To consume dairy or not to consume dairy… these days it is a very controversial subject and for good reason. With the power of marketing dairy foods became an essential part of a healthy diet. The dairy industry is pretty clever. This industry alone has spent millions of dollars promoting a “good for you” message. Remember the “Got Milk?” campaign? It began running in 1993 and has been endorsed by celebrities as the key to health. The book, Food Politics, reports that the dairy counsel advertised the message that low calcium was a health crisis and the best way to get that calcium was through drinking your “three glasses of milk per day.” It goes on to describe how food companies work the system:

“Food companies use every means at their disposal- legal, regulatory, and societal- to create and protect an environment that is conducive to selling their products in a competitive marketplace.”

And what really bothers me personally…

“They go right to the heart of nutrition as a profession. They engage nutritionists as allies in various ways: they provide information and funding to academic departments, research institues, and professional societies, and support meetings, conferences, journals, and other such activities.”

So here lies the dilemma, are these health claims by the National Dairy Counsel even true?

  • Three daily servings of low fat or fat free milk provide several essential nutrients that work together to build strong bones.
  • Enjoying three servings of milk, cheese, or yogurt as part of a nutrient-rich, balanced diet may help maintain a healthy weight.
  • A trio of minerals- calcium, potassium, and magnesium- all found in dairy foods may plan an important role in managing a healthy blood pressure.

Let’s look at the real issues with processed dairy:

Pasteurization

Today’s milk is a highly processed food. It is pasteurized and homogenized to allow a much longer shelf life. The only trade-off is the actual nutrients in the milk are lost. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation,

“Pasteurization kills enzymes, denatures anti-microbial and immune-stimulating components, diminishes nutrient availability, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B6, and B12, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth and behavior problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis and heart disease.”

“Homogenization is a process that breaks down butterfat globules so they do not rise to the top. This process unnaturally increases the surface area of fat exposing it to air, in which oxidation occurs and increases the susceptibility to spoilage. Homogenized milk has been linked to heart disease.”

Hormones and Antibiotics

So we are what we eat,  and what we eat is what they eat, right? Commercial dairy comes from cows fed a grain-based diet, rather than green grass as they were created to eat, and mixed into that grain-based feed are large amounts of antibiotics. Over 50% of antibiotics produced in this country are mixed directly into animal feed. GROSS.

Dairy cows are given hormones to increase the amount of milk they produce. Those growth hormones then become absorbed across our intestinal walls affecting other hormones and increasing chances of getting cancer.

Calcium

Building strong bones is much more complicated than just getting enough calcium. The bones also need Vitamin D, Vitamin K, and minerals such as magnesium and phosphorous. All of these work together. Other factors such as elevated blood sugar and cortisol and inflammation all contribute to bone loss. You do not need to drink milk and eat dairy to get your calcium. Check out these sources of non dairy calcium.

Insulin Response

Processed dairy promotes an unhealthy insulin response. Highly elevated blood sugars are damaging to many body systems. We talked briefly about the roles of food and hormones here.

So where does this leave us?

As you can see, this dairy issue is controversial. When it comes to real dairy the issue is simple. If you tolerate it and want to eat it then eat it. However, when it comes to processed dairy as mentioned above (and the info above is just scratching the surface) we would not consider it to even be called a “food” as it no longer resembles what it is supposed to resemble once all the nutrients are damaged and it is fortified with synthetic (man-made) vitamins.

There are lots of alternatives to processed cow’s milk. Raw milk (if you can find it and tolerate it) comes loaded with vital nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, K2, and the proper enzyme to breakdown lactose. Other alternatives include almond, coconut, and goat milk. We would not recommend soy milk for these reasons. I think it is best to say that we would recommend staying far away from processed conventional dairy. I know that it is hard, but you can at least begin to consider the alternatives. If you find that you can tolerate dairy go for raw (milk if you can find it and cheese), full fat (not low fat), organic, pastured versions as these supply your body with vital fat soluble vitamins.

So, that’s our take on it. What do you all think? Is dairy something you eat or stay away from?

Additional Resources:
  1. Milk: It does a body good?
  2. Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry
  3. A Prospective Study of dairy foods and anovulatory infertility
  4. Milk- The Promotor of Chronic Western Diseases
  5. What About Calcium?
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15 replies to this post
  1. This is an excellent review! Throughout my internship, RDs opinions on dairy has been so varying – some make sure their patients have at least 3 servings/day of low-fat, and others recommend against too much dairy. I do tolerate dairy and keep it to <1 serving/day of organic, full-fat, grass-fed kefir & the occasional delicious goat cheese :)

    • Lauren, thanks for sharing! I am happy to hear that at least some RDs are realizing that promoting it as essential is not a good thing. I eat full fat organic versions occasionally too as I feel I can!

  2. MAN I love how this blog breaks stuff like this down for us without talking over our heads. Seriously, thank you.

    So I consider myself a cheese addict but I’ve been considering the dairy thing for a while due to my eczema… but with blood sugar issues also, this is a wake up call. I had never considered the link between blood sugar and dairy. AND on top of that, the hormones thing? This is an eye-opener for sure. May switch over to coconut milk pronto.

    Of course, you can always get those vitamins that are often attributed to milk from plant-based sources, correct?

    • Love hearing that! Yes, you absolutely can get these vitamins from other nutrient dense sources without the insulin spike and other problems that come associated with it. Good luck!! I personally am I huge fan of full-fat coconut milk!

  3. I use milk and fully embrace dairy as a food source. While I agree that commercial dairy from factory farms isn’t good, we do have another alternative besides raw milk. We have the option of supporting local dairies who produce milk from grassfed cows who are not given antibiotics and hormones. Who do not use a high pasteurization process and who provide milk that isn’t homogenized. I don’t think it’s fair to discount those farmers and their practices by lumping them in with factory farms and counting all milk as the same.

    • I agree that cows raised naturally and free to roam and eat grass are healthier. Organic, pastured dairy will have larger percentages of healthy fats and will contain other important vitamins compared to conventional dairy. However this type of dairy will still contain lactose, milk proteins, growth factors, and hormones that cause problems. There are other nutrient dense foods that could be consumed instead. However it really is about how an individual can tolerate dairy as it is very personalized, and it’s up to that person to really evaluate how they feel on and off it to make the best choice. I personally like to err on the side of caution. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andrea!

  4. All so true. The “milk people” here in Canada are just as bad with all the advertising. Have you noticed sometimes one commercial break on TV can consist of 4 -5 dairy related ads? All backed by the same companies! The strong bones ones targeted towards children just kill me. I know a lot people that are totally convinced only milk can give you the calcium you need, but it’s nice to see more and more different opinions! I don’t guzzle milk down as part of a daily diet, but I will have the occasional organic yogurt or cheese and leave it at that!

  5. I’ve just moved to the U.S recently, and I noticed that here the shelf life of dairy is much longer than it was in my home country products. Do u think the pasteurization process is differnet? does this mean that the problem with dairy consumption just apply here in the U.S? i cant imagine my life without dairy!

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