Dairy – it’s the thing that people look at first in their own lives (before working with a practitioner) to see if they have a sensitivity to it. Almost every single one of my clients has already tried some form of dairy-free, or dairy reduction, upon coming on board with me. Why is this such a “thing?”
What happens to dairy from the animal to you?
Briefly – today we have very processed dairy. It’s HARD to find raw dairy and even then it’s not completely raw. The milk has been pasteurized or “cleaned.”
Unless you are getting your own dairy from your own animals from the source, or you have found a farmer willing to give you theirs that way (without pasteurization) – you are getting something processed. Even at the farmer’s market. Of course, there are different levels of processing, so let’s start there.
Pasteurizing is what removes certain microbes from the milk. This was started to keep the germs from the farm or animals (mainly the farmer’s hands after touching and processing the animal) out of the milk. However, there are benefits to raw milk and it is possible to have clean raw milk. However, almost all products out there are pasteurized. Even at the market. They are selling “raw milk” products but be assured if they are on the market and you aren’t getting them right at the farm, they have passed through some level of pasteurizing. Right here we have lost a lot of nutritional value, and benefits of positive microbes in the products.
Next up is homogenizing – this is done for store-purchased products and is something that is likely NOT being done for farmer’s market products, however, it is worth asking the person selling to you to be sure. This is altering the texture and color to make it more pleasing. It also removes the healthy awesome layer of cream that comes with natural milk. The dairy industry calls this a safety measure as well as for taste. Again – just one more level of processed and removed healthy components before it reaches you.
Now I want to refer you to my post on quality of food and food labelling so you can understand more about how to read ingredients on products. Pre-shredded cheese is not real cheese. Anything not from a block is likely full of chemicals, processing agents, and very little dairy. The only way to know and to look is to read the ingredients and only have the milk itself and enzymes.
What about lactose?
This is a separate piece. All dairy has this. It’s the natural sugar component of dairy. Some people (many) do not possess the enzymes needed to break this down. This causes a lot of digestive disturbance. And many people who love dairy will take enzymes to break this down to enjoy it.
BUT this isn’t the main problem that MOST people have with dairy. This ability or inability can change with time for some people who may SEEM lactose intolerant, but in reality isn’t the enzyme at all. So what is the issue?
Dairy is inflammatory. The processing agents and just the product itself are inflammatory. This is a problem for some people more than others. If you have a pre-existing issue with inflammation – whether it is autoimmune, auto inflammatory, or just high levels of inflammation in general dairy is likely NOT your friend and never will be.
Can you still have some dairy and control inflammation?
Yes (in most but not all cases). This is a personal bio-individual thing. I can tolerate a low level of dairy, as can my son (and we both have inflammatory conditions). However, this means it’s a sprinkle of cheese or a dash of milk in baking. That’s it. There is NO milk drinking (and you shouldn’t be doing that anyway- check out this post).
If you have cholesterol issues, limited dairy is your best option. It’s not the fat or cholesterol in it – it’s the inflammatory nature that you need to keep in mind. If you are choosing whole-fat, and as close to raw or raw products, you are choosing the best quality for yourself, and the limitations are just to keep inflammation low.
So that brings us to are dairy “alternatives” better for you?
Any product you are buying is processed – that includes “safer” non-dairy items. The best way to handle dairy is just to eliminate it or to make it a very small part of your day (as shown above with a sprinkle here and just a little in baking). There is no point in looking for a product to replace a product. Whole foods are the best way to live regardless and using less processed foods is the way to go.
What about the benefits of eating dairy?
Dairy does contain calcium and a few fats that can be beneficial to your daily routine. However, with the right balance of vegetables in your day (and the right choices of those) you can find great calcium sources beyond dairy. It’s not the end all be-all for sources of calcium. If dairy is tolerable in a small amount – choosing a whole-fat yogurt with natural probiotics is the best bang for your buck. If you can get a raw milk yogurt – even better. You will get some good calcium, with probiotics and healthy fats. But remember, just because you aren’t eating dairy doesn’t mean you cannot get the calcium you need from other nutrient-rich whole food sources (and if needed – quality supplementation).
What are some whole-food alternatives then?
Coconut milk (canned and ONLY coconut milk in it – no gums, no fillers) – this is a great baking alternative if you cannot use ANY dairy. It’s about the only thing that I recommend in replacing the liquid milk part for cooking or blending. This is great for smoothies as well. Certain brands of coconut yogurt also contain calcium – be sure to read your labels carefully.
You can even make coconut milk ice cream, and you can make whipped cream from coconut milk.
If you cannot tolerate butter – ghee is butter with the dairy removed. If you don’t like the taste, you will need to stick with olive oil, natural fats like bacon (in a pan to cook), or when baking – coconut oil.
You may also find recipes for nut-based alternatives for “fake” cheese or a sour cream-like base… if you are making yourself from a whole food, have at it. However, I would be sure to closely look at any product you are picking up at the store because likely you will run into the same problem you had with the dairy – PROCESSING (which equals – inflammation!). RARELY is there just the ingredient you are thinking. All kinds of fillers, gums, and processing agents are in product alternatives to give you the same look, feel, texture, and shelf life as the original item.
The bottom line here is that inflammation is what is killing America. We want to have as few or limited inflammatory foods and items in our lives. Knowing this, limiting dairy to a small amount is helpful in this pursuit.