Is Dairy Paleo?

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Dairy tastes amazing. Even in the face of heinous, life-altering symptoms like explosive diarrhea multiple times a day, some people will not stop eating their dairy because it is so delicious. We grow up on the stuff: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, buttermilk, ghee, kefir, cream. Delicious, deeply satisfying culinary delights that in the Paleo world are NOT really acceptable. (By the way, eggs are not dairy, in case you’re wondering. For some reason eggs are displayed alongside all the actual dairy in grocery stores, so it causes some confusion.) Think of dairy as anything that originally came out of a cow’s teat, and that should clear things up for you. So — is dairy Paleo? Read on to learn why it’s not.

Worse for some than for others.
For some, of course, dairy is more unacceptable than for others. If I cheat and have a bit of yogurt, I pay grave consequences in the form of a rash, a candida infection, and asthma. If you cheat, you may just drive your girlfriend out of the room with your foul-smelling gas for the night, and that ice cream may have been worth it…I’ll be honest and say that if I had the option, I’d eat some dairy every once in a while, so I don’t blame you for eating it; it took me 3 years to fully take it out of my diet, despite my symptoms. So for those times when you’re faced with the decision to either break down and eat some greasy, cheesy Mexican food with your friends or to forgo the night out altogether in order to maintain your Paleo-ness, let me arm you with some background knowledge on the subject of the cheese in said Mexican food (nevermind for now the grains, beans, and beers you’ll be consuming along with it).

Not technically Paleo.
The Paleo pros all agree that before the advent of agriculture, dairy was not something people would have consumed after the first few years of life (during breastfeeding), since milking a wild mastodon would have been a little tricky. For that reason alone, dairy’s not quite Paleo. Beyond that, though, Loren Cordain, father of The Paleo Diet and author of the book by the same name, believes that dairy is one of the causes of many of our current health maladies, including some cancers, insulin resistance and acne. Loren Cordain keeps a blog, and this blog post in particular is a fantastic resource for more information on his camp’s beliefs about dairy.

But raw dairy might be all right for some people.
Another Paleo (or in his case, he calls it “Primal”) guru, Mark Sisson, has a slightly different take on dairy, and I tend to agree with him more on this one.  Since the studies on dairy that Cordain cites have been done using pasteurized, homogenized, non-whole-fat, factory-farmed dairy products, part of the story is missing.  There is a lot of evidence that supports whole fat, pasture raised raw milk’s (unpasteurized, unhomogenized) health benefits to humans, including anti-cancer and anti-acne effects. There have been indigenous groups all over the world who’ve lived vibrant, long lives on diets that include raw dairy products as a staple (see the Weston A. Price Foundation for more info on this).  Here is a fantastic blog post by Mark Sisson that further explains dairy’s place in the gray area of the Paleo world. The fact is that even raw dairy products are not Paleo, per se, but they may not be the devil’s spawn, either.  Whether you eat raw dairy is a decision you need to make for yourself based on your ethics and whether or not you can physically tolerate it.

So should you stop eating pasteurized dairy?
I say yes, but it’s not just because it’s not technically Paleo: it’s because a LOT of people can’t tolerate it.  We’ve been raised on pasteurized dairy, which lacks enzymes and other nutrients we need to digest and assimilate it; raw dairy contains those enzymes and nutrients. Because of the pasteurization of all commercial dairy (except in California) and due to some people’s genetic make-up, many of us are either allergic to the casein in dairy or we lack the enzyme, lactase, in our own bodies to digest it.  I see a lot of people who don’t know they’re lactose intolerant or casein sensitive until they take all dairy out of their diet.  If you stop eating it for 3 or 4 weeks (sometimes even a few days can be illuminating) and you notice that, for instance, your sinuses clear up, you don’t have headaches anymore, your skin looks better, or your digestion is more at ease, then I’d suggest one of two things: take dairy out of your diet or try switching to raw dairy.

Here’s a great website for finding out more about the history, safety, sources and scientific studies of raw dairy. If you absolutely insist on keeping dairy in your diet and you don’t want to eat raw dairy for whatever reason, I strongly suggest at the very least that you only consume organic dairy that comes from pasture-raised cows.  It doesn’t contain the pesticides that conventional dairy does, and it provides more beneficial fatty acids because the cows ate grass instead of harmful grains.  Also, the animals on organic farms are treated far better than they are on conventional factory farms.

We can get everything we need without dairy.
The idea behind Paleo is that we can get all the nutrients we need from animal carcasses (including meat, marrow and organs), eggs, vegetables, fruits, and some nuts and seeds.  People are attached to dairy partly because of the calcium it provides for healthy bones. To that, Cordain would say that dairy is so acidifying to your body that it causes you to leach calcium from your bones, and that eating too much calcium can negatively affect zinc absorption.  If you want to get your calcium, eat seaweed, dark leafy green vegetables like kale, and have some tahini (sesame seed butter) every now and then with some sliced veggies. 3 tbs of tahini contains about as much calcium as a cup of whole fat milk. Or eat the soft, small bones of salmon and other fish. Lastly, know that there was far less osteoporosis in Paleolithic people than there is in people nowadays…

What are your thoughts on dairy?  Do you eat it?