DAIRY (Re-post from October)
There have been several questions about dairy and it’s place in the Paleo diet on the forum, and I thought it would be best to address these issues here.
First, some things to think about regarding dairy:
- There is no other mammalian species on earth that drinks the lactation product of another species.
Just like human breastmilk is perfectly formulated to feed, nourish and protect a human baby, cow’s milk is made to feed, nourish and protect a baby calf. Same goes for goat, sheep, buffalo or whatever kind of dairy you are fond of. Infants that are fed commercially prepared cow’s milk formulas instead of breastmilk are more likely to have traces of blood in their stool, develop Type 1 diabetes, and have skin and respiratory allergies.
- There is no other mammalian species on earth that continues to drink their mother’s milk past the age of weaning.
Milk is intended to nourish a baby animal during the first 2 or 3 years of rapid growth and development. Most species, including us, lose the ability to digest lactose past a certain age because of this. More on this topic below.
- It is estimated that between 70-80% of the world’s adult population cannot digest dairy.
Something that this many people cannot tolerate is shady, at best.
- Eating dairy won’t necessarily protect your bones.
Why do Americans have both one of the highest rates of osteoporosis and the highest intake of dairy? Check out Harvard School of Public Health’s bone health fact sheet for more on that (start about 1/3 down the page).
- Excessive milk consumption is associated with iron deficiency anemia in young children.
This is mainly attributed to components of milk binding to iron and inhibiting absorption (much like we learned happens with grain consumption too).
Now, time to answer some specific questions you all have posed on the forum:
Q: Didn’t our ancestors start to develop the ability to digest lactose thousands of years ago?
A: Yes. This is called lactase persistence, and started in different parts of the world since the beginning of agriculture and animal domestication. Lactase is the enzyme we are all born with so that we can digest mom’s milk, but a large portion of us (the 70-80% I mentioned earlier) lose this enzyme before adolescence and are “lactose intolerant.” The first populations to hold onto their lactase were in Northern Europe and certain parts of Africa. In most of Asia and Africa, dairy has never been a part of the cultural diet which is why people of Asian and African descent are more likely to be lactose intolerant than Western Europeans.
BUT, just because you can digest something without unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects does not mean that it is the healthiest choice. I can digest high fructose corn syrup just fine. That does not make me want to grab a spoon and have a big bowl of it for dinner.
Q: Aren’t there good probiotics in dairy that we need?
A: Healthy digestive tracts have millions of “good bacteria” that keep things running smoothly, and compete for space with “bad bacteria” that can cause food borne illnesses. If we eat a healthy diet with lots of fibrous fruits and vegetables and low in sugar, we’ll generally have enough good bacteria to sustain health. If you are frequently prescribed antibiotics and/or don’t eat a very healthy diet, your gut bacteria can be less than optimal. While antibiotics are great if you have strep throat or a UTI, they kill the good guys along with the bad.
Fermented foods (including yogurt but also in things like miso) are a decent source of probiotics if you are running low. How to tell if you’re running low? Mainly by symptoms such as recurrent yeast infections or diarrhea. However you can also get a much stronger version in supplement form, which is what I would recommend if you are having the above issues, taking a course of antibiotics or frequently use antacids.
Q: I gain muscle easiest when taking a whey supplement protein powder. Is that bad?
A: First, I’d advise all of you to stop taking high doses of protein powder as an after workout drink. Usually these have about 60 grams of concentrated, already slightly broken down proteins, which is WAY MORE than you need post-workout. The general rule is from 10-20 grams, which can easily be obtained from real food or by cutting your powder by a third if you must have the shake. The massive dose in shakes are very easily digested and quickly overload your kidneys. There have been many cases of young adults (mostly men) experiencing protein spillover in their urine because of frequent protein supplements. This is not a good thing to have happen, and can lead to kidney failure.
I don’t know the mechanism involved in why milk helps gain muscle, but my assumption is that it works in the same way that milk helps the baby cow grow quickly. There are growth hormones (natural and synthetically added), protein, carbs and fat which can all contribute to muscle mass. Being strictly paleo will typically lead to leaning out more so than bulking up, especially if you eschew starchy carbs like sweet potatoes. So like everything else your decision needs to be based on what your goals are- Health? Physique? Taste? Fun?
Q: Is some dairy more paleo than others?
A: Like a lot of other types of foods, there is a spectrum of “healthy” rather than just straight good or bad. Minimally processed grass fed dairy is going to be better for you than mass produced fat-free milk. There are less hormones, antibiotics and more good things like probiotics and CLA (conjugated linolenic acid… ask in the forum if you don’t know what that means). There is a huge movement campaigning for raw milk, with evidence showing negative effects of pasteurization and homogenization. But frankly it’s hard to find milk of that quality mainly because of politics and cost to raise those animals, and you have to really do your homework to make sure you know that there’s no chance of bacterial or viral contamination in the milk. I have a theory that goat and sheep’s milk products are probably better than cow’s milk because the animals are closer to our size and the proteins are likely smaller thus easier for us to digest. But that’s just a theory and I don’t have any data to back it up.
Contrary to popular belief, non-fat dairy isn’t going to save your life. Check out this blog post with scientific citations for info on full fat v. reduced fat dairy products.
Bottom line: the official paleo argument largely focuses on the fact that dairy was not in our diets before agriculture and that so much of the world is lactose intolerant. There’s much more evidence vilifying grains than dairy, which could be because it’s not as bad but also could be that there aren’t any very well designed studies. I don’t eat dairy mostly because I think it’s weird and creepy, and my longterm high cholesterol issue ended once I cut out milk. I however do cook occasionally with grass fed butter, and am thinking of starting to use ghee for high heat sautéing. That’s the conclusion I have come to, and I encourage you to reach your own given this and other information you have found.
Questions? Ask here.