The Deal With Dairy

Before I get to today’s post, I need to say something that’s been on my mind for a while, and even more so after a couple of the comments on my last post got a little heated.

When it comes to healthy diets and what we should/should not eat, a lot of people seem to think their way is the only way. I do not agree. No matter what you read in a book, or anywhere else for that matter, there isn’t one single “dietary prescription” that’s going to work for everyone. We’re all different: from our unique cultural backgrounds to our taste preferences to our biochemical makeup. We each need to find our own satisfying way to eat that will best support our individual health. I believe that a whole foods diet supports the health of everyone, but there’s a fair amount of “finessing” that can be done from there…like whether to eat animal foods or not, whether to eat grains or not, discovery/management of individual food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities, etc.

My opinions on nutrition- and therefore the foods that I choose to eat- have been influenced by my upbringing, my naturopathic medical education, my personal dietary experiences/experiments, and all of the research I’ve done (and continue to do every single day) since I set off on this holistic lifestyle path 20 years ago. I started this blog so I’d have a place to share my perspective, which I try to keep both dogma and fad-free. I am grateful that I have a place to express myself, and that there are people who are willing to listen.

That said, I am fine with it if you don’t agree with me…and it’s alright if you want to let me know that in the comments. I can’t possibly please everyone. But I want you to know that I stand by everything I write and I write it with only the best of intentions: to help you live a healthier life. I am well aware that a lot of us are very emotionally invested in our eating patterns and get nervous when our ways are called into question; if that’s true for you, I ask that you keep an open mind and hear me out even if what I am saying makes you uncomfortable. Change can be hard…there’s no doubt about that…but change is what this series is about!

Now let’s get to this week’s One Simple Change topic, ok? Let’s discuss dairy.

Last week I told you to consider reducing and possibly eliminating the wheat, gluten, and grains in your diet, and I gave you many reasons why. I know that was a little hard for some of you to hear, and you’re probably wondering if I’m going to say similarly bad things about dairy.

Well, just like with grains, the whole dairy “thing” is a little confusing. We are certainly bombarded with mixed messages, aren’t we?! We’ve got our favorite celebrities (with their adorable white mustaches) asking us over and over if we’ve “got milk?”, and we’re told that dairy products must be consumed if we’re to have strong bones. But we’ve been told that the saturated fat in dairy is bad, so lots of us dutifully purchase and eat dairy products that are fat-free.

At the same time, we’ve also got a number of health “gurus” telling us that if we want to be healthy, we shouldn’t be consuming dairy products at all. They say our our bodies are not set up to drink the milk of cows. They point out that a great many people lack the the enzyme lactase, and are therefore lactose intolerant, and that milk proteins are highly allergenic. They also argue that commercial milk can’t possibly be good for you since it contains hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides (because of the “unnatural” ways dairy cows are raised/medicated/fed), and they offer up numerous alternatives to dairy for getting calcium into the body.

Then there’s yet another “camp” of folks who believe that dairy is indeed extremely nutritious, but that we shouldn’t be drinking modern industrial milk. Instead, we should seek out milk and milk products from cows that are raised humanely without the administration of antibiotics and hormones, and who are also grazed on pasture. This means buying milk that’s organic and grass-fed, or possibly even going one step further and sourcing grass-fed, organic milk that’s raw (ie unhomogenized/unpasteurized).

After reading a number of thorough (and quite excellent) historical accounts of milk, I must say that I agree with the third group. I think milk can be an extremely healthy food, but that the type of milk and dairy products we choose to consume is of the utmost importance. I first tried raw milk about 10 years ago but didn’t have a way to get it on a regular basis. Since learning of a local source 3 years ago, I’ve been drinking it almost exclusively.

I understand that many people think drinking milk that hasn’t been pasteurized is a bad- dangerous, even- idea, but keep in mind that when milk is heated to kill off potentially harmful bacteria, beneficial bacteria are also destroyed. Pasteurization kills enzymes, as well, including those that help with the digestion of dairy (I’ve seen many reports of people with a lactose intolerance being able to drink raw milk without a problem). Raw milk is also said to boost the immune system and appears to be tolerated by many who have sensitivities or allergies to commercial milk (though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this is the case). Proponents of raw milk claim it’s way more nutritious than it’s pasteurized/homogenized counterpart, but I must admit that I found it very hard to get solid information about the nutrient content of raw vs. regular milk while I was researching this post. I’ll continue to look into this issue and hopefully have a definitive answer in my book. It does seem that the two contain the same amount of protein and calcium, though.

