I received a question recently about the paleo diet & dairy. It went something like this:
“Am I allowed to eat cheese on the paleo diet, can you please help me with this. I am very confused with some of it. I thought it was only meat, veggies and fruit!”
The thing is it seems that many people are confused by some of the basics of paleo. I know you want me to tell you the answer is yes or no but to tell you the truth there really is no one size fits all model, even for the paleo diet.
Personally I don’t eat dairy and for people trying to lose weight it’s probably not optimal. So let’s look into the whole dairy thing and then you can make up your own mind about the dairy debate.
Let’s first look at Dairy from a common sense perspective
Have a little think about the paleolithic man, I highly doubt that he would have been out in the fields trying to milk a wild beast. Or dare I say…hanging off it’s udder No this would never have happened. It has only been since man has domesticated animals that the inclusion of milk and dairy products have been a part of the diet. So common sense thinking would suggest that dairy is not really something we would naturally include in our eating plan.
Further to that humans are the only mammal that continues to consume milk after they have been weaned from the mothers breast milk. Not only that, we are the only mammal to consume the milk of another mammal. Strange right? I think so. So common sense thinking would suggest that once we are weaned we no longer need to consume milk, especially the milk of a different species!
But we need dairy products for calcium, right?
Well cows don’t eat dairy, nor do horses, sheep, deer, moose, bison and many other large animals and they don’t appear to be lacking in calcium or have problems with bone density…do they?
So again common sense thinking would suggest that we don’t need dairy products for calcium. That just maybe we could eat plant materials and get enough calcium, just as many other large animals do. So maybe, just maybe the whole thing about calcium could be industry and money driven…the dairy industry is a huge industry after all!
So maybe there could be something missing from the picture?
The Dairy Myth
‘In the U.S. calcium intake is one of the highest in the world, yet paradoxically we also have one of the highest rates of bone de-mineralization (osteoporosis).’ Source
Bone mineral content relies on a calcium balance equation made up of both calcium intake and calcium excretion. You see, calcium actually gets removed from the body when our body has an acid/alkaline imbalance, the acid load over ruling alkaline.
Why does this happen, I thought I was getting heaps of calcium from my dairy?
Because “calcium salts in the bones represent the largest store of alkaline base in the body and are depleted and eliminated in the urine when the diet produces a net acid load.’ Source
Our bone health is therefore dependent on our overall diet and it’s acid/alkaline balance. The standard western diet that most people consume is overloaded with acid producing foods such as dairy, particularly hard cheeses, cereal grains, too much added salt, legumes, processed foods, sugar, and meats. Fruits and vegetables are foods that are alkaline but are not being consumed in adequate amounts. So what happens is you end up with an acidic body that may be leaching more calcium out of your bones than you put in.
Eating dairy is not the only way to get calcium. Just like our animal friends we can obtain plenty of calcium from plant sources. And if we eat a balanced paleo diet and select a wide variety of vegetables then our acid/alkaline balance will be more in harmony. This means that you will actually absorb more calcium anyway because your body isn’t excreting it.
We can get calcium from green leafy vegetables, collard greens, spinach, kale, bok choy, and brocolli. We can get it from nuts such as almonds and brazil nuts. We can get it from fresh and dried herbs and heaps of other foods as well.
Is Dairy For You
The truth of the matter is that many people cannot digest dairy very well. If you have any signs or symptoms of bloating, gas, upset stomach, constipation, diarrhea or other digestive or intestinal issues, it could be the dairy causing it. If you have cut out all other non paleo foods and you are still eating dairy and you have these digestive symptoms, take a look at dairy.
The unfortunate side of dairy is that lactose intolerance is very common and can go undetected in many people. Casein, the main protein in dairy can also be a big problem for many people leading to irritations and permeability of the gut lining. Dairy also makes your insulin levels higher, something you don’t want if you are trying to lose weight.
Still, some people go okay with eating dairy products and if that’s you, then fine! But if you are going to choose to ingest milk then there is evidence that suggests that raw milk is a better choice. Many people do not exhibit the same lactose intoloerances with raw dairy products as they do with mainstream dairy products. The reason being that the process of pasteurizing and homogenizing dairy products destroys many of the good qualities of the products, and there are additonal additives in these products as well.
On the other hand, “Raw dairy’s beneficial bacteria enhance the immune system and protect against allegies.” (Susan Schenck, Beyond Broccoli, pg 141) Also make sure you choose high quality dairy products from organic or grass fed animals.
Should You Eat Dairy
Like I said earlier, there’s no hard or fast rule about this. The decision is up to you. Some paleo people eat it, some don’t. Eating dairy is a personal choice but I would suggest you try going without it for a few weeks at least and see how you feel and what type of results you get with your weight loss and health.
If you are trying to lose weight you really don’t need the higher insulin levels. In fact when you are trying to lose weight it is an insulin sensitivity or elevated insulin levels that you are trying to overcome or rebalance, so I say for the best part cut out the dairy for optimum results. It’s also highly likely that you need to clean up your gut health and that means dairy could be a gut irritant for you best left out of your diet.
And look out for any signs of digestive issues as mentioned above. If all else has been excluded and you are having troubles, then it could be the dairy you need to look at.
If you are not trying to lose weight and know you don’t have a problem eating it, then lucky you! Just choose the best options and I hope you enjoy it!
Anyway this article is not an exhaustive list of the ins and outs of dairy but I hope it helps outline a few of the basic and most important factors to consider.
Here’s a few more great resources on the dairy debate
And if you need more info about the do’s and dont’s of paleo eating, here’s a couple of articles I wrote recently
You can also download a free paleo diet food list and snack ideas list if you join my weekly newsletter over there on the right ——>>>>
Good luck on your paleo journey
Have a great day
P.S. Cows milk is for baby calves not for humans?? But they do have a great advertising campaign (LOL)