Dairy – Love it or Leave it?

Lately, people are either loving dairy or leaving it, and both for good reason. The USDA, who “oversees American dietary guidelines and promotes the sale of American agricultural products, including dairy,” pushes the importance of consuming dairy for nutritional benefits. And, while their agenda may be questioned, it seems dairy does bring to the table a lot of potential health benefits. However, there are others who find they have health issues such as digestive problems and acne from consuming dairy. So, which is it, good or bad for you?

The good news

The good news is that dairy has the potential to provide some excellent health benefits. However, not all dairy is equal. In fact, the recommended option, for the most nutrition, is pasture-raised, grass-fed, full fat dairy. The lower fat options tend to contain more sugars and less fats. However, much of the health benefits of dairy come from the fats, so not only could you be eliminating nutrition, but you’re adding extra sugars. Of course, the other recommended options include fermented dairy products like yogurt and Kefir, which are loaded with good bacteria (probiotics).

Grass-fed milk, as opposed to non-grass-fed, contains vitamin K2. This vitamin has been attributed with the potential of improving dental health, bone health, and even lowering risk of osteoporosis (among other things). Plus, full fat dairy adds 28% Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium, 24% RDA of vitamin D, 26% RDA of riboflavin (vitamin B2), 18% RDA of vitamin B12, 100% RDA of potassium, and 22% RDA of phosphorous. It also contains vitamin A, selenium, zinc, vitamin B1, magnesium, and vitamin B6. And, milk is often fortified with vitamin D, to help you absorb your calcium. So, it’s no surprise that dairy may have some health benefits, especially in the bone department. Plus, milk can also assist with muscle growth. Some studies also suggest the right kind of dairy could help “protect against heart disease, lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and reduce risk of colorectal cancer.” But, remember, the recommended type is pasture-raised, grass-fed, full-fat.

The bad news

Unfortunately, dairy may not be beneficial for everyone. Some people report lactose intolerance and/or run into issues with casein, a milk protein.

When we’re young our body makes lactase, which helps us digest the lactose. However, as adults some of us become lactose intolerant because our bodies are no longer producing enough lactase. If a person is lactose intolerant, they could run into gastrointestinal issues. On a good note, not all dairy products contain the same amount of lactose, here are “6 Dairy Foods That Are Naturally Low in Lactose.” Plus, there are a wide variety of lactose free options, and a lactase dietary supplement you can take.

If you have an issue with casein, it may show up as: swollen lips and hives. Keep in mind, typically a casein sensitivity or allergy is seen in children more than adults. If you need to eliminate casein, make sure your milk, cheese, etc. is completely dairy free (not just lactose free).

On another note, dairy may “stimulate the release of insulin and IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor 1).” While, these might be good for gaining muscle, it’s thought that they may increase your risk of acne and prostate cancer. And, while dairy can assist with bone growth, it may also increase inflammation. This is because sugar and saturated fats are both listed in the top inflammatory foods. Plus, if you are sensitive to casein, it can also increase your inflammation.

The verdict 

Not all dairy products are equal when it comes to delivering nutrition. If you love dairy, you may want to choose the full fat, pasture-raised, grass-fed option for ultimate nutrition. Instead of consuming a lot of the low fat dairy options, switch to a more moderate portion of high fat dairy. You may even consider trying goat dairy if you find you have a sensitivity, some people find this to be helpful. Keep in mind, If you do have an allergy or sensitivity, you may want to substitute the lost calcium with calcium rich foods, and add vitamin D fortified orange juice to the menu.

When it comes to dairy the benefits are individualized. While some people find they have issues with dairy, other people reap health benefits from consuming it. You have to make the decision whether dairy is the right thing to include in your diet, and talk with a physician or allergist if you suspect you have an allergy or sensitivity.

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