Dairy – Friend or Foe?

Are you tired? Have digestive issues? Suffer from acne? Read a little more to determine if diary could be the culprit!

Dairy is a complex food that we can react to multiple ways. Many folks suffer from lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest the sugar found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance can cause bloating, diarrhea or other digestive upset. Intolerance, sensitivity or allergy to either of the proteins (casein and whey) in milk and most dairy products (including cheese) can also show up as digestive upset as well as a number of other troublesome symptoms such as congestion, frequent sinus or ear infections, headaches, fatigue, acne and even difficulty losing weight.  Personally, with rare exception, I do not consume diary-based foods. I have determined, after years of digestive upset, sudden sinus infections and skin break-outs, that dairy was at the center of it all. I eliminated dairy for 13 weeks and the results were astounding. I never went back!

So I’m sure you’re thinking, but milk is a health food?  How can it cause so many problems? If you recall my recent post on the anti-inflammatory diet, you will notice that I list dairy as a pro-inflammatory food. When we ingest a food that causes inflammation, hormones that control fat burning and fat storing are disrupted and we often hold on to several pounds of excess water. Overall digestion can be interrupted in that we may not be able to metabolize many nutrients. Additionally, internal inflammation can decrease overall immunity inhibiting the body’s ability to ward off infection and keep all internal systems in tip-top shape. If you have hit a weight loss plateau, are prone to water retention, experiencing digestion complications or have recurring acne, try eliminating dairy from your diet for 3 months (sometimes it takes a while for the body to get back to a state of normalcy after long periods of chronic inflammation). If at the end of the 3 month period, your symptoms have subsided, you’re likely on the right track. Be mindful of 3 other major food allergies: soy, gluten and nuts.

Luckily, if you decide to go dairy-free, there are many options. Goat’s milk (although still falling within the definition of “dairy”) is a good alternative to cow’s milk dairy products – I use it in salads, salad dressings and a number of other recipes. However, many people who are sensitive to cow’s milk also are sensitive to goat’s milk—but not all, so it is an option for some. The same goes for sheep’s milk. However, you don’t have to look far to see we’ve now mastered making milk from grains, nuts, seeds and my favorite, the coconut.

Grain-based substitutions, like rice and oat, tend to be highest in sugar. Rice Dream original has 23g carbs and only 1g protein (2.5 g fat). To avoid this sugar load, unsweetened nut milks like almond and hazelnut are a better option (unsweetened almond milk has 2g carbs, 1g protein and 4g fat). If you have a nut allergy, however, check out hemp milk (hemp is a seed). Unsweetened hemp milk also has just 1g carbs and a gram of protein (6g fat). Hemp has recently been touted as a great milk substitute because it contains essential fatty acids. But while it does have some omega 3 fatty acids, they are not the highly sought after EPA and DHA omega 3 forms that we get from wild salmon, for example.

The final, and my favorite option, is coconut milk. No longer only available in the cumbersome can container, this high energy yielding, non-body-fat-making source medium chain triglycerides (a special type of saturated fat that is not readily stored as fat but is easily burned as energy) makes a  creamy, slightly sweet milk with just 2g carbs, 1 gram sugar and 5g fat. I love coconut milk and use it in my coffee, in smoothies and in a number of flavorful, enticing recipes.

Another option to traditional dairy is raw, organic dairy. As we explore all of the various food options, we have to continually be mindful of the process in which food is made. I will always promote whole food choices over processed food choices and quite frankly, pasteurized, industrialized milk is a processed food. Even if it is labeled organic, the milk you typically find at your local grocer is a processed food. Raw milk products are unpasteurized and although many fear that this will allow for contaminants and disease, there are a number of raw dairy farms out there who offer safe, wonderfully tasty, raw dairy foods. Many who suffer from traditional cow’s milk products do not have the same reaction to raw milk. However, if you ultimately chose to drink pasteurized milk, at a minimum, purchase organic.  Yogurt is fermented and in most instances, tends to be okay to consume for those who are dairy sensitive, however, avoid sweetened yogurt, such as Yoplait and Dannon (processed foods filled with sugars, preservatives and food coloring). Go for an organic, unsweetened Greek yogurt instead.

Making wise nutritional choices isn’t always easy and as you likely already know, there is no “one size fits all”. Experts state that as many as 15 million folks are walking around with some sort of serious food allergy with millions more experiencing sensitivity (there is a difference between anaphylaxis versus sensitivity). The only way to tell if you are sensitive or allergic to a given food is to eliminate it from your diet for a period of time and then slowly reintroduce to see if symptoms return.

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