I’m not going to discuss all the additional potential benefits of drinking raw milk here because you can find those anecdotes elsewhere, but I will say that I drink my milk raw because I personally believe it’s a safe food, because it tastes terrific, and because I want to support my farmer friends who take great care of their cows (regular dairy cows are often kept in truly deplorable conditions) and do what it takes to make clean raw milk available to me. This is not to say that YOU should drink raw milk. Please do your own research to determine if it’s the right choice for you.

If you can’t find or don’t want to drink raw milk, I suggest purchasing organic, grass-fed milk that’s either been pasteurized and homogenized, or that’s just pasteurized. Some people avoid homogenized milk because it’s potentially more allergenic, and because it’s been implicated as a possible contributor to heart disease: I am investigating these claims. Buying organic milk will ensure that it’s free of antibiotics and hormones, though, and that the dairy cows eat a diet primarily of grass (instead of the corn, soy, and many other undesirable things that commercial dairy cows are fed). The milkfat of cows who graze on grass is high in a number of nutrients including beneficial omega-3 fatty acids as well as conjugated linolenic acid (aka CLA, which has been shown to fight cancer, promote muscle growth, and reduce abdominal body fat); organic, pastured butter is a particularly good source of these nutrients. The milkfat of cows that eat corn, soy, etc. does not have a healthy fatty acid profile.

I believe that if you eat dairy, you should always have full-fat! I know this flies in the face of what you may have heard, but the fat that’s naturally present in high quality milk is not unhealthy. This is a no-brainer if you drink raw milk because the cream floats to the top of the milk in all its glory, then you just need to give it a good shake to disperse the fat throughout, but if you are buying regular milk, a lot of people choose low fat or skim thinking they’re doing themselves a favor. Now if you are not buying organic but you insist on on drinking skim, maybe you are better off because the fat in regular milk is not good for you (check the paragraph above for the reasons why). But if you are buying organic, then opt for whole milk because the fat in dairy is where many of the nutrients (including the omega-3s and CLA) are. I drank skim milk at one point in my life but I cannot possibly imagine doing so now because I think it tastes like crap and it’s incredibly unsatisfying. Contrary to what we heard in the mainstream media for a long time, low-fat versions of traditional foods do not support health: a diet full of them is not nourishing and typically upsets blood sugar and insulin levels. This ultimately makes it hard, if not impossible, to maintain a healthy weight.

It’s important to note that historically, milk was not consumed fresh in many parts of the world: it was (and continues to be) transformed into yogurt and other cultured dairy foods, as well as cheeses, and the cream on top was/is turned into butter/buttermilk, etc. There’s much wisdom in this…these derivatives of milk have always been prized for their abilities to nourish the body and they are generally well-tolerated even by those who don’t digest milk on its own very well. And to reiterate the point about choosing whole fat dairy foods: think about how many hundreds (thousands?) of years your ancestors around the world have been enjoying full-fat dairy products. Low-fat dairy has only been available for a short time evolutionarily speaking…it’s not a natural food and our bodies don’t really know how to process it.

While dairy has not always been consumed in every culture and there’s a chance you’re not meant to eat it, there’s absolutely no reason to deprive yourself of dairy if you enjoy it and it makes you feel good: just be sure to choose full fat dairy foods preferably from organic, pastured cows.

Now before I finish up, I want to talk just a bit about what I said above: “eat it if it makes you feel good”. This is what I was trying to get at last week when I asked you to consider giving up wheat, gluten, and/or grains. A full-fledged discussed of food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that any food can be potentially problematic for someone. Wheat happens to be a food that many people react to…dairy reactions are also very common. And many people who have problems with gluten ALSO have problems with dairy because their digestive system is already compromised. So it’s important to keep in mind that even if you go out of your way to buy the healthiest versions of these (or any) foods, they still might not work for you.

