Want to know the scoop on dairy? First, know this: whenever we get asked a nutrition-related question, our opinion is formed on science and the key factors of nutrient density, gut health, hormonal control and blood sugar regulation. We have used exactly the same formula here, in “Dairy: the scoop!”. Read on to learn more about this contentious food group.
The reality is that the majority of dairy products are highly processed. To put it simply, pasteurized milk, cheese slices and low fat/non fat/skim/light/lite yoghurts are not real food. Here’s why:
Low in nutrients
Pasteurized dairy is subject to high temperatures to destroy impurities, which at the same time, destroys the nutritious constitutes. The truth is that the calcium actually becomes insoluble, the vitamin C is damaged, and 20% of the iodine is destroyed, just to start.
Negative blood sugar implications
Pasteurization turns the milk sugar, lactose, into beta-lactose, which is far more soluble and therefore more rapidly absorbed in the system. While this initially may sound like a good thing, what it actually does is cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and the associated crash – the cause of hunger, mood swings and a bad case of the hangries* in my humble opinion.
Pasteurized milk is one of the most insulinogenic foods there is. So if our goal is nutrient density, hormonal control, satiety and energy management (which it should be!), supermarket cow’s milk is certainly not on our shopping list.
From a fat loss or even weight maintenance point of view, insulinogenic foods should be avoided.
Significantly, pasteurized dairy is highly inflammatory. Inflammation makes the body acidic, which the body then attempts to neutralize. In order to do this, calcium is leeched from the bones, causing decreased calcium levels and potentially, osteoporosis in the longer term. I know you have been told for decades to drink milk for strong bones, but we were also once told the world was flat and that saturated fat was the cause of heart disease.
In the case of skim milk, it is often fortified with powdered skim, which is liquid sprayed under heat and high pressure, a process that oxidizes the cholesterol. In animal studies, oxidized cholesterol triggers a host of biological changes, leading to plaque formation in the arteries and heart disease. Throw your low fat products in the bin please.
Full of hormones
Cows are often fed hormones to make them produce milk for 10 months of the year. Need I say more?
Allergies and Intolerances
To be honest, milk is for babies. Some or all of our ability to properly digest lactose and casein is lost after age four and some cultures have evolved to lack the key enzyme lactase all together. Like most things, this is relative and an elimination diet should be conducted to determine tolerance, or more to the point, intolerance.
If you suffer from bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhoea with dairy consumption, you may have lactose intolerance. It may however, also be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fructose malabsorption, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), so I suggest you work with a Nutritionist or Naturopath to develop an appropriate treatment protocol.
In cases of autoimmune disease, leaky gut and autism, it is often casein intolerance, so unpasteurized fermented dairy products may still be suitable.
Your skin is your largest organ and is a direct reflection of your gut health. Intolerance to lactose can manifest in a number of ways, and skin inflammation is a sure sign that your nutrition needs changing. Eczema can often be linked to leaky gut, which thankfully can be healed by the removed of irritants such as gluten, casein or fructose.
The good news
The good news is that not all dairy is on the banned list. If you do choose to consume dairy, here are the best choices:
- Full fat, unpasteurized organic milk from grass-fed animals: if you choose to drink milk, this is the best there is. Personally, I’m happy with coconut milk.
- Butter: contains almost no lactose and good levels of healthy fats. Importantly, butter contains minimal ingredients and is perfect for cooking. Please throw your margarine in the bin. For more information, please read “Fats: the truth!”.
- Goat’s cheese: contains the more tolerable A2 casein and is often unpasteurized. And no, A2 milk is not better than regular (A1) dairy as it is still pasteurized.
- Greek yoghurt and ricotta: fermented dairy is made from the bacterial fermentation of milk. During the fermentation process, the bacterial cultures cause a breakdown of the lactose, which then forms lactic acid. Yogurt and ricotta can be rich in probiotics, calcium, vitamin D and protein, but please make sure you purchase full fat and grass-fed. I’m personally more than happy with my Super Easy Coconut Yogurt.
- Hard cheese: as it is low in lactose, it is far more tolerated, less inflammatory and only mildly insulinogenic, depending on the source. Try to buy unpasteurized, but I usually pick my battle with this one – I’m not eating the cheese to get calcium after all, and choose to only eat it occasionly. Read on for some fantastic non-dairy sources of calcium.
Non-dairy sources of calcium
What’s even better than relying on dairy, is to fill your plate with non-dairy sources of calcium – they are nutrient dense, unprocessed and highly satiating. Here’s what to eat:
- Dark leafy greens – spinach alone is higher in calcium than most dairy sources.
- Sardines – also packed full of vitamin D and B12, our bone health essentials.
- Other seafood: salmon, mussels, and mackerel.
- Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, almonds, sesame seeds and tahini.
- Dried figs – watch the sugar content here.
- Rhubarb – one of my childhood favourites.
So the moral of the story seems to be a case of déjà vu of late: simply don’t believe the food pyramid. Dairy is certainly not an essential food group like we have been led to believe, however there are better choices if it is still something you wish to consume.
*This is not a real word, but I think you can all relate. Hangry = hunger + angry 😉