To Dairy or Not to Dairy?

I first stopped eating dairy when I was a sophomore in college. I had been a vegetarian for over a year at that point, but dairy was still a staple in my diet.

One day I was chatting with a friend about needing to make a little extra money and she suggested that I apply for a job at Mixed Nuts, our college food co-op.

These jobs were coveted and there were dozens of people who applied for each position (I never did figure out why) but somehow I made it through over half a dozen interviews and was invited to join the team.

Every week we would collate requests, place orders, and get deliveries of vegetables, grains, bread, legumes, nuts, and dairy products that we would dole out into boxes for members.

My first position was “bread manager.” One of the easier positions as the bread was already pre-packaged. If I put the order in correctly, it always worked out swimmingly. When my stint as bread manager finished up, I rotated into the position of “cheese manager.” Now this was another level of food management! I would spend hours cutting giant wheels or bricks of cheese and measuring them out for the individual boxes. Ordering, climate control, weighing, identifying, there was always a cheesy disaster waiting to happen.

I loved it despite the pressure because I loved cheese. I mean I really, really loved cheese. This led, of course, to “a bit” of tasting while I was parting out said cheese chunks. Within a few months of my new position, I was covered in a rash. When I realized it was the cheese I was apoplectic.

Cheese, after all, was my favorite food! What, I wondered, had I done in a past life that led to my body betraying me over my beloved cheese?!

Over the following decade, I went back and forth eating and not eating dairy, for both ethical and health reasons. Around five years in I developed another symptom from eating dairy—a cough. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered was actually asthma.  I now know that it is triggered by dust, cats, dogs, smoke, and yes…dairy.

Finally, after a particularly bad round of rash and cough, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. I quit for good.

There are many people over the years who have suggested to me that it’s important for all of us (including children) to drink milk and eat milk products. I can’t disagree with this enough. Of course calcium is an important nutrient, but there are absolutely no health reasons why humans would need milk, or any dairy for that matter, to get calcium. Now baby cows? That’s another story.

Dairy is not a nutrient. The FDA’s insistence that humans need to eat dairy is driven by the dairy lobby.  

The dairy industry is $27 billion dollar industry—to producers. Do you think their lobby has a vested interest in trying to convince us all that dairy is an indispensable part of our diets? You bet they do.”Got Milk?” anyone?
That said, I’m not trying to vilify dairy. For many people dairy causes no symptoms at all and can be enjoyed in moderation. Though to be honest, I’m not convinced that 3-4 servings of dairy is necessary for anyone.

So when would you consider eliminating dairy from your diet?

Following is a list of some of the more common reasons:

Lactose intolerance. An inability to digest the sugar found in dairy products. Causes digestive distress.

Allergy. Including digestive symptoms, itching, hives, or anaphylaxis.

Sensitivity. Some common sensitivity symptoms include congestion, chronic sinus infections, acne, rashes, headaches or migraines, fatigue, and joint pain. It’s also a very common cause of constipation. I’ve seen more children than I can count put on stool softeners and laxatives from a young age because of chronic constipation due to dairy.

Increased phlegm. There are several studies showing that dairy intake does not cause increased phlegm but I can say with 100% certainty that it does for me and many of my patients and clients. And not only more, but thicker. Yuck.

Inflammation. There are also studies that show that dairy doesn’t increase generalized inflammation, or at least that it doesn’t raise typical inflammatory markers in the blood. That said, I have many patients and clients with inflammatory conditions (anything ending in ‘-itis’ and most autoimmune conditions) whose symptoms are clearly aggravated by it. There is one study showing that it increases inflammatory markers in the gut. There are other condition specific studies as well.

Ethics. Some people feel that it’s wrong to eat food that comes from animals in any way shape or form. Others just feel uncomfortable eating animal products when the animal has been treated poorly.

Concern about how milk is treated. The process of homogenization (so the cream doesn’t rise to the top) and pasteurization (heating to kill bacteria) may fundamentally impact how our bodies process milk. I’m not recommending raw milk as that would be a liability but if I were to drink milk personally, I would be much more likely to go this route.

Breast cancer risk. In pooled analysis from studies it appears that there is an association with high fat dairy products and pre-menopausal breast cancer. But, none of these studies looked at organic dairy, hormone free cows, range fed cows, or non-homogenized or non-pasteurized milk. Based on this and other design flaws I’m not sure I’d personally stop eating dairy for this reason.

If you have another reason, hit reply and email me back, I’ll update my blog post with those too!

If you avoid dairy, or have been wanting to cut it out, or even just cut down on the amount you’re eating, my next post will be a rundown of many of the current dairy alternatives on the market—with reviews!

Yours in Health,

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