How do you know if you’ve got a potential issue with a food? Symptoms like fatigue that does not resolve despite good quality sleep, respiratory issues, skin disorders, recurrent infections, joint pains, headaches, and mood swings are all clues that you might be eating a food (or foods) that does not work for your body. There are different tests available for food sensitivities (an alternative medical provider would be the best person to ask about these) but you can also try this: take a food that you suspect may be a problem completely out of your diet for at least 4 days and see what happens. While I was writing this post, I decided to do this with dairy, because even though I drink raw milk and eat high quality organic, pastured and full-fat dairy, I’ve been experiencing a lot of nasal congestion/post nasal drip and I’ve had two sinus infections this year so far. So I am doing a trial dairy-free diet in order to see if I feel better without it…want to do it with me? Or, if you don’t think dairy is a problem for you but you think something else might be, I encourage you to experiment with taking that food out of your diet for 4-7 days and seeing how you do. It’s entirely possible that dairy is not my issue (or yours) but it’s not very hard to eliminate it for a few days. The way I see it, I’ve got nothing to lose…I’ll be super bummed out if it turns out that I am sensitive to dairy since I love it and believe it to be so health-promoting, but I’d do pretty much anything to get rid of my chronic congestion right now.

I believe that I am my own best health detective/advocate, and that you are yours. So why not become familiar with what it means to eat healthy dairy, but consider taking it out of your diet for a time if you think it might be problematic for you? If you do turn out to be sensitive to dairy or any other food, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean you can never eat it again. Your body might just need a break from it. If the problem isn’t too severe, you might get over your food sensitivities after a relatively short period of elimination (try 6-12 months). On the other hand, you might need to avoid the problematic food(s) for longer along with taking steps to heal your digestion and strengthen your immune system. Mind you I am not talking about IgE mediated food allergies right now- the kind that result in anaphylactic reactions- nor am I talking about celiac disease. Those require lifelong avoidance of the offending foods. Also, if there’s a possibility that you have multiple food sensitivities, you might be better off getting tested (again, a holistic medical provider will be the best person to help with this) than playing around with eliminating foods on your own.

Ok that all for this week, folks! What do you think of this week’s One Simple Change? A lot to think about, right? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

For more information related to this post, please check out the following (and know that if you make a purchase through one of the links I make a little money through their affiliate program):
Information on CLA from
Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
The Untold Story of Milk, Revised and Updated: The History, Politics and Science of Nature’s Perfect Food: Raw Milk from Pasture-Fed Cows
Real Food: What to Eat and Why
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
Hidden Food Allergies: The Essential Guide to Uncovering Hidden Food Allergies-and Achieving Permanent Relief

Leave a Comment

32 thoughts on “The Deal With Dairy”

  1. Often I surf the internet and read a lot about food and health that comes with it. Some time ago I found your site recently and I read quite frequently, and I must say you have a wonderful site , I’m exactly like this where you have described in detail everything about the milk and absolutely agree with you, especially with that “eat it if it makes you feel good “.
    All that I say that it is most important for our health. Otherwise one of my favorite sites on the internet and there is a lot of helpful tips and useful advise for everyday life. Continue work at your site, it’s great , we ‘re with you !

  2. Pingback: Got milk?
  3. Pingback: Eating for Health and Happiness, plus Yellow Cake with Lemon Curd | Healthy Green Kitchen
  4. If raw milk doesn’t kill enzymes, then is a raw food diet better? The argument against raw foods is that your stomach has to cook the food and it can slow your digestion . . .

  5. I love your site, just found it today. Read most of your dairy post, and wishing you had addressed the process of making milk for humans, and the terrible cycle the cows go through their entire lives for that process. Also, The China Study is a great guide to read which very clearly outlines the dangers of human milk consumption.

    I was an avid dairy consumer until 5 years ago when my son almost died from digestive disorder (UC) We now eat 100%, local, mostly vegan, mostly raw, and occasionally a nibble of wild game, or fish, eggs, and even less frequently a bite of cheese.

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience…how scary! I don’t necessarily agree with you that the The China Study is a great guide, though…I found the research fairly unsubstantiated and skewed to fit the author’s needs.

  6. I just stumbled upon your blog and this post about milk is amazing. I’ve been reading tons of books and doing research on whole food diets, gluten, dairy, etc and you did such a great job summarizing everything I have learned about dairy. I am lucky to have raw milk only 15 minutes away and give it to my son every day, and will happily give it to my daughter once we are finished nursing. I rarely comment on blogs but you really did a beautiful job here. I am attempting to go completely sugar free this coming year (I am extremely sensitive/addicted to sugar) and am starting a blog about my journey and I will continue to look to your work for inspiration!

    • Brooke,
      Thanks so very mich for this comment…I really appreciate it! Please drop me a line when you start your new blog; I’d love to check it out.

