Dairy’s Dark Side

Before we get started on today's post, let me just say that I'm a former cheesaholic and dairy lover. And while I'll occasionally indulge in a wedge of French triple-cream, or some Salt and Straw ice cream, dairy is by no means part of my daily diet anymore.

Why not?

Sadly, the reasons are many.

Dairy is one of the most revered foods in the Western world, and the National Dairy Council spends $140 million in marketing each year to keep it that way.

It's promoted as being as wholesome as a mother's milk — and an important tool for fighting osteoporosis — but there's a growing body of research that states otherwise.

Consider the following fact: the U.S. is among the countries worldwide consuming the most dairy. And yet, we also have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. So clearly, the U.S.'s high consumption of dairy-derived calcium isn't helping us reduce risk for osteoporosis.

Dairy's Effect on the Body

Whether you're talking about milk, cheese, kefir — even our beloved Greek yogurt — dairy can affect everything from our skin to the way we our bodies assimilate nutrients.

For starters, many people are sensitive to lactose (milk sugar) or casein (milk protein) and simply can't digest or process it properly. In fact, a naturopath once told me that cow's milk is one of the most common food sensitivities she sees among her patients. She also sees a fair amount of gluten sensitivity — and egg whites — but cow's milk was #1.

Dairy has come under the microscope in recent years, and there's a growing body of research linking it to:

Bottom line: even if you're not lactose- or casein-sensitive, there's yet another big reason you might consider avoiding dairy.

This has to do with the way most commercial dairy is produced.


What You Need to Know About Factory Farmed Dairy

Dairy is naturally full of hormones — after all, it's designed to help baby cows grow bigger.

On top of that, factory farm cows are treated with additional hormones such as Rgbh, which is used to keep the cows lactating so they can produce more milk.

In addition, factory farm dairy cows are routinely treated with antibiotics to deal with the mastitis they develop from constantly being milked. By the way, if you're a mom and ever developed mastitis while breast-feeding, can you imagine having it all the time? Those poor cows!

Factory farm cows are then treated with additional antibiotics because their stomachs can't digest grains (they were born to eat grass). Plus, in most cases, these cows are eating genetically modified feed.

These toxins can then find their way into the finished product you buy at the store.

This is all important information to bear in mind when making your purchases.

As writer Michael Pollan says, “you are what you eat eats.”


Promoting Healthy Bones Without Dairy

Once we get past wondering how we're going to live without dairy — or with limited access to it — most people start to worry about osteoporosis and fractures.

Here are some important strategies for promoting healthy bones:

  1. Reduce Calcium Loss: New research is highlighting the importance of holding onto the calcium that you already have in your bones, instead of trying to supplement through dairy or other foods. Foods and practices that cause calcium to be excreted through our urine include: caffeine, high sodium and smoking.
  2. Limit Protein: A diet high in animal protein — which, by the way is very popular in our culture thanks to Atkins and Paleo diets — has also been shown to cause more calcium to be lost through our urine. Try limiting your protein portions to 4-6 ounces per day.
  3. Exercise and Strength Training: This is one of the most accessible and easiest ways you can maintain healthy bones.
  4. Exposure to Sunlight: Getting 15 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight can be enough to turn on our bodies' Vitamin D factory. Alas, those of us living outside of the tropics may also need to supplement with Vitamin D3 (check with your doctor on the appropriate dose).



Alternative Sources of Calcium

While you work on minimizing calcium loss, you can also be sure to include calcium-rich foods in your diet. These include:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard Greens
  • Tofu
  • Arugula
  • Mustard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Wild salmon
  • Sardines
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Sesame Seeds


Guess what? Many of my recipes already incorporate these ingredients!

And if you're still worried about calcium, you could also drink a calcium-fortified nut milk. Many are fortified with Vitamin D as well.


What About Raw/Small Farm Dairy?

A few years ago, I was a friend's house for a small dinner party.

After dinner, she and her husband made cappuccinos for everyone… with raw milk!

It was if they'd busted out a tray of high-grade cocaine.

For those of you who aren't familiar with raw milk dynamics, it's basically a black-market product. Because of the regulations around selling unpasteurized product, getting your hands on raw milk is like conducting a drug deal. Selling raw milk off-premise is illegal, at least here in Oregon.

In order to get the milk, my friend had to gather her own clean milk bottles and drive 45 minutes to some remote farm, where she paid $10/gallon cash to have her bottles filled. It was all based on word-of-mouth: no commercial sales, no advertising, etc.

It all happened on the down low.

What was really cool about this hook-up was that one of the farmers was actually a milk inspector during her day job. She was constantly testing the milk for bacteria, and the cows were pampered and well-cared for. Grass fed and all that.

When I saw this friend recently, I asked her about the raw milk.

Was she still “using?”

Did she still have her hookup?

I'll admit, I was curious to get in on the deal.

No, she said sadly. The women who owned the farm moved out of the country.

My friend had taken up with another “dealer” for awhile, but the farm wasn't nearly as clean and orderly. Plus, she grew tired of the milk run, and it was becoming cost-prohibitive for her to keep pace with her teenage sons' milk guzzling.

And here's what else my friend told me — when she and her family gave up raw milk and transitioned to organic, commercial dairy, they had the sickest winter ever. She said it was as if the winter was one huge, long cold for everyone. She was reconsidering her decision, and wondering about finding a new dealer before next winter.

I tell you all this because I'm a huge fan of the old ways.

Nourishing traditions, ancestral diets — ghee, herbs, kitchen remedies — that sort of thing. And I believe it's possible that a case could be made for the healthy fats, enzymes, and good bacteria that can be found in raw milk (these nutrients are all destroyed in the standard pasteurization process).

However, I'm personally unwilling to take on the risk of consuming unpasteurized product at this time. E coli outbreaks associated with raw milk don't happen very often, but when they do, they're devastating.

So if you decide to go this route so you can keep consuming dairy, you should definitely be aware of the risks.


The Key Takeaway

These are all of the reasons why I encourage my clients to try eliminating dairy for 2-4 weeks. Try to focus less on giving up dairy forever; instead, think of it as a temporary break.

Often, clients find this one simple change helps with weight loss, and the reduction of abdominal bloating. Clients with acne or breakouts often notice their skin clears up as well. I've even had clients report a reduction in joint pain.

Chances are, you'll likely see some positive changes once you're off dairy for awhile. That said, there's also a good chance you'll experience some health symptoms when you re-introduce dairy — diarrhea, bloating, constipation, breakouts.

These symptoms can certainly be unpleasant, but I encourage you to see this as a sign that your body's talking to you… and you're finally listening. Good job, you!


Dairy-Free Recipes


Here's the good news: all of the recipes on my website are dairy-free, as well as gluten-free. Most of them are also entirely plant-based, or they provide options for people who want to substitute with animal protein.

If you're looking for some ideas for traditionally dairy-heavy recipes that have been rehabbed to be dairy-free, simply check out the recipe links below.

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