Debunking the Myths about Dairy
By Sarah Axtell, ND • April 1, 2012
Debunking the Myths about Dairy…
Milk is good for me… right?
The dairy industry, with its “Got Milk?” public education campaign, touts the importance of consuming three to four servings of dairy per day. This is reinforced by the USDA’s most recently public nutrition guidelines, which recommends consuming 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
Unfortunately, dairy can have many negative effects on the body. Many people are lactose intolerant or have milk allergies. In fact, dairy products rank with wheat as the two most common symptom-evoking foods in allergic adults. Milk also generally increases inflammation in the body, even in people who don’t have a true milk allergy or intolerance.
Am I allergic to milk?
There are two common reactions to milk consumption: lactose intolerance and milk allergy. People who are lactose intolerant react to the sugar in milk (called lactose) while those who have a milk allergy have an immune reaction to the protein in milk.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, abdominal cramping following the consumption of dairy products containing lactose.
People who are lactose intolerant lack the enzyme lactase, which digests the lactose in dairy products. Children are usually born with sufficient lactase, which allows them to digests mother’s milk. However, the human body normally stops producing lactase around age 4, by which time a child has been weaned.
Dairy products vary widely in the amount of lactose they contain. Milk and ice cream contain significant quantities of lactose; however, yogurt and cheese are often well tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant. Although yogurt contains lactose, it also contains active cultures which can digest the lactose in the stomach. Cheese naturally has low levels of lactose. Most of the lactose is removed from the cheese with the whey during the manufacturing process, and lactose is also consumed by bacteria in the fermenting process.
Skim milk (1 cup) 12-14
Whole milk (1 cup) 11
Ice cream (1 cup) 9
Cottage cheese (1 cup) 5-8
Yogurt (1 cup) 4.3-12*
Cheese (1 oz) 0.4-0.8
Butter (2 pats) 0.1
* Lactose can be digested by live active cultures present in yogurt
Milk allergies refer to an immune response to one or more of the 30 proteins in cow’s milk. Because this protein is present in all dairy products, they cannot tolerate milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, or any other product made from milk. That means lactose-free dairy products provide no benefit to people who are reacting to milk protein. Casein is an example of a protein in milk that commonly produces symptoms in people allergic to milk. Reactions can be immediate (manifesting in minutes-hours) or delayed (24-72 hours). Symptoms can last from several days to several weeks.
Symptoms of milk allergy can include abdominal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea, as well as generalized symptoms including hives, eczema, wheezing, fatigue, depression, migraine headaches and arthritis. In children, milk allergies manifest as frequent coughs and colds, ear infections, eczema, bed-wetting, and learning problems such as ADHD.
Milk allergies are often present in infants from birth. These infants will react to milk-based formulas and may react to the mother’s milk until she removes milk products from her diet. Infants with an allergy to cow’s milk will not react to the breast milk of women who are not eating dairy because the proteins in mother’s milk are different from those in cow’s milk. A person can also develop an allergic reaction to milk later in life.
Should I eat dairy?
Even people who do not have lactose intolerance or milk allergies can have negative reactions to dairy products. Dairy can cause a general inflammation in the body, which can exacerbate many conditions, including infections, digestive complaints, autoimmune disease, respiratory conditions, and many others.
To determine if you have a dairy allergy or intolerance, there is blood testing available at Lakeside Natural Medicine. You can also do an elimination-challenge diet to determine if you should avoid dairy. This entails eliminating dairy for 6 weeks and then reintroducing dairy
But what about calcium and my bones?
While milk promoters emphasize milk’s calcium content, there are other foods that are equally high in calcium and much better absorbed than cow’s milk. One cup of almonds, amaranth or arugula contains at least as much calcium as one cup of milk. In fact, one cup of cooked quinoa exceeds the calcium in a cup of milk. Broccoli, kale and other green leafy vegetables are great sources of calcium and more easily absorbed than calcium in dairy products.
Other good calcium sources:
Collard greens, cooked (1 cup) 357mg
Spinach, cooked (1 cup) 275mg
Tofu, firm (2/3 cup) 190mg
Broccoli, cooked (1 cup) 180mg
Molasses, blackstrap (1 T) 137mg
Almonds (1/4 cup) 92mg
High amounts of calcium does not guarantee bone health. 58 published studies were analyzed, and the majority of the studies found no relationship between dairy or dietary calcium and measures of bone health. The best thing you can do for your bones is engage in weight-bearing exercise. Lifting weights, pilates, yoga, walking and running are all great bone-strengthening activities.
Not all dairy is created equal
While some people with milk allergies are not able to tolerate any form of dairy, others may be able to tolerate goat’s milk. Goats are smaller animals than cows and provide a more similar nutritional make-up to breast milk as compared to cow’s milk. Casein, for example, is an inflammatory protein in cow’s milk. Unlike cow’s milk, human and goat’s milk contain less casein, making it more tolerable. If you suspect you have a dairy allergy, I recommend eliminating all forms of dairy for 6 weeks and then challenging both cow’s and goat’s dairy one at a time to see how your body reacts. Blood testing is also available to determine your particular food allergies. For more info on goat’s vs. cow’s milk, see my previous blog post.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.