I know how confusing it can be to wade through all the conflicting nutrition info out there. Are eggs bad? No. Will red meat kill you? No. Let me bottom line it for you: everyone is physiologically different. One food can work wonders in one body but have a detrimental effect in another. This could be due to food allergies or compromised digestion or metabolic type (some of use just have a greater need for protein than others). If your immune system reacts against the protein in eggs, it will cause inflammation in your body which can lead to a host of health issues on down the line. But if you’re fine with eggs, the beneficial choline and omega 3 fatty acids will do your body good. So. That brings us to dairy. Is dairy bad? Well…. sometimes?
Good quote from awesome book, It Starts with Food: Cow’s milk is the perfect food… if you are a calf. They go on to say that milk is an energy-dense hormone-delivery system, a blend of bioactive substances that promote growth. Since most of us do not want to grow larger, milk really may not be nature’s perfect food. We’re also the only mammals who continue to drink milk into adulthood, and as we age, our production of lactase enzyme that helps us digest dairy decreases. Hmmmm, what is nature trying to tell us?
Why do we need dairy? We can get everything it provides (yes, even calcium) from other sources. At worst, today’s milk contains pus, growth hormones/steroids, antibiotics and other toxins.
Pasteurized dairy is also linked to acne, asthma and type 1 diabetes.
At best, organic milk can be a better choice since the cows aren’t fed hormones or grass with pesticides, BUT they can still be confined to feedlots and not allowed to happily graze in green pastures. And pasteurized milk is basically an inert food. It’s had all its beneficial enzymes, bacteria, etc, killed off. Why bother?
Let’s look at the bad stuff first.
Is Dairy Bad for You?
1) As I mentioned, allergies or sensitivities to dairy are very common– I see it all the time in my practice. Symptoms can include congestion, seasonal allergy-type symptoms, diarrhea, bloating, gas, belching, runny nose, or joint pain (to name a few). There is an actual difference between a lactose intolerance (you lack the enzymes to break down dairy) versus a true allergy to casein, the protein portion of dairy. Dairy allergies (meaning your immune system reacts to casein, causing an inflammatory reaction every time you eat dairy) can be in-born or develop over time. If you have a dairy sensitivity and continue to eat it, it wears down your gut lining causing leaky gut, inflammation, weight gain, and the other bothersome symptoms I listed. I’ve had clients cut out dairy and their seasonal allergies and congestion improved right away. Interestingly, there is a link between food cravings and allergies– we often crave the foods to which we are allergic (due to morphine-like effects), so if you feel pleasurably drugged after that bowl of ice cream, you could have a dairy allergy. No bueno. In this case, dairy is not a health food for you.
2) Dairy promotes growth. It can cause insulin to be released, promoting fat storage and elevated insulin-like growth factor that is associated with tumor growth and cancer. Dairy is also androgenic, meaning it boosts male hormones like testosterone (not great for women). This also contributes to acne in both sexes.
Here’s a short list of the 60-some hormones in your average glass of milk – even the organic, raw, and bovine growth hormone free milk:
progesterone (from pregnenolone)
5α-pregnan-3β-ol-20-one, 20α- and 20β-dihydroprogesterone (from progesterone)
dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate acyl ester
insulin like growth factors 1 and 2 (IGF-1 and IGF-2)
source: Dr. Hyman blog
3) Let’s talk about skim milk. Does anyone actually like skim milk? Gross. The USDA tells us to drink skim milk because it’s low fat, and we should decrease our fat intake (yawn). Skim milk is basically watery milk sugar– it’s had the fat removed, and you actually need the fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A&D. Skim milk is also highly processed– the pasteurization (and this is true of all milk) kills off all the beneficia bacteria and enzymes and immnunoglobulins that milk provides. Incidentally, I love it when I get a client who’s having Kashi cereal and skim milk for breakfast in the mornings, and I get to tell him or her to have some bacon and eggs! (they’re inevitably hungry an hour later after their nutrient-void diet breakfast). This highly refined breakfast is basically water sugar on top of processed grains that break down quickly into sugar = a carb bomb that goes off around 11am and keeps you craving sugar all day long.
BOTTOM LINE: dairy allergies are very common, and in this case dairy is not a good choice for you. Even if you’re ok with dairy, if you suffer with acne, blood sugar issues, or have a goal of weight loss, milk may not be a great choice (fermented dairy is another story though: the probiotics can aid in weight loss). Pasteurized milk is never ideal because it goes through high heat processing that kills off all the beneficial bacteria and ruins any healthful properties that milk actually does have. On that note:
Let’s talk about benefits of raw dairy (for those who don’t have a dairy sensitivity).
First off, if you’re concerned about the safety of raw milk, check out this post by Chris Kresser.
1) Raw milk is higher in nutrients. It comes from grass fed cows, and cows are natural herbivores (not meant to be fed grain), so when the cows are healthier, the milk is healthier. Also higher in good fatty acids like CLA.
2) Raw milk contains antimicrobial components that are killed during pasteurization. Many attest to raw milk’s immune boosting and healing powers– children who consume it have fewer allergy and asthma symptoms. It’s also good for the gut lining. Raw milk also contains A, D, B12, and good enzymes.
3) If you are lactose intolerant, you may be able to digest raw milk because it hasn’t had its enzymes destroyed through heat processing, so it contains the enzymes to help you digest.
BOTTOM LINE: if you don’t have a dairy allergy, raw milk and fermented dairy (yogurt, kefir) may be ok for you. It does have some benefits. But like I said, it may work for some and not for others. How does it make you feel? You can do an elimination diet with dairy to see how it affects you.
I don’t recommend using dairy every day. If you want to include it in your diet, find a farmer to get raw milk from, and make your own fermented dairy products (yogurt, kefir) so you get the benefits of the raw milk and the probiotics.
Do you drink milk? Why or why not?
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.