Did you know milk is the most common food allergen and a very common food sensitivity as well?
There are two main proteins in cow’s milk that can cause an allergic reaction:
• Casein, found in the solid part (curd) of milk that curdles
• Whey, found in the liquid part of milk that remains after milk curdles
You may be allergic to only one or both. Many people who react to cow’s milk react to milk from other animals, like sheep or goat. Another common issue with milk is lactose intolerance, meaning an inability to produce sufficient lactase, the enzyme which breaks down the lactose (the naturally occurring sugar molecules in the milk product). Fifty to seventy-five percent of the world’s population cannot digest lactose.
Along with its propensity for allergic and sensitive reactions, dairy has a number of other dubious distinctions. First, it encourages the production of mucus in the intestinal barrier. Mucus is protective in the right amount, but having too much can create a hospitable environment for the unfriendly bacteria which reside in your gut to flourish. This sets you up for intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut, and a laundry list of ailments that may or may not end in chronic disease.
Second, dairy is linked to prostate cancer and heart disease due to the high levels of unhealthy saturated fats.
Third, strong bones do not require dairy after all. Countries with the lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis! For better bones, strengthening exercise and Vitamin D supplementation is recommended. Good sources of calcium from non-dairy foods include dark green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds/tahini, chia seeds, sea vegetables, and sardines or salmon (with the bones). Of the nut family, almonds are higher in calcium content.
Fourth, there are concerns with pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics making their way into commercially raised cow milk, which humans then consume.
Perhaps the biggest issue with conventional dairy is pasteurization and homogenization. Pasteurization of milk destroys the naturally occurring enzymes and probiotics that help us digest them. This may very well explain the lactose intolerance epidemic, as well as the allergenic potential of dairy. Homogenization is a process that oxidizes fats and creates free radicals. We know free radicals are bad news; these unstable oxygen molecules can provoke intestinal inflammation. Intestinal inflammation can lead to a leaky gut, and systemic chronic low-grade inflammation.
I’m not advocating everyone ditching dairy, no questions asked. What I am saying is, if you have nagging health struggles, and you eat or drink dairy regularly, consider ruling out food sensitivity (remember, milk is the most common). If you determine you are fine with dairy, and you have carefully considered the other health risks associated to dairy consumption, then certain kinds of dairy (in moderation of course); are quite beneficial.
I will never advocate drinking milk, because it has been both pasteurized and homogenized, therefore creating a host of challenges for our bodies. It is illegal to sell raw milk in this country, meaning you will only find pasteurized milk in the grocery or health food stores. There are some really good non-dairy milk alternatives available (such as coconut, hemp, or nut milks).
Unfortunately, commercially made yogurts are made from milk which has been pasteurized and homogenized. As well, they are chockfull of artificial colors, flavors, additives, and sugar, which actually feeds disease-causing bacteria, yeast, and fungi in your gut. Finally, many commercial yogurts have not been fermented as long as homemade yogurt (which can be easily made from nut or coconut milk – read on for a great recipe below). This means the probiotic benefit is far less than what you would get if making it yourself. If you do choose to buy yogurt, opt for plain, organic whole milk yogurt.
In 2014, the Cornucopia Institute completed an in-depth study of the yogurt industry and concluded:
“Only organic yogurt assures that the milk used to produce the yogurt came from cows that grazed on pasture, were given a non-GMO organic feed and were not treated with antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones. Conventional yogurt can be processed with chemical defoamers, which is prohibited in the manufacturing of organic yogurt…there are also nutritional benefits to eating whole-milk organic yogurt: better ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and higher levels of other beneficial fats…”(1)
Maintaining good ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is a fantastic way to reduce inflammation. Whole milk means not reaching for the 0%, fat-free versions. Low-fat foods are processed foods. They had to be chemically altered and are no longer a “whole food”, that which is as close to its natural state as possible. Ultimately that means they’re more difficult for your body to break down.
You can flavour yogurt yourself using a little jam, honey, stevia, berries, vanilla, granola, etc.
The best dairy product to consume, in my professional opinion? Yogurt or kefir from raw grass-fed milk, if you know a farmer from whom you can obtain raw milk products. Secondly, raw, organic cheese, which you CAN find at grocery stores, or health food stores. Raw milk/cream from which the cheese is made is nutrient and enzyme rich, to help you better digest it. Additionally, the fermentation process creates probiotics to keep your intestines healthy.
Bottom Line: Raw, organic milk products have some great health benefits, for those who can tolerate dairy. If you’re unsure or you suspect a milk sensitivity, you may actually be creating an inflammatory response each time you eat dairy products, which trumps any benefit offered by the product.
As I tell my clients, consider not just the food itself, but what your body does with that food. As an example, I used to eat commercially made yogurt as a way of obtaining probiotics despite knowing that I was sensitive to dairy products. My thinking was that I needed the friendly bacteria from the yogurt and my body could handle the slight irritation. It was only during my professional training in holistic nutrition that I realized there were cumulative effects to the inflammatory response that were interfering with my health in many ways. You can’t stay in a house that is on fire, even if that fire is smouldering!
If you would like to confirm whether or not you have a dairy sensitivity, you can try a properly structured Elimination Diet, or get tested. You’re invited to set up a free consultation with me here, where we can discuss your health goals, the importance of revealing hidden food sensitivity, and how to do it.
Here is an easy recipe for a non-dairy yogurt you can make in a few minutes, from Replenish pdx:
Coconut Cheater Yogurt
Remember that yogurt is made by adding bacterial cultures to milk. The cultures are what create the tart flavor and thick, pudding-like consistency. Foods with live cultures have been proven to boost the immune system and aid in longevity. Here are instructions for creating your easy- to-culture yogurt from coconut milk, right on your counter-top!
To make coconut yogurt:
1 Open a can of full-fat organic coconut milk and pour into a mason jar. (My favorite brand is Native Forest as they don’t use BPA in their can lining and the consistency is great for the yogurt.)
2 Blend the coconut milk if necessary, to mix the cream at the top and the water at the bottom.
3 Add about 5 or 6 opened probiotic capsules* into the mason jar.
4 Put the lid on and give it a good shake to combine.
5 Leave in a cool dark place on your countertop for three to four days, shaking the jar about two times per day.
6 On the final day, the mixture should feel thick when you shake it. At that point, stick the jar in the fridge, where the “yogurt” will harden.
Note: There may be a sulfur smell when you open your jar. Don’t be scared. It could have to do with the strains in your probiotic. Taste. It may not taste as it smells.
Sweeten with fruit or raw honey, if sweetness is needed. I like to eat mine plain or with a spoonful of carob, maca and a few drops of stevia. Divine!
* At Replenish, we successfully use GutPro probiotic (either 5- 6 capsules as noted above) or if using the GutPro powder, use 1 pinch or 1 dash. If using another brand of probiotic, you’ll need to test it and experiment with the amount. Some probiotics don’t culture (which likely isn’t a good sign for the viability of that probiotic!)
1.Cornucopia Institute, “Culture Wars – How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, Into Junk Food.” November, 2014.
2. Dr. Elson Haas, MD & Buck Levin, PhD, RD, Staying Healthy With Nutrition – The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, pg. 340
4. Clean – The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself. Dr Alejandro JUNGER, MD. (pg 72)