Dairy isn’t paleo. Most people who have read about/heard of the paleo diet know that. But WHY isn’t dairy allowed? Is it really that bad for you? I like looking at pros and cons so I’m going to break it down that way.
1. If you buy the right stuff, it’s pretty natural. I’m not talking about cheesecake flavored yogurt, ice cream, or strawberry milk. I’m talking about grass-fed milk and butter, plain Greek yogurt, etc. Whole milk is removed from a cow, heated to 145 degrees F for 30 minutes or 162 degrees F for 15 seconds (that is the Pasteurization process) and then bottled. Of course, this can be different at a big factory farm type dairy. But if you are buying organic, grass-fed milk, you’re getting a pretty unprocessed product.
As a side note, milk that has not been pasteurized is called “raw milk”, and its legality is under debate. I’ll tackle raw milk vs. regular milk in another blog post.
2. It’s a staple food in many (rather healthy) countries. Milk and dairy are staples incountries like Germany and Switzerland. These countries also have low obesity rates. Yes, other factors like physical activity (they bike everywhere over there) and agriculture can play a role. The point is, some people drink milk and are perfectly healthy.
3. Milk and yogurt can be good for recovery (and a good protein source for vegetarians). Milk has 12 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein per 8 ounce glass. This means 16 ounces of milk provides the right mix of protein and carbs for post workout recovery, in a natural and convenient form.
4. Nutrition. Milk and yogurt are good sources of calcium and vitamin D, which help maintain bone density. Milk also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
1. Many people are lactose intolerant. According to the NIH, about 65% of adults have a reduce ability to digest lactose (the sugar in milk), but this varies by ethnicity. Among some East Asian populations ,the prevalence of lactose intolerance is 90%, but among Eastern Europeans it’s more like 5%. You can diagnose lactose intolerance with a breath test, but more likely than not if lactose doesn’t agree with you, you’ll know from the bloating and cramping. Because the issue in lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the SUGAR in dairy, lower sugar dairy like cheese tends to be easier to digest.
2. Some dairy is highly processed and/or unsustainably and unethically
produced. Like I mentioned before, Boston Cream Pie and Cheesecake flavored yoplait and Strawberry milk are still processed foods, even if they decided to stop using High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).
In addition, a lot of dairy in the US is produced by cows in factory farm/ dairy type situations. Cows who don’t have room to graze and exercise. These are sad cows. You shouldn’t get your dairy from sad cows. Look for dairy from happy cows – i.e. organic and/or grass fed milk and butter.
3. Milk could, in some context, be considered a high calorie drink. 8 oz of whole milk has 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. While this is better than soda, when you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to avoid drinking your calories and get them from more filling foods instead. Then again, if you’re trying to put on weight (or maintain it if you have difficulty doing so), the extra calories in milk are a bonus.
I have nothing against unprocessed dairy – which to me means milk, plain yogurt, butter, and some cheeses. It is not paleo because it only came about around 9,000 years ago. But,as I’ve said before, just because it’s not paleo doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. Obviously, if you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, you should avoid it. But for most people, it can be part of a quality diet.
I personally don’t drink a lot of milk (even as a kid I never liked it unless it was in cereal) and eat yogurt, butter, and cheese only occasionally. But if you have no issue digesting lactose and want to incorporate it, 1-2 servings per day is a good amount (1 serving is 6 ounces of yogurt, 8 ounces of milk, 1 ounce of cheese). Choose dairy from happy cows (grassfed and/or organic) and avoid skim, as the fat in milk helps absorb some of the fat soluble vitamins it provides.