No bloating or digestive issues? No skin conditions? No fatigue? After that, add some hard cheeses back in. Then…rinse and repeat.