Dairy (Part I): Do we need it?

July 3, 2011 | Comments Off

“He who wants milk should not sit in the middle of a field and wait for a cow to back up to him”. ~ Proverb

It has been a slow and steady dietary transformation for us, yielding great dividends in terms of overall health and functional fitness. Both of us are leaner, fitter and stronger.

Nearly two years ago, we eliminated vegetable and seed oils from our diet. A year and half ago, we cut out sugar and all sweeteners. Ten months ago we cut out gluten and then all grains. It’s been much easier than expected and we haven’t been tempted to stray or “cheat”. We actually enjoy what we eat and aren’t consciously geared towards weight loss or calorie counting. The goal is metabolic efficiency – repairing and maintaining lean muscle tissue and burning fat – without feeling deprived or going into starvation mode.

To this end, the last frontier we’ve been striving to conquer is dairy.

By “dairy” we mean the milk of cattle, especially cow’s milk, which is the most commonly consumed form globally. (That said, water buffalo milk is the preferred form of dairy in India, which is the largest producer and consumer per capita of dairy in the world.)

Water Buffalo (Wikimedia Commons)

There is no consensus among nutritional experts on its nutritional value and role in the human diet. In February 2007, we wrote a post (Milk: Is it Overrated?), expressing our confusion regarding the health benefits of dairy. In December 2008, we revisited the topic (Milk 101) and emerged without any definitive understanding of the issue.

Since then, laws in the U.S. about what “organic dairy” entails have changed, reams of research continue to be churned out and there’s still no conclusive answer in sight.

This, to us, this a topic worth revisiting again ‘cos we have found ourselves consuming a lot more dairy since we adopted a primal diet. To complicate matters, one of us (Bee) eats seafood and meat, the other (Jai) is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. He, in particular, has begun to rely more heavily on dairy as a protein source.

Is dairy from cattle necessary and/or beneficial? The answer seems to be “yes and no”. It all depends on the context – the type of dairy consumed, its sources, how it is processed.

There are strong ethical objections to dairy.

Factory-farming of animals, especially dairy cows, is cruel and abusive – often worse than cattle raised for meat. Even in organic or local small farms that claim to raise grass-fed cattle humanely, hormone free and without antibiotics, the calves born to the cows are taken away immediately after birth. The male ones are then sold to factory farms for veal. Dairy farming involves rampant animal torture and slaughter. (If you consume supermarket dairy, please watch this video to understand what conventional dairy farming entails.)


The handful of farms certified by the American Humane Association are the exceptions to the rule. There are local small dairies that do not separate calves from their mothers soon after birth. The cows have access to pasture, shade and protection from the elements. Sick cows are not treated as commodities to be processed into pet food when their output goes down. Male calves, when finally separated from their mothers, are sent to be raised until adulthood for meat in conditions that meat Animal Welfare certification. Such dairies are not too common, but they do exist, at least around where we live.

The fact remains, though, that commercial dairy farming, however “humane”, is not cruelty-free and does involve slaughter.

Speaking from a strictly nutritional standpoint, there are some genuine concerns about dairy, as well as some documented benefits. This is simply an attempt to think aloud, guaranteed to generate more questions than answers.


(These are figures based on dairy available in the U.S.)
WATER – about 87% of volume
CARBOHYDRATES – 4.5% of volume (in the form of lactose) and about 40% of calories
FAT – 4 to 4.5% of volume of butterfat (mainly saturated fat), which comprises about 50% of calories
PROTEIN – 3 to 4% in volume and about 10% of calories. 80% of these proteins (by weight) are in the form of casein, 20% as whey proteins.


1. Dairy is insulinogenic – not just lactose or the protein in dairy, but even dairy fat (butter) causes unusually large insulin spikes (Link).

2. Lactose intolerance. Around 50% of the world’s humans react adversely to milk sugars (lactose) in degrees ranging from mild to severe.

Lactose is a disaccharide derived from the condensation of galactose and glucose … The intestinal villi secrete the enzyme called lactase to digest it … Since lactose occurs mostly in milk, in most mammals the production of lactase gradually decreases with maturity due to a lack of constant consumption.

