By Jo Schaalman and Julie Pelaez of the Conscious Cleanse
Do you eat dairy?
Perhaps one of the biggest dilemmas (next to the whole grain controversy) we face as healthy eaters (and mothers) is the dairy dilemma.
If you’re lactose intolerant, it’s generally really clear that eating dairy doesn’t agree with you. The gas, the bloating, the intense cramping that comes after you eat it. Not fun! In fact, about 75% of the world’s adult population is unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products.
For the rest of us, it’s a bit more confusing. We may seem to tolerate dairy fine enough, but is it contributing to our overall well-being? Let’s take a closer look.
On the one hand, you may have heard that dairy causes weight gain, mucous, stuffy nose, inflammation, even cancer! On the other hand, you may have found yourself at the doctor with our little ones being asked if they drink milk.
Milk–and its does a body good campaign–has always been highly prized as a health food, one that’s necessary for strong bones and healthy teeth. That being said, dairy has also been highly scrutinized, including by Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. He says, the dairy story “is very complex and we don’t have all the answers.”
Dr. Willet’s argument is not that dairy is innately bad, but rather that we consume way too much of it. He also reports that humans have no essential needs for animal’s milk. That’s a far cry from the argument that we must drink milk to help us prevent fractures and osteoporosis.
The reality is that we do need calcium and vitamin D, but there are plenty of non-dairy ways to get these essential vitamins and minerals. Our favorite sources are from dark leafy greens, tahini, sea vegetables, sardines, and wild-caught salmon.
So as dairy makes a comeback, as it has been doing in many popular health food trends, take the time to find out if you personally can tolerate dairy. The best way to do this is to completely eliminate all forms of dairy–cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, raw milk, camel’s milk (yes, this is a thing!), cheese, cottage cheese, whey protein, yogurt, keifer, butter, and ghee, for at least two weeks. After two weeks is up, select your favorite form of dairy from the list above, the one you feel like you don’t want to live without (cream for coffee and cheese are always high on people’s list) and introduce a small amount of it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
After each “test,” look for any signs of a reaction that this food doesn’t work for you. Common signs of a dairy sensitivity include swollen sinuses, runny nose, congestion, having to clear your throat, headaches, stomach ache, cramping, bloating, gas, and constipation, just to name a few.
You may find that you can tolerate a little bit of goat cheese on a salad or yogurt a few times a week, but that straight up cow’s milk causes you to gain weight. And remember, weight gain and inflammation are intertwined. A study from the UK published in 2008 shows that chronic inflammation is linked to weight gain and vice versa. When people in the study lost weight, their inflammation markers also went down. Also, just because you can “tolerate” something, doesn’t mean that you should consume it every single day. In fact one of the best ways to keep dairy in check, is to enjoy it on occasion.
So the bottomline on the dairy dilemma is this: In a world where nutrition science is still somewhat uncertain and fledgling, finding out for yourself if you tolerate dairy (and in what amount!) is the way to go.