Dairy exists in a big grey space with regards to the Paleo diet and lifestyle. Whether one swings towards black or white depends very much on the quality and type of dairy product that is being consumed, and one’s personal constitution.
The important thing is to be informed about how dairy may be affecting you, and to remember that adverse reactions might not be immediately obvious. Some things, such as gut dysbiosis and leaky gut, build up gradually. Eliminating dairy from the diet for a period of time gives the body -which may not have ever known anything else – an opportunity to return to a non-dairyed state. Any immediate consequences will then be much more obvious on reintroduction. Common reactions are mucous production, retention of abdominal fat, acne, athsma, and seasonal allergies.
Cow’s milk, if we get down to basics, is for calves. Just as human milk unquestionably provides the best complete nutrition for baby humans, so cow’s milk provides the perfect blend of carbohydrate, protein, fat, calcium and growth hormones for the rapidly growing calf. Importantly, it also contains substances which kick-start and strengthen its immune system. Just as baby humans don’t breast-feed forever, calves (and all mammals for that matter) reach a certain stage of developmental maturity when they no longer require that complex blend of growth nutrients.
The question, then, is this: Are the biological and hormonal messages intended for a calf appropriate for a human?
Opinion is divided. On the one hand, dairy products are full of biovavailable saturated fat, protein and carbohydrate – for those who can digest it. For the dairy tolerant, it can be a viable and valuable source of nutrition. It may even be protective. The conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in milk fat has been shown to possess anti-cancer properties.
On the other hand, the protein structures and the carbohydrate found in dairy cause immune system reactions and insulin peaks. They are linked with all sorts of undesirables, from bloating and gastro-intestinal issues, to neurological disorders and… cancer.
Within the context of the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle, the pendulum of opinion also swings. Those adhering strictly to the works of Dr. Loren Cordain will say that dairy has no role in a human diet. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig allow clarified butter from pastured cattle on their Whole 30. And Mark Sisson encourages the moderate use of not only butter but also full fat cream and well-sourced fermented dairy, such as kefir and yoghurt.
SO, WHAT DO WE WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DAIRY SO THAT WE CAN FORM OUR OWN OPINION?
Casein is the primary protein in dairy, comprising around 80%. (It’s also the primary protein in human breast milk.) Casein, when digested by the calf, provides the amino acids which build muscle, connective tissue, skin, hair, hormones, enzymes, bones and teeth.
It shares structural similarities with gluten, which is seriously nasty stuff, but we don’t know whether dairy, like gluten, causes leaky gut, or whether it simply gets in and wrecks havoc after gluten itself has damaged the lining of the gut.
Casein releases protein structures which act as physiological messages from the mother to to the calf. They bind to opiod receptors in the the enteric and central nervous system, strengthening the bond between the mother and young, thus improving feeding behaviour. Because of their morphine-like effect, they slow down the movement of food through the gut. These proteins cannot cross the intact and healthy intestinal lining of an adult human. But in the all too common situation of increased intestinal permeability, these potent food hormones from another species may get in. And if they get in? Well, the science on this is still young.
Regardless of the state of an intact or leaky gut, in susceptable individuals, casein will cause the immune system to respond with a histamine response, resulting in headaches, gastrointestinal upset, asthma and seasonal allergies.
Whey is the lesser protein of dairy, comprising about 20%. These smaller proteins and hormones include insulin, estrogens, and the insulin-like growth factor called IGF-1. This IGF-1 is associated with various undesirables including breast, colon and prostrate cancer. It’s not a determinant, but it seems that, for high risk individuals, it could be an indirect facilitator because it increases cell growth, without discriminating as to whether those cells are healthy or abnormal.
Lactose, the carbohydrate found in dairy products, is usually well tolerated by infants because they produce large amounts of the enzymes required for lactose digestion. From weaning through to around four years of age, the production of those enzymes, for the major part of the human population, gradually decreases, resulting in lactose intolerance. (It seems that some parts of the human population have adapted, allowing for lactose digestion in adulthood.) For sensitive individuals, lactose will promote gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, cramping and bloating.