Many people with ancestry in Europe, West Asia, India, and parts of East Africa maintain lactase production into adulthood. In many of these areas, milk from mammals such as cattle, goats, and sheep is used as a large source of food. Hence, it was in these regions that genes for lifelong lactase production first evolved. The genes of lactose tolerance have evolved independently in various ethnic groups. By descent, more than 70% of western Europeans can drink milk as adults, compared with less than 30% of people from areas of Africa, eastern and south-eastern Asia and Oceania. In people who are lactose intolerant, lactose is not broken down and provides food for gas-producing gut flora, which can lead to bloating, flatulence, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. (Source)

3. Casein (the main protein found in dairy) causes an inflammatory response in the gut, much like that caused by gluten inflammation. The structure of casein is similar to gliadin (a protein found in gluten) and often works in tandem with it to exacerbate celiac disease. The protein molecules (peptides) from casein and gluten cause “leaky gut” by permeating the intestinal wall and infiltrating the bloodstream. When the partially digested protein molecules, intestinal bacteria and toxins enter the bloodstream, it provokes an immune response from the body, leading to a host of autoimmune disorders and chronic diseases such as such as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, allergies, asthma, and autism.

4. Diary is the largest source of dioxins in the standard American diet.

Dioxins are potent carcinogens that pollute the air and water through chemical and industrial processes like incineration, traffic pollution, industrial waste emissions, paper bleaching, forest fires etc. They are everywhere, even used in commonly used residential products like weed killers.

They are lipophilic, tending to collect in high concentrations in fatty animal and fish tissue. They are bioaccumulative, concentrating in animals higher up the food chain.
Dioxin levels are particularly high in dairy, meat and seafood.

A North American eating a typical North American diet will receive 93% of their dioxin exposure from meat and dairy products (23% is from milk and dairy alone; the other large sources of exposure are beef, fish, pork, poultry and eggs). In fish, these toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain so that dioxin levels in fish are 100,000 times that of the surrounding environment. (Source)

The highest concentrations are in organic milk from grass-fed cattle and UHT (ultra heat treated) or ultra-pasteurised milk. (Link)

5. Dairy is acidifying. Cow’s milk has a pH ranging from 6.4 to 6.8, making it slightly acidic.

6. Growth hormones and cancer risk. Most conventionally produced dairy in the U.S. has excess levels of the naturally occurring Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) from cows injected with genetically-engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH). The use of rBGH is banned in Canada and Europe. Increased dietary hormones have been linked to hormone-dependent cancers – including those of the testes, prostate, and breast. (Link)

Even in cows not injected with growth hormones, those that are milked late into their pregnancy (a very common practice) have very high natural levels of IGF-1 and estrogens, known to promote certain cancers. Betacellulin – a growth factor found in the whey fraction of milk – is also implicated in tumor growth progression (Link).


1. Dairy makes everything 80% more delicious (strictly J’s opinion).

2. Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) is a potent anti-carcinogen. It. along with the Vitamin D found in dairy fat, is believed to neutralise some of the ill effects of betacellulin.

Grass-fed milk is five times higher in CLA than grain-fed milk and the anti-carcinogenic effect of CLA in animals is enhanced in the presence of saturated fat – the kind found in whole milk. (Source)

3. Dairy is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K (found in the milk fat portion of dairy), as well as protein, calcium and Vitamin C.

4. Butyrate (or butyric acid from which “butter” gets its name) is a short-chain saturated fatty acid with potent anti-inflammatory properties and can reverse “leaky gut” (Link). It is vital to a host of metabolic functions.

5. People who eat full-fat dairy have a much lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke – THREE times lower – than those who consume low-fat dairy or no dairy. (Link)

6. Dairy boosts the production of the compound glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant and detoxifier that works at the cellular level to improve immune function and excrete toxins. Raw dairy (and raw, undenatured whey protein) are much more potent in promoting glutathione production than pasteurised dairy. (Link)

7. Fermented dairy (like yogurt, kefir and sour cream) as well as raw cheese have bacterial strains with probiotic properties that promote intestinal health.


Our aims are:
- to reduce our overall dairy intake
- source it from local, sustainable family farms that make animal welfare a priority

From the nutritional standpoint, the aim is to minimise the downsides and optimise the benefits That is,
- minimise lactose intake
- minimise casein intake and impact
- minimise the levels of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor)
- optimise the CLA and vitamin content of consumed dairy.

How does one go about doing that?

Part 2: What kind of dairy products are best?

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