Dairy: what a loaded topic.
I've been putting this blog post off for a while simply because I know how much work it would involve to write it. However, recently I've been feeling a greater need to share the information surrounding dairy. So I sat my butt down and started to write. I hope you will read today's post with an open mind, and take a critical look into your own life and your relationship with dairy: is it positive or negative?
When it comes to dairy, society goes out of its way to preach and praise the "benefits" of dairy like calcium and protein, but unfortunately, what it fails to mention are the not-so-great side effects that can also be associated with dairy.
Within most grocery stores today, you'll find an expansive dairy aisle, full of full fat, low fat, and fat free forms of milk, yogurt, cheese, and so much more. Of course, you probably head straight for those low fat and fat free dairy products within this aisle because those are the healthiest, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
For years while we've been spoon-fed the "amazing" benefits of dairy, we've also been encouraged to seek out the forms of dairy that have been chemically altered to be lower in fat (or even fat free) because (so we've been told) fat is bad.
Well, I'm here to break the sad news to you: fat is NOT bad, and low fat/fat free dairy is NOT healthy.
Take a minute to reread that last sentence, and then think of your fridge right now. Do you have some of those awful products sitting inside?
If you are struggling with this concept, think objectively about this: milk comes out of a cow full of vitamins, minerals, and, yes, it has fat too. It's meant to be that way - it comes from nature that way!
Where did we get this amazing idea that taking a whole food and transforming it into a frankenfood?
When did we get the idea that we have to process diary to be “healthier” for us to eat? Doesn’t it come from nature just the way it’s meant to be?
But, I'm getting off on a tangent here (low fat and fat free processed foods seem to do that to me!). Let's get back to the main point: the problems with dairy.
Dairy naturally contains growth factors that help little mammals grow fast - which is important for those little mammals. But when it comes to adults, our bodies don't need these growth factors anymore. Along with the growth factors in dairy are some immune factors and inflammatory proteins.
And that's only the start of the problematic factors with dairy. Lactose is the carbohydrate portion of milk that, combined with the milk proteins, produces a high insulin response in our bodies. This leads to inflammation in the body (which is NOT a good thing), and promotes disorders like obesity and diabetes (Whole 30, pg. 11).
Together, high levels of insulin and growth factors produce unregulated cell growth, which is awesome in a baby calf, but not so awesome in an adult human. Our cells don’t need that particular kind of nourishment or growth anymore.
Dairy proteins (not just the lactose) can also be inflammatory in the body (especially casein), and have been associated with increased risks for autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis (Whole 30, pg. 11). Think about it – how many people do you know that can’t tolerate dairy? Maybe they are lactose-intolerant, or casein sensitive? It’s more of a common issue than we realize.
In addition, dairy can also cause or trigger other problems in our bodies, like allergies, asthma, acne, headaches, nausea, and digestive distress like bloating, gas, or constipation. Not symptoms we like to experience on a daily basis at all.
And are you ready for the final kicker? The immune factors and hormones in the milk proteins can react with our sensitive immune systems, leading to a worsening of seasonal allergies, asthma, acne, and other related conditions (Whole 30 pg. 11).
Wow - who would've of thought that a food that is promoted to be the golden picture of health could have so many hidden side effects? Isn't milk supposed to be healthy?
Actually, yes, milk is supposed to be healthy - when it's in the right form: raw and unpasteurized, the way nature intended it to be.
What we have done with dairy is what has made it problematic for most people: processed and pasteurized it.
The USDA recommends that we eat fat free or low fat milk and milk products that have been "fortified" - but why?
Are they saying that milk straight from the cow isn't good enough?
Are they saying that chemically-altered milk, not the traditional milk found in nature is better for us?
And why do these products need to be fortified anyway?
Unfortunately, yes, that is exactly what we're being told - that we know better than nature. And unfortunately, we've proved time and time again that in fact we are not smarter than nature. Not by a long shot.
Oh, and the whole "fortified" issue? Well, vitamins A, D, and K2 (which are naturally occurring in milk) have to be added back to milk products after processing because they are stripped away during the process. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they are only absorbed and utilized by the body when taken in conjunction with fat. Plus, these vitamins are crucial in the utilization and assimilation of calcium by the body (Practical Paleo, pg. 37).
So what do we do? Remove the fat (because fat is "bad"), thereby removing the vitamins, and then we add back these vitamins after the fact. But, unfortunately, these vitamins aren't the same as the original forms of the vitamins in the real milk. And because the fat is no longer there, we can't absorb the fat-soluble vitamins anyway!
No vitamins, no calcium absorption, meaning all the crap we’ve been told about drinking milk to get your calcium is wrong. Dead wrong (again!).
And speaking of calcium, I think it’s time we spend a few moments discussing calcium.
Now this may come as a real shock to some of you, but dairy isn’t the only source of calcium we can get from food.
Yep it’s true! You can also get calcium from bone broth, sardines, sesame seeds, and dark leafy green vegetables. In addition to containing calcium, these foods also have magnesium right alongside, which is a mineral needed to make calcium usable for the body.
Nature is so smart, isn’t it?!
When we desire to absorb calcium, we need to eat more than just the calcium! Like I mentioned above, we also need fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, along with magnesium. These vitamins and minerals help direct calcium into our bones where we need it.
Having a hard time believing me? Well, I’ll use myself as an example. I haven’t eaten dairy in over a year, and didn’t eat very much of it the year before that. I recently had my some of blood levels tested and my calcium as just fine. And I don’t eat dairy! Instead, I eat tons of veggies (especially dark greens) and drink bone broth every day. I also eat tons of egg yolks, which are loaded with vitamin A, and I make sure to get sunlight every chance I can do load up on vitamin D.
Okay – heading back to the topic at hand. I think it's time to wrap it up and leave you with my takeaways.
1. Dairy, especially low-fat and fat-free dairy products, have been stripped of their natural vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat. These products should be avoided in favor of full-fat, organic dairy.
2. Dairy can lead to a host of problems in the body, included digestive distress, allergies, acne, asthma, high or unstable blood sugar, and much more.
3. Dairy is not our only source of calcium. Try bone broth, sardines, sesame seeds, and dark leafy greens. Eat these foods alongside of real food diet that also includes egg yolks, avocados, and almonds which will provide your body with the resources it needs to absorb calcium from a variety of sources.
If you think that your body may not agree with dairy, consider a 2-4 week "detox" from all forms of dairy. It is very important that you are very strict during this time for accurate results. At the end of the 2-4 week period, add in a small amount of dairy at three meals throughout the day and see what effects you have. You may find that your body handles dairy just fine, or you may find that it doesn't!
After your personal experiment with dairy, I recommend introducing and sticking to dairy sources that are organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, full fat, and fermented. Examples of food that will fit these categorized are yogurt, kefir (fermented dairy), and cheese. Or, if you want to really go all the way, seek out raw, unpasteurized dairy, which is unaltered and just the way nature intended it to be.
In short, dairy can be a wonderful food, but it can also be transformed into a frankenfood that our bodies don't recognize. Learn to listen to your body's signals to see if dairy works for you!