  7. Oh my, I just discovered your blog and I love it! I could never exclude Greek style yoghurt and whole, organic milk from my diet. I have to try to find raw milk where I live. My mom uses raw milk and I love it. The low fat (or even no fat) stuff just doesn’t taste the same and it’s too artificial.
    I also believe that one shouldn’t exclude something from ones diet if you’re going to miss it badly (unless it makes you sick…)

  8. Thank you for this post! I’ve been consuming raw dairy for some time and love the summary of its benefits that you provide! I also found that a combination of local raw honey and milk seems to have eliminated my seasonal allergies, which has been great. I will share this post with friends.

    On a slightly different note, my husband and I are considering starting a family in the near future. As I look ahead to pregnancy, I’m wondering literature you’ve encountered about the risks/benefits of raw dairy while pregnant? I would LOVE to know more about this since it seems the reports I read of its dangers while pregnant are exactly the same ones that state it’s dangerous to consume no matter what.. which I disagree with.

    I look forward to hearing about any information you’ve come across in your research!

  9. Love your posts! So informative and great. I am all about eating less grains, and no sugar. But what is most important for me is no GMO and 100% organic. I think the US is so bad about the GMO stuff and i hope that they will start labeling. I think so many folks don;t know they are being poisioned. Keep up the good work.

  10. I absolutely love dairy products and am lucky to have access to raw and low-heat pasteurized milk from grass-fed cows. I would love to have a daily cup of chai made with whole milk, but I can only indulge in moderation as inevitably I get those hard under-the-skin blemishes on my chin. Not exactly sure why this is, but I think I’ve pinpointed the milk as the culprit. Any thoughts? xo

  11. First – I look forward to and generally agree with your posts. I heartily agree with your recommendation to select organic, grass-fed whole milk and milk products. I even agree that raw milk from a trusted local farm may provide benefits for healthy older children and adults. You did state: “A full-fledged discussed of food allergies/intolerances/sensitivities is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that any food can be potentially problematic for someone.” There is a difference between a food source being “problematic” and being potentially life-threatening. I just wish you had added a caveat about the risks of selecting raw milk for individuals whose immune systems are compromised. Even dairy farms that maintain stringent sanitation measures carry some possibility of raw milk contamination. For that reason, anyone at greater risk of diarrhea complications – very young children and the elderly – should also exercise extreme caution.

  12. Love your simple change posts; sorry they’ve been ‘controversial’ as of late.

    Question about this week’s topic: did you find any research/discussions/articles/evidence regarding the statement “humans are the only species on Earth that drinks milk beyond infant-hood”? This statement has profoundly affected the way I view dairy, so I wondered if you read anything supporting or rejecting this claim? Thank you!

    • Hi Becca,
      I expected these to be a little controversial…no worries ;)
      As for that statement, it is indeed true. We are definitely the only species that drinks milk into adulthood.

  13. “If you can’t find or don’t want to drink raw milk, I suggest purchasing organic, grass-fed milk that’s either been pasteurized and homogenized, or that’s just pasteurized. Some people avoid homogenized milk because it’s potentially more allergenic, and because it’s been implicated as a possible contributor to heart disease: I am investigating these claims.”

    May I suggest the book “Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition” by Paul Pitchford? It is brilliant and has quite a bit to say about the effects of homogenized milk on our bodies. :)

    GREAT POST!! I 100% agree with everything you said! After years of dealing with SEVERE IBS symptoms and food intolerances I’ve finally managed to pin down the cause to a parasite, with the help of a Naturopath (which was after a Gastroenterologist tested me for parasites and told me I had none?!) The treatment is working and in the last couple weeks I’ve been enjoying organic, grass-fed meat, dairy and eggs again!! I’ve been drinking un-homogenized milk and I’m very excited to try raw milk, since I found someone who’s willing to bring some into town for me each week. YAY!

    I must say I’m glad in a way that I got so sick, it opened my eyes to REAL nutrition (not the low-fat, pasteurized-to-death, grain-centric, all-vegetable-oil “nutrition” being thrown at us every day.)

  14. thank you for your posting about dairy, another advantage of drinking raw milk and organic grass feed beef is that they make big fluffy particles of cholesterol. This cholesterol is flushed through the body and not absorbed as readily. Look for more information coming from the medical community (especially more alternative medicine). Some doctors are starting to measure cholesterol particle size and believe that is the issue rather than total amount.
    It is important to be educated about food, but NOT AFRAID of food. It is a source of nutrition and great pleasure. Much of our social networking is centered on food.
    So carry on, this is good information
    Thank you.

