Today’s “nutritional basic” is about dairy. Dairy is one of these things that sometimes can split society: Is it good for you or is it bad for you? Could I even live without dairy if I wanted to (because cheese is simply too delicious 😉)? All of those things will be covered today. P.S. I have supplemented this post with some of my favorite recipes for dairy-free alternatives.
What is Dairy?
A very general, but easy definition is any foods that are made from the milk of animals or have been produced in the mammary gland. A lot of dairy products come from cows, but there are also goat or sheep’s options. They can, for example, be, yogurt, cheese, cream, and of course milk itself.
Is Dairy Healthy For Us?
Ah – the age-old question. Is dairy good for us and should we consume it? And as with all things in relation to health, the answer is: It depends. It depends on whether you can actually stomach and process dairy. If you can then it can be a great addition to your diet. If you cannot… then obviously it will be more detrimental to your overall well-being than not.
If your body can process dairy it can be a great addition to your diet as it provides you with both a quality source of protein, as well as healthy fats. Your body is usually able to process it if you have a healthy gut and no immune issues. How do you know if you are able to stomach dairy? Well… the answer tends to reach you pretty soon after having consumed it. Does your tummy “gurgle”? Do you feel bloated, gassy, and/or are passing gas? Do you get diarrhea? If so, this is probably a sign that you are not stomaching dairy well.
If you are experiencing immune issues (you usually notice this if it takes you a long time to recover from illness, or if you get sick easily and often), any of the signs mentioned above or if you are chronically inflamed, your immune system is possibly not working at its optimal best. And you may (also) have an imbalance in your gut. When our gut is not fully healthy it cannot process dairy (or really, a lot of other foods). Unfortunately, in terms of “reactivity”, dairy can be one of the most common ones and really upset the tummy.
Possible Reactions to Dairy
There are a few different reactions that you can experience when it comes to dairy so I wanted to list them out for you below.
This is the one that you tend to notice most immediately in the form of any of the gut issues we have laid out above. Lactose (a form of sugar in milk) gets broken down by lactase. 70% of the world’s population is not able to break down lactose after they have been weaned off breastmilk. So, do not be surprised if you fall into this category.
Milk (Protein) Allergy
Not everything is as straightforward in terms of symptoms as lactose intolerance is. A milk allergy means that you are either reacting to the milk protein casein or whey. Casein can be found in the solid part of the milk, whereas whey is usually found in the liquid part. Your body can react to both or either of these milk proteins. Basically, if your body comes in contact with these proteins, it triggers the production of antibodies to neutralize the protein. The next time you get in contact with them, your immune system recognizes them as being harmful and tries to protect you, which can cause a whole range of allergic signs and symptoms.
What is more, these reactions are not necessarily obvious. You may feel fine from a gut perspective, but you may have other, delayed, reactions. Skin issues, such as acne, dermatitis, and eczema can, for example, be signs of a milk allergy. Ear infections are also incredibly common when you have a milk allergy.
This is definitely a new word that I learned as part of my research. Casomorphine is an opiode that is derived from the digestion of the milk protein casein. That means that dairy makes you feel great whilst you are consuming it. But you could actually be lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy and not realize it, because your body wants to experience that “opioid” high.
This one is a mixture of the topic of dairy and general gut health. Dysbiosis refers to a reduction of microbial diversity in the gut, which oftentimes also means a loss of beneficial gut bacteria. When you consume dairy, you are adding in lactose as the milk sugar. Sugar constantly feeds and overpopulates the “bad” bacteria in your gut. When you have dysbiosis and you are consuming dairy, you are furthering this imbalance, and unfortunately, are not allowing your gut to heal properly.
Dairy and Gluten – is there a Link?
Unfortunately, yes there is. There is something called “cross-reactivity” which is particularly high between gluten and dairy. When your gut microvilli have tears or you have a leaky gut, dairy proteins that should have been processed can leak into our bloodstream and start traveling around our bodies. Our immune system recognizes them as foreign substances and starts attacking them. This does not only cause an inflammatory response, but it also causes an immune reaction, and a potential attack around the cell tissue where said protein settled. Dairy and gluten look similar to your immune system and so your immune system attacks them just the same. If you would like to learn more, I also cover this in my What is Gluten post.
Processed vs. Unprocessed Dairy
If you are able to consume dairy well add it to your diet! Remember though that quality (as with all things food-related) is key. That means the best dairy products tend to be the ones that are as minimally processed as possible. Unfortunately, part of the problem with dairy is that a lot of the products are homogenized and skimmed, meaning the milk proteins and fat that actually help your body to digest dairy, have been taken away. Good, minimally processed dairy sources are butter, ghee (butter where the milk proteins have been removed and the solid fat remains), aged cheeses (good bacteria cultures), or full-fat milk products.
On the flipside, processed yogurts, ice creams, creams, and half-and-half are all examples of heavily processed dairy products. A lot of conventional, processed dairy products come from animals that have received both hormone growth medication, as well as antibiotics in order to produce a lot of milk. If you buy organic and grass-fed, the animals have eaten what they would eat in nature. I personally find you can actually taste the difference significantly. If you are buying skimmed products, you also have the additional challenge of the fat and some of the naturally incurring vitamin D being stripped from the products (and usually sugar added in for taste). As vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, this also means that your body cannot process the remaining vitamin D (or the synthetically added vitamin D) as well as it would naturally occur.
A lot of people worry that they will consume way more fat if they switch back to the whole food non-reduced variety. I can only speak for our household (we do consume a bit of dairy) and it did not make a difference in terms of overall fat intake. The products started tasting better and you were usually full a bit more easily also because of the added protein. I have also noticed that I digest it a lot better due to the milk proteins and fat.
Do I need Dairy For Strong Bones?
The great question (myth?!) about dairy and bone health. I wanted to write a few sentences about that in order to clear it up. You need calcium for bone health, which you can get from dairy. BUT you can also get it from other sources. Along with the calcium though, you also need some other nutrients, such as magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin K, and vitamin D. Sesame seeds, collard greens (all greens, but especially collard), rhubarb, sardines, or spinach can also provide you adequate amounts of calcium as part of a healthy diet.
Today, there are so many great dairy alternatives if you do react to them. Remember 70% of the population do – you are certainly not alone! You can drink non-dairy milk, have some fermented nut cheese, replace parmesan with a mixture of hemp seeds or cashews and a bit of nutritional yeast, and use ghee, coconut, or avocado oil for high heat cooking. You can also easily add some frozen fruit with a splash of non-dairy milk and maple syrup (or honey) to a food processor and make yourself a dairy-free ice cream.
And that is it for this week 🤗. I hope you enjoyed this excursion into dairy and that you learned some new tricks or tricks as to what may be the right approach for you around this topic 💕. Beautiful cover photo by Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash