The Dairy Conundrum
Dairy, should you or shouldn’t you eat it?
There are so many questions like this in nutrition. When it comes to dairy, I can say without hesitation that everybody should avoid dairy from conventionally raised cows. Conventionally raised cows are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and are fed a diet that is far from their natural diet. This results in milk that is in turn loaded with hormones and antibiotics, and lacking the nutrients found in grass-fed cows' milk. Modest amounts of organic grass-fed or pasture raised dairy and goats/sheep’s dairy are suitable for some people. However there are certain health issues listed below for which I recommend avoiding all dairy.
Quick clarification: eggs are not dairy! For all of you who remember the old food pyramid where eggs were included in the dairy section, this isn’t correct. Eggs are not dairy. Eggs are the eggs of hens. Diary comes from the milk of cows. That's the end of my soapbox…moving on.
Not only is modern conventional dairy laden with hormones, but most people can’t digest it due to an enzymes deficiency or have a dairy allergy.
Did you know that 25% of americans and 65-70% of the worlds population are estimated to be lactose intolerant? Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose (milk sugar) in the gut. The resulting symptoms can include: gas/bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain and nausea.
Not being able to digest milk sugar (lactose) is just one way someone can react to dairy. Many people are allergic (IgE) or sensitive (IgG, IGA) to the dairy proteins casein and whey. I discussed the difference between allergies and sensitivities in this article if you need a refresher. Cow’s milk allergy (an IgE mediated reaction) is the most common food allergy in children under the age of 4 (1). The prevalence of dairy sensitivity (IgG, IgM) isn't well documented, but I see it frequently in my practice.
Who should avoid dairy
You’re trying to lose weight: dairy contains hormones that make babies grow, these hormones also make human adults grow (i.e. gain weight). Hormones in dairy increase insulin, the blood sugar hormone, which leads to weight gain. Additionally, if you are intolerant to dairy, it could be creating inflammation in the body that’s making it difficult for you to lose weight.
You have digestive issues: lactose intolerance causes digestive distress so, therefore, should be avoided. Also, dairy allergies and dairy sensitive can cause similar digestive issues by creating inflammation in the gut. If you have IBS, IBD, heartburn or other digestive issues I recommend doing a trial of dairy avoidance for 2-3 months. If you resume eating dairy after that time, stick to grass fed.
You have skin problems: The reason for this is twofold. For one, dairy allergy or sensitivity creates inflammation in the body and that can results in inflammation in the skin i.e. eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, etc. Secondly, dairy is loaded with hormones and acne is often the results of hormone imbalance so avoiding extra hormones in food is important.
You have a hormone imbalance
For men this includes: low testosterone and/or high estrogen, acne, low libido, difficulty gaining muscle mass
For women this includes: PMS, painful periods, PCOS or hormonal acne
Because there are so many hormones in dairy (even the organic kind) it can impact your hormones.
You have an autoimmune disease: dairy can cause or worsen inflammation in the gut (leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability) which is the precedent to autoimmune disease.
Asthma, allergies, colds and flus: dairy increases mucus production making these conditions more symptomatic.
So where are you going to get your calcium? Yes, we’ve all heard we need dairy for calcium and strong bones but this isn’t true. There are a ton of other ways to get calcium. Here are a few:
Eat canned salmon or sardines with bones in: I know this one sounds weird but trust me. Wild canned salmon tastes very similar to tuna but with much more calcium, omega-3s and less mercury and other toxins.
Sesame seeds: either whole or ground up as tahini. Tahini is great as a base for dressing or dip. Sesame seeds can be ground up in a smoothie or sprinkled onto salads and other veggies.
Dark leafy greens (bok choy, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens)
Almonds have the most of the nuts but hazelnuts and walnuts are also rich in calcium
Testing: IgE dairy testing is available through most conventional labs including Quest and Labcorp. IgG and IgA sensitivity testing is a specialty test that you can get through your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor.
In good health,
Nicole McCarter, ND