If you would have told me 8 years ago that I was going to stop eating dairy, I would have nodded and smiled the way one does when toddlers and crazy people babble on about things that make no sense whatsoever.
Because there was just no way that would ever happen.
I cherished my cow’s milk skim latte and low-fat (pasteurized) yogurt almost daily. And believed I was the epitome of health in doing so. I loved frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream for dessert. I also enjoyed my cheese, but I always felt a little guilty eating it because it was so high in fat.
Mind you, this was all before the onset of my rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – shortly after my daughter’s birth – which threw me into the trenches of burning skin, pain, and fatigue.
My RA diagnosis also threw me back into school. My conventional nutrition education had its benefits, but it didn’t give me what I needed to help me fight my newly acquired inflammatory autoimmune condition.
What I discovered was that dairy, in all its creamy, milky glory, is actually not glorious at all once it hits your digestive system. Here are the facts about how dairy misbehaves in our bodies, as well as some tips for severing the relationship.
The Dairy Disappointment
You might be thinking, “Why on earth would we eliminate from our diet what is commonly hailed as the golden child for essential nutrients?” Well, there are a few reasons. Let’s break them down:
[NOTE: these are specifically directed at dairy from conventionally processed cow’s milk]
- It’s a common food sensitivity.
Like wheat, dairy contains a large, hard to digest protein. In wheat, that protein is called gluten, and in dairy, the protein is referred to as casein. Similar to gluten, casein can easily permeate your gut lining, causing inflammation and leading to (or perpetuating) the condition of leaky gut or a disrupted gut microbiome.
And those who already have issues with gluten, listen up: it has been found that approximately 50% of people with a sensitivity to gluten, have a sensitivity to casein as well. This is due to underlying issues with immunity, the gut microbiome, and the fact that the enzymes required to digest gluten and to digest casein are the same (DPPIV, to be specific).
2. There’s a new cow in town.
The majority of the cows we have in America today are not the same breed as they once were. And this has a big effect on the composition of the milk that is produced. Specifically, the type of casein today’s cow produces is much different.
To elaborate…we used to have more of the Jersey and Guernsey breed of cows which produced A2 beta-casein – the same type of casein produced in goat, sheep and buffalo milks. However, now the most commonly seen breed in the U.S. is the Holstein cow, which produces an A1 beta-casein.
A1 beta-casein breaks into an opiate protein (BCM7) that produces damaging antibodies which are related to the many health conditions below – most specifically, celiac disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other autoimmune diseases.
3. It’s linked to several health conditions.
As I was saying, dairy (or casein) has been linked to:
Depression, autoimmune conditions (celiac disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and others), some cancers (breast, prostate, testicular, ovarian and endometrial), autism, ADHD, constipation and other digestive conditions, skin conditions (e.g. acne, eczema), SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), congestion and generalized inflammation which can manifest in many forms from ear infections to more serious conditions.
4. Conventional processing turns milk into a derelict.
Pasteurization kills the active enzymes and live active cultures that allow your body to digest dairy properly and also decreases the absorption of many vital nutrients, including: fat-soluble nutrients (Vitamins A, D, E, K), certain minerals (manganese, copper, and iron), Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin A.
And if the cows are not specifically “grass-fed” they are also lacking the inflammation-fighting omega-3 fats and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).
Even milk that has the virtuous organic label is subject to this strip down. If it’s pasteurized, it’s as bankrupt as the non-organic variety.
That said, if the dairy isn’t organic, you are ingesting all of the damaging products given to the cows in an effort to drastically boost production – products like synthetic growth hormones, steroids, genetically modified corn, and antibiotics. As I wrote about in my recent series on the microbiome, all of these antibiotics, steroids, and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are big contributors to the breakdown of our digestion, and therein our entire immune system.
5. Dairy leads to weight gain.
Here’s some food for thought. A human baby takes 6-7 months to double its weight. On the other hand, a calf on its mothers’ milk alone, doubles its weight in the first 6-8 weeks of life. The macronutrient makeup of cow’s milk, is designed for – you guessed it – cows. And unlike humans (thank goodness) cows weigh 1,600 pounds, give or take.
In addition to its natural sizeable composition, conventionally raised cows are also injected with bovine growth hormone and antibiotics to increase weight gain (and profits) further still. I think we can all agree that a hormone designed to help one get bigger is something we would avoid in general, but especially when trying to tighten things up.
Separation Anxiety – It Gets Easier
I’m not going to lie. Giving up gluten was a trial, but abandoning dairy was even harder. Granted, eight years ago there weren’t as many substitutes for my beloved, creamy, rich dollop of dairy. So going cold turkey was a shock to my system.
