5 Minute Reads - Dairy

Health and Fitness Topics Explored with Kyle in 1,500 Words or Less

Member’s Question: What is the science on dairy and should I try to cut it from my diet?

Like my answer to everything…it depends.  Dairy is another one of those subjects that I do not consider myself an expert in, so I’m going to provide my opinions here, but I’ll leave the arguing over subtleties to the experts.  

Like with most every food, everyone is different and how they react to certain foods can vary greatly.  There is no one single diet that will work for everyone.  You need to find what works for you.  It seems like the biggest issue with dairy is that anywhere from 50 – 75% of people in the world have intolerances related to dairy.  There is also a wide range of quality when it comes to dairy products that can have an extreme factor in how it affects our heath.  So, in my opinion, most of the people arguing out there, like in many cases, are not even arguing the same topic.  Is dairy good or bad for you?  That is such an individual answer, anyone taking a hard stance is likely wrong.  In this article, I’ll give you some insight to help you determine if dairy is a good fit for you.

What is “Dairy?”  

Anything made from the milk of mammals is considered to be dairy.  Milk, cheese, butter, whey protein, cream, etc.

Why do people think dairy is good?

Milk is quite nutritious, but the nutrient composition varies between the different types of dairy. The nutrient composition also varies depending on what the cows ate and how they were raised, especially when it comes to the fatty components.  Dairy from grass-fed or pasture raised cows contains more fat soluble vitamins and beneficial fatty acids.  Milk is also a great source of calcium, but if you are eating a nutrient rich diet, then you should be getting plenty of calcium without needing to supplement milk. Dairy products are often fortified with vitamin D, but you can supplement vitamin D in other ways other than drinking milk.  The best dairy products are full-fat, from cows that are grass-fed and/or raised on pasture.  They have a much better nutrient profile, including more of beneficial fatty acids and more fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin K2.

Raw milk may potentially be a good option post-workout for you.  Lactose will help restore glycogen to your muscles and milk's combination of whey protein, which is fast absorbing, and casein protein, which is slow absorbing, provides a good-looking matrix for what our bodies need post workout. 

Why do people think dairy is bad?

Just like every food, people can be allergic and if they eat that food, it can cause inflammation and really screw with your gut health. Among others less debated allergies, people can be allergic to casein protein, whey protein, and lactose found in dairy products.  65% of adults develop some level of lactose intolerance as they age.  With a relatively high chance that you are allergic to some dairy products, you should figure out if dairy has negative effects on you personally.   You can do this by getting tested by a lab, but a very common, less exact way is to simply remove dairy from your diet for a month or two and then re-introduce it to see how your body reacts.  Something to note, many people also claim that they don't tolerate conventional dairy from cows, but get excellent results with dairy from goats.

Since fat has been wrongly accused as being the enemy in foods, a lot of dairy products offer no fat or low fat options.  Low fat and no fat products are often loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of flavor caused by removing the fat.  Additionally, a lot of healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins are not present in low-fat or skim dairy products.  Zero added sugar yogurt is possible to find, but good luck finding it. Chocolate or strawberry milk is crazy loaded with added sugar.  Now, even though milk has potential as a post-workout supplement, I’ve heard from a lot of people that they think chocolate milk is good because the sugar from chocolate syrup additionally helps restore much needed glycogen.  I consider this crazy.  Sugar may help restore glycogen, but refined carbohydrates from low quality sources will also likely cause inflammation and fat storage and could overall have a negative impact of your gains.  There are too many nutrient dense options you can consume to recover in a much healthier way to even entertain the chocolate milk recovery drink argument.  Also, if your kids are drinking chocolate or strawberry milk, don’t kid yourself into thinking you are giving them something healthy. 

As far as identifying sugar, most ingredients ending in “–ose” are basically treated as sugar when consumed.  Lactose is no different.  Even if milk does not have added sugar and you are not allergic to lactose, lactose still comes with the negative effects of consuming sugar.  Some cheeses are lactose free and butter contains only trace amounts of lactose.

Should dairy be part of your diet?

Who knows?  You have to do your due diligence to figure that out on your own.  Get tested or run a dietary test yourself to try and diagnose if you have any food sensitivities or allergies.  If you are lactose intolerant, you may be OK with cheese and butter.  Just because you can tolerate lactose, doesn’t mean that any milk or dairy product will be good for you.  You must consider your goals, consume real, unprocessed food from quality food sources, and consume foods you are not allergic to. 

Personally, I am lactose intolerant or at least have a sensitivity.  I have not been tested, but I am very aware of how different food react in my body.  Milk causes destress in my gut for sure.  Certain cheeses and butters do not cause the same issues for me, so I do eat butter and cheese, both in moderation as the bulk of my diet is made up of vegetables, meats/fish/eggs, nuts and seeds, and fruits.  Post workout I currently consume Fuel for Fires which contain whey protein and natural sugars to restore my glycogen from fruits and veggies.  If I was not allergic and I did drink milk, I would drink raw, unprocessed milk and not touch any flavored milk.  I would also, like fruit, managing my timing and amount consumed carefully because of the carbohydrate content.