But even for people who seem able to tolerate lactose, small amounts may still contribute to an imbalance of gut bacteria which promotes gut dysbiosis.
The big problem for everyone – tolerant or intolerant – is that dairy products are insulinogenic. Consuming lactose in combination with whey causes the release of large amounts of insulin. Insulin, remember, plays a nutritional building-and-storing role, which is entirely appropriate for infant mammals in a stage of aggressive growth. But for those of us who are not doubling or tripling our body weight in short periods of time, those large doses of insulin are not necessary. When dairy products are sweetened, such as in flavoured yoghurts and icecream, we’re talking about an insulin peak double whammy. Not a good look for anyone who is suffering from insulin resistance, or who simply wants to maintain a health state of insulin sensitivity.
DAIRY AND THE CANCER ISSUE
In his Definitive Guide to Dairy, Mark Sisson questions the associations between dairy and cancer. He points to an article by Chris Masterjohn who suggests that milk proteins appear to be problematic only when separated from their natural fat. So, while low fat and skim milk have been associated with certain cancers, whole milk seems to be neutral, or protective. Sisson suggests that researchers study the effects of full fat dairy from pastured cattle.
IF I CAN TOLERATE DAIRY, WHEN IS IT OKAY?
No one advises eating vast quantities of sweetened yoghurt, or icecream, or gorgeous cheeses just because you like them. I know. Believe me, I know.
If dairy must be consumed, find it from pastured cattle, and find it organic. Dairy from pastured, organic cattle contains higher proportions of healthy fats, such as CLA, a healthier ratio between the essential fatty acids (high Omega 3, low Omega 6), higher levels of antioxidants, vitamin A and Vitamin E. Non-organic and pastured sources, as well as being less nutritious, contain traces of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and anything else that the animal has consumed.
Raw (unpasteurized) butter and cream are good sources of healthy, saturated fat and contain very little lactose and casein. Butter can be clarified to remove all of the traces.
Fermented dairy – such as yoghurt, kefir, cheese and clotted milk – may introduce beneficial probiotics into the gut environment, and most of their lactose is destroyed through the fermentation process.
Aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, won’t be shuned by tolerant (mentally and physically) Paleo’s. But if consumed, it will very much be used in moderation. Moderation, in our house, means no more than once a month.
HOW WE DO DAIRY
Personally, we head up to Alpine dairies in summer, when the cattle are pastured. We’ll stock up on butter, cut it into wads, wrap it in parchment paper, and store it in the freezer. We’ll also buy a smoked ricotta, which is a gourmet delicacy for our region. I’ve just obtained a kefir colony, and will start it off on organic milk, but only because I don’t yet know how to coltivate it with coconut milk or water.
Even before going Paleo, I recognised that belly fat would melt away simply through reducing my cheese intake. I suffered terribly with hayfever and sinisitis. Since Paleo, I haven’t had the slightest hint of seasonal allergy. I had the beginning of a cold last week, but it had been and gone within one a half days.
Just once, last summer, wanting to live life to the full and be flexible, we ate a slab of fresh cheese with a crusty whole grain breadroll. The General had an immediate immune-system flare up (an outbreak of herpes, within 20 minutes). As with my seasonal allergies, our question is: Was it the dairy? Or was it the gluten and the grains? Or was it the combination of both? We’ll continue to experiment.
BE INFORMED. ELIMINATE. EXPERIMENT. OBSERVE.
This is what it’s about. Being informed, eliminating the products for a period of time, and then gradually, gently, reintroducing them and being honest about your reactions.
Being honest is not always easy. We’re good at convincing ourselves that all is good. Especially when it comes to Gelato.
I really encourage you to read more about this – it’s totally fascinating. The post by Mark Sisson which I referred to above is fantastic. Don’t skip the comments! Some of them really get you thinking. And I fully recommend It Starts with Food, by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.
Thanks for taking your time here at Paleomantic, and I really appreciate it when you share on Social. I’d love to hear your experiences with dairy, and also whether you’ve noticed changes in your children’s health when you’ve reduced their intake. Looking forward to your comments. Until then,
Best Wishes and Good Health