    • Interesting about the cholesterol particle size…I’ve not heard about that and will look into it! I agree about not being afraid of food…I am certainly not and love cooking/eating :) I don’t at all want these posts to make people afraid: I just want readers to have as much info as possible in order to make informed choices about what they eat.

  15. I think it is relevant to mention that the other milk protein, casein, causes problems for some people, not the lactose. I have been “allergic” (really it’s a food sensitivity, an actual allergy is different) to milk my whole life but didn’t figure out until a few years ago that it’s not the lactose I react to but the casein. Casein is the protein that gives cheese it’s hardness and is found in varying amounts throughout different dairy products. I completely eliminated casein from my diet before my wedding and could not believe the difference in my skin, my regularity and overall well being. Although we eat very little processed food (TONS of casein in processed food, it is used as a protein filler in granola bars, bread, etc), casein sneaks into my life in cheese which is just too hard to give up year round. But I’m okay with that and know that if I really need to clear up my skin, no dairy whatsoever is what does it.

    Thank you so much for your research links at the bottom of your posts, as a librarian it’s nice to read a blog that actual cites some sources.

    • Hi Andria,
      Yes the whole allergy vs. sensitivity thing is confusing for people and I did not want to go too deep into that here, though with dairy and many other foods, both can be a problem. You are right that I didn’t mention casein by name as a potential issue, and I will amend the post to fix that. So interesting to hear all of your experiences with it!

  16. Thanks for a great post,

    I agree that a blog is a forum where one can voice their own views. I happen to agree with you on the dairy front, I was just diagnosed with IBS this last week after months of stomach pain left me desperate for a solution.

    It’s funny that both my husband and I have always had an easier time with full fat Greek yogurt (the kind with actual cultures in it)and with hard cheese than with milk in other forms (he does not have IBS but has issues digesting dairy) . When I started this diet I came to find out that these are lower in lactose content than mass produced mozzarella or low fat commercially processed yogurts. This was sort of an aha moment for me and a confirmation of something my body had been telling me all along. And to your point I think our (excuse he pun) gut feeling is the best thing we have to go by in learning to gauge what foods best nourish our bodies.

    As for your comment about raw milk packing more nutrition than its pasteurized counterpart, I too have not seen any evidence to confirm this BUT if you or anyone else has an easier time digesting it, you will probably have a better time absorbing some of the wonderful nutrients it has to offer, making it, in a sense, more nutritious for YOU as an individual.

    For now milk is on the list of things to avoid as I go through an elimination diet process which is based on avoiding foods high in FODMAPs, which coincidentally ( amazing timing with your last post) include gluten and many grains.

    Just as a side note – for those out there struggling with IBS, my website at will start featuring recipes low in fodmap content later this week! I am hoping to transform it from a general cooking site to being a forum and resource for recipes for others dealing with IBS and other food intolerances.

    Thanks again for a great post and a great site.


  17. I cant tell you how much I enjoy your blog and your One Simple Change series! I was so interested in your last post, my cousin has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and despite trying different medications still suffers, I passed your website onto her as I now wonder if she has a gluten issue? Great blog and topics Winnie!

  18. I am enjoying and learning from all your posts in this series, Winnie! Thank you for all you share here. Dairy is a staple in our house, with yogurt and cheese being big snack choices for my kids. Focusing on dairy that is organic and local makes such a difference. We’re fortunate to have great choices at our farmer’s market. And I’m hooked on pastured butter!

  19. Well, I totally get where you’re coming from with these posts and I am loving them. I did try abstaining from dairy and reintroducing … sigh … apparently, I did not get the Lucky Cheese Gene. I’m still in mourning. But I’d still really love to try raw milk someday.

    • Oh, that’s a big bummer! I’m afraid I may be headed in the same direction. Thanks for the feedback on the posts…I appreciate it so much :)

  20. I know I’ve said it before but still, I am thoroughly enjoying all of your posts in this feature. Your prior one on gluten caused me to call my sister who has suffered from irritable bowl syndrome all her life. In our talk she told me how severe her bloating can get when she eats one of her favourite foods, pasta. I told her about your post and about another article I had read and she says that she is going to try to remove gluten from her diet for awhile and see if she does not experience a change for the better.
    Thankfully, I don’t have food sensitivities, except to fish. I just can’t eat it. I love milk and while I don’t consume a lot of it, whenever I do I prefer homogenized. You are right about there being a lot to process in this post and I will be re-reading it. Keep up the excellent work Winnie.