To dairy or not to dairy? The great milk debate

The more we learn about nutrition, the more the advice becomes confusing. There is an ever growing list of foods we aren’t meant to eat, whether or not a person is insensitive or intolerant of them, so what to do? One of the big ones is dairy. Some people are staunchly against it, saying the only consumption it was meant for was baby cows, but of course dairy, especially the likes of camel milk, can be packed full of nutrients. So what to do? To dairy or not to dairy? This week, Keith Littlewood, a pain, function, energy and digestion coach at Balanced Body Mind will talk you through the mirky world of milk. Sit back and enjoy!

“The advice that I have given to many clients has been prone to untruths along the way. Although less so now, it was only a decade ago, when I was more of a holistic lifestyle coach and rehab trainer, that I was telling people to follow a Paleo type diet and remove sugar from the diet. Like most I was prone to many logical fallacies, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t really delve into the research that some peers presented to me, instead taking it at face value.

Some things have changed, due to being more critical of research and statements made by some. I think dairy may have got a battering when I was offering up the poorly thought out Paleo approach to clients, but in retrospect, I have always been pro-dairy (cheese is far to good deny any man), but will attempt to offer an unbiased approach, so that you can make up your own mind. My own confirmation bias is the following. I prefer to drink raw, unpasteurised, grass fed, dairy products where possible, but considering this only happens when I travel back to the UK, this happens infrequently.

Drinking pasteurised milk may present some issues that may include denaturing of the compounds found in milk, such as nutrient loss, natural bacteria (not always a bad thing), decreased lipase and vitamin C and other factors that may aid in digestion.  For those with problematic digestion this can increase issues associated with dairy. When damage occurs to the digestive system, the production of lactase can be decreased. The problem is that your digestive system needs addressing; it’s often not the dairy that is the real issue.

Often negative issues appear in the more holistic realms, comparing dietary calcium intake as reason for osteoporosis. This is akin to blaming the petrol in the cars tank for it not working, when the spark plugs, pistons and other parts are not functioning correctly. Calcium is important in the prevention of osteoporosis but levels of Vitamin D, K2, progesterone and other factors are instrumental in its prevention. It’s worth noting that foods high in phosphates and other compounds such as beans and legumes decrease available calcium. The suggestion that the pH level of dairy is a problem is not grounded in any sound scientific theory.

Many people often define super foods as a specific compound found in a berry or grain found on Mount Upyourownarse, cared for by monks and bathed in pixie dust, which cost a similar price as gold by the kilo. If you want to define a super food, then dairy products represent a true super food as it has adequate calcium, sugars, proteins and fats. Organic may not always be the best solution but an animal that has been raised in the best manner, free to roam, grass fed perhaps offers the better solution.

Some suggest that the hormonal impact of dairy products may have a detrimental effect on human health but studies suggest that the feed has a huge impact on the amount of estrogen produced; for example, red clover is abundant in phytoestrogens. The process of lactation often requires increased levels of estrogen and prolactin but the processing into forms such as yoghurt and dairy appears to lower the levels of estrogen and its metabolites. It would appear that many factors affect hormone levels in milk, which include farming practices that may also be prevalent in non-dairy farming also.

The argument that vegetables provide adequate levels of calcium is correct, however availability of that calcium is problematic. Calcium is indeed found in green leafy vegetables in reasonable amounts but much of it is insoluble due to the likes of fibres, phytic and oxalic acid, thus reducing the bioavailability of the calcium. Cooked spinach for example, contains 115 mg of calcium per serving but only 5% of spinach calcium is absorbed as spinach contains a high proportion of oxalates and phytates, which bind calcium and form insoluble salt compounds.

This issue can be compounded by many raw vegetables, whose compounds can decrease optimal function of both hormones and digestive function, however its worth noting that when vegetables are cooked some nutrients become more ‘bioavailable’. Consider that digestive dysfunction is an epidemic, dairy may be a much better choice for calcium than poorly digested raw vegetables. There are many other factors that could be reviewed to assess the pros and cons of dairy but my suggestion would be that there are other factors at work. An excess of dairy like any food can have its own problems and therefore the problem, becomes an issue of excess that may be an issue, particularly from a calorific standpoint. It’s clear from many studies that dairy provides a protective role in the human diet but I won’t milk the issue any further. Besides do you really not want to have that ice cream on the beach?

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