The Dairy Debate: Is Dairy Good or Bad for You?

20 Second Summary

  • Dairy from grass-fed/pasture-raised animals is significantly better for you
  • Butter consumption does not lead to heart disease
  • Dairy has a delicate chemistry and therefore must be minimally processed for maximum nutrient value (and diminished toxicity potential)
  • Fermented dairy can be a great source of gut-healthy probiotics
  • It’s not for everyone! If you have a sensitivity, insulin considerations, or inflammatory imbalances, you might want to look for healthful alternatives.


The Details…


With so much focus on vegan and dairy-free these days, you might think that it’s a terrible food. But that’s not necessarily the case. When eaten in the right way - and of course if there isn’t any existing dairy sensitivity or other wellness consideration - dairy can be a healthful part of your diet.


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Grass-Fed is Best


We all know that what we eat changes the chemistry of our body. Bad dietary choices can bring on disease and dysfunction, while good dietary choices nourish each and every cell of our body with vitality and health. The same goes for animals. If a cow is eating its natural diet of fresh grass in the pasture, the nutrients from that grass will be integrated into every fibre of their body, including their milk. The proper ratio of omega 3’s, 6’s, and 9’s present in the fresh grass will find their way into our dairy products and into our own bodies. If the cow is eating grains (NOT their natural diet) or worse, given harmful drugs, this will significantly effect the nutrients contained within the dairy product and can make that food potentially harmful.


Butter – The Heart Health Hero


Looking at what the cow ate is especially important for butter, which can be an extremely healing food. In addition to the inflammatory regulating omega fatty acids, butter also contains another fatty acid called butyrate. Modern comprehensive studies now show that the major cause of harmful cholesterol levels, overly high blood pressure and heart disease is inflammation (mostly from a high carb diet and processed foods), and these fatty acids actually help regulate a runaway inflammatory response. In addition to this, grass-fed butter contains Vitamin K2, which helps keep calcium out of the arteries, thus hindering clogs and related diseases. As you can see, butter can be extremely helpful for things like heart health, which it was previously pitted against. The reason for this is that butter is mostly comprised of saturated fat (about 63% of its fats are saturated). Thankfully the myth of saturated fat being bad for you has been completely debunked, and the scientists who created that original study demonizing butter and saturated fat have actually come out saying that it was in fact a sham, and they were commissioned to report those results. This was in part thanks to a scheme devised to sell more margarine following world war two, when there was a surplus of this cheap (and poisonous) good created to send to soldiers oversees. Crazy hey?


*Read more here


Happy Cows Make Nourishing Milk


Just like the diet of the cow effects its nutrient content of the dairy, the cow’s living environment has a huge effect on the quality of the product as well. If the cow is stressed, sick, depressed, malnourished, and not exposed to fresh air and sunshine, you’ll be getting a “sick” “depressed” “malnourished” product, low in protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Equally important as the nutrient content is the bioavailability of the nutrients within the food. Nutrients need certain cofactors and other elements that help them absorb into our system, and foods need to be sourced from their highest quality, and most natural environments to do so. This also plays into the whole ethical discussion. You’re not just getting a higher quality product that will feed and nourish your body better, but allowing cows to roam free in a pasture, eating their natural diets, not bombarded with horrible drugs, is simply better treatment to the animal and shows more regard for their life. I also believe that if we consumed dairy of only the highest quality we would be satisfied with less, and could also substitute occasionally with coconut and nut products, thus significantly reducing the international demand for dairy products, and potentially eliminating the need, or desire for mass-producing cheap, unethical dairy.


Less (Processing) is More


But back to nutrients…similarly to the environmental effects, the more milk is processed the lower nutrient quantity you will receive. The many vitamins, minerals, proteins, and essential fatty acids in dairy are in such delicate balance. Pasteurizing, skimming, homogenizing etc. all require quite a rigorous process to alter the milk, thus altering the nutrient content of the dairy product. It’s a controversial subject, but I’m a big advocate of raw dairy. If we have strong immune systems and healthy gut flora, and the milk is coming from healthy cows, our bodies should be able to fight any pathogens that might be considered potentially harmful. However, in Canada, finding raw dairy is almost impossible – and basically illegal – so at the very least opt for a full fat, grass-fed product. I would also advise staying away from flavoured products, as they often contain sugar, or artificial sweeteners and other unnatural and toxic ingredients. Fresh sliced fruit, raw honey, pure maple syrup, chopped nuts and seeds, all made great natural flavours that are just as good, if not better!


Get your Probiotic Fix!


If you haven’t already tried it, Kefir is a fantastic dairy product that has been fermented and thus super high in probiotics. Of course, Greek and regular yoghurts are also good sources of probiotics, but once again don’t go for the “added probiotic” brands, and stick with all natural, full-fat, grass-fed varieties.


The Down-side of Dairy…


OK, so now you know how to eat dairy in the most healthful way if you’d like to keep it as part of your diet. However, some people simply can’t digest it, whether they are lactose-intolerant (a reaction to the sugars in dairy), or are casein-intolerant (a reaction to the proteins in dairy). Gas, bloating, irritability, depression, low-energy, brain-fog, skin issues – all signs you might have a dairy sensitivity. In fact, I encourage everyone to cut dairy out of their diet for a four-week period before re-introducing it to see if you might be effected by it (so many of us are).


Another consideration for cutting dairy out of your diet, even if just for a period of time, would be if you’re suffering from any inflammatory imbalances. Joint pain, chronic headaches, seasonal allergies, leaky gut, all signs of systemic inflammation. More serious illnesses such as heart disease and auto-immune conditions are also significantly linked to chronic, systemic inflammation. Sadly, dairy can be inherently inflammatory, and for a lot of people, it’s necessary to remove or reduce their dairy consumption to help control symptoms.


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Finally, if you have blood sugar imbalances, or are trying to lose weight, consuming a tonne of dairy might not be the best idea. I mentioned above that lactose-intolerance is a reaction to the sugars found in dairy. Well, lactose has been shown in some circumstances to cause blood sugar imbalances and excessive insulin output, which can lead to weight gain, especially in the truncal/abdominal region. Something to keep in mind if you’re actively working on balancing blood sugar and insulin output for improves, mood, energy levels, and weight balance.


Smart Substitutions


If you know you have a dairy sensitivity, or are interested in removing it from your diet for a bit to see if you have any positive results, coconut and nut products can be great alternative. Just make sure you’re purchasing organic brands without a ton of additives like carrageenan and guar gum. And of course, avoid the products sweetened with sugar (cane sugar too…it’s the same thing). For a creamier, thicker texture go for coconut cream (the top of the can especially), and even try blending your smoothies or making pudding with avocado. For a thinner, more liquidy texture go for almond. You can even make fermented cashew cheese, that is also a good source of probiotics and has a wonderful fluffy, cream-cheese-like texture. But with all substitutions I encourage you not to go overboard, creating a whole new batch of imbalances from a different food. Just as much as eating a diet too high in dairy can be harmful, so can a diet too high in coconut or nut products. Moderation is important, variety is always wise, and remember that a little goes a long way when consuming quality ingredients.