Who doesn’t love that billowing swirl in their coffee or tea? A fruity parfait? A cheese platter?! Rest easy, friends. Today there are delicious, widely available options and alternatives. For those of you who think you could never let it go, try these tips on for size:
- Enjoy tasty cow milk substitutes.
Almond, cashew, hemp, coconut everything – milk, yogurt, ice cream, coffee creamer. You name it, there is probably an alternative product made with something other than dairy.
Enough said. With perhaps the exception of an Alfredo sauce, there are very few instances where having a generous portion of avocado doesn’t make up for the absence of dairy. Avocado can also be used in smoothies and puddings to give you that delicious, creamy texture. And now that we’re eating clean and not afraid of fat, load up on the guacamole – guilt-free.
3. Embrace a broadened palate.
After ditching gluten and dairy, I no longer relied on bread and cheese to be the defaults for every single meal choice. I was effectively forced out of my (restrictive) comfort zone and I ended up in a much more creative place, trying all kinds of new foods. A gigantic realization and step forward for me as a lifelong picky eater.
Turns out, biochemistry is at play here as well. Undigested gluten and casein can produce opiates in those with a leaky gut – just as would be produced from drugs like heroine. This causes incessant cravings for these foods, and aversions to healthier options, like vegetables.
4. Find your rich and creamy alternatives.
Being dairy-free doesn’t mean you have to give up the flavor and texture you crave. Think of rich sauces, like tamarind or a non-dairy pesto (it is just as good without parmesan, trust me). And there are all kinds of creative combinations you can make with beans, avocados, roasted vegetables and other ingredients that are satisfying enough to dig into. Think white bean and rosemary or creamy red pepper cashew spreads. Embrace avocado hummus, black bean hummus, cilantro lime hummus, or a bean-free version. The options are endless, just ask Pinterest.
If you don’t have a specific sensitivity to eggs (which are not considered dairy), you can enjoy items with mayo (think aioli, chicken or tuna salad). Clarified butter, or ghee, can be used to replace regular butter for all of your cooking and baking needs.
5. Lesser evils.
A sensitivity to dairy, or casein, often falls on a spectrum. After you have done a complete elimination of dairy for 4-6 weeks, you can test back small amounts of more easily digested versions.
You would start with a raw (i.e. not pasteurized) goat or sheep milk. In raw form, it retains the enzymes that help with digestion (plus better nutritional quality) and because it’s from a goat or sheep, it will ensure it has the A2, rather than A1 beta-casein. If tolerated, you could try raw, organic, grass-fed (or “pastured”) cow’s milk.
Grass-fed (or “pastured”) butter is also something better tolerated because it is almost completely fat – therefore very little protein (or casein).
Digestive enzymes (DPPIV) can also be taken to help with digestion, when consuming small amounts. Note: DPPIV will not give you a digestive system made of steel. Leave the Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer aisle.
You should always work with a qualified practitioner who can assess your tolerance level and suggest any supplement regimen. If you’re in the market, I know a girl.
6. Get calcium from other sources
Ensure you are getting adequate calcium. Green veggies are an excellent source – eat in abundance. Haters aside, kale is a great source of absorbable calcium – and it is virtually unrecognizable in a smoothie, so throw in a handful. Keep in mind that some leafy greens contain oxalates, which inhibit the absorption of the calcium being delivered. Leafy lacinato or Tuscan kale is low in oxalates, so reach for that type at the store. Almonds and spinach are high in calcium, but high in oxalates as well.
If You Can’t Break Up, Use Protection
If you and dairy have just come too far to call it quits now, or if you have confirmed you do not have a sensitivity, at least promise yourself you will seek out quality dairy partners. Meaning, the source is:
- Raw or fermented (raw meaning not pasteurized and retaining enzymes and nutrients; fermented meaning enhanced probiotics that improve digestion, e.g. kefir)
- Organic & grass-fed (without the above mentioned synthetic ingredients and fed a high omega-3, inflammation-fighting grass diet)
- FULL-fat (dairy fat is where the fat-soluble vitamins and inflammation-fighting fatty acids reside. Yes, you read that correctly.).
All of this is my way of encouraging you to think critically about what you put into your system and branch out from the antiquated norm. Just because June Cleaver served a big glass of cow’s milk at every meal doesn’t mean it’s what your body wants or needs.
Times have changed and so has food.
The bottom line is you are accountable for how you feel and your overall health. So embrace the change. Explore the many options that I’ve shared with you – make a new snack, use a different combination in your next smoothie, and next time you’re out for dinner, try something that doesn’t come covered in cheese. Some of it might not fly with you, but keep trying others. You never know…you might end up with some new non-dairy favorites. And feeling great from the inside out is what I call doing a body good.
For more information about food sensitivities, inflammation and a personalized, step-by-step plan to heal, check out my book, INFLAMED: Discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life.
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