Dairy: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cutting out dairy bums people out almost as much as cutting out gluten. The good news about dairy is that many of us are fine with it, and after a period of elimination and the reintroduction, we can breathe a sigh of relief. My stance on dairy is not as tough as my stance on gluten: I see gluten as a nutrient-poor, calorie dense, monocrop Frankengrain that can be a ticking time bomb for autoimmune genetics. As such, my opinion is that everyone would do better without it. But dairy is more like a gauntlet, and if you can clear it, you can eat dairy happily. The downsides of dairy are tummy discomfort, Mud Butt, and leaky gut; and in certain situations, like cancer and autoimmunity, dairy is a definite no-no.


The first issue is lactose digestion, an obvious problem for many people. Historically we should all flip a genetic switch in our 4th or 5th year that turns off the production of lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, and become lactose intolerant. However, due to the persistent consumption of dairy as a necessary source of nutrients by our pastoral ancestors, some of us have adapted to lifelong dairy consumption. There is a much higher likelihood of this happening if you have European heritage (80% of Europeans are lactase persistent). If you are not lactase persistent, you are lactose intolerant. In many instances though, the intolerant among us can still get by on raw dairy without being bothered. Cultured dairy reduces lactose issues, growth factors, and starts breaking the proteins down so it’s easier to digest.

Hard to Digest Protein

Other people are bothered by one of milk’s proteins, casein.  A sensitivity to casein can cause gut inflammation and can also cause migraines. And then many others get acne from dairy sensitivity. If you have an autoimmune condition, it is recommended that you avoid dairy because of how necessary it is to protect your gut barrier and avoid this potential source of damaging protein. Casein is a very tough protein to break down.

Drugs & Hormones

Dairy also contains beta casomorphins (the caso is pronounced like queso). Notice the morphin part of that word… hey that looks like morphine! Well, it does act on the opioid receptor. It makes us feel good and is ever so slightly addictive, in other words strongly rewarding. This addictive reward trigger can promote overeating.

IGF-1: Fat Loss Blocker and Cancer Promoter

Dairy has also been used widely in the bodybuilding scene as it is known to promote growth better than anything next to steroids and hormones, thanks to the insulin-like growth factor. Many people experience a fair amount of fat gain on this protocol though, since it’s growth stimulators are not specific to muscle. This makes dairy something to consider with a little more caution if you are trying to lose weight.

The growth factors can promote cell growth of things that you don’t want to encourage, for instance, if you already have cancer.

Benefits to Eating Dairy

Dairy is our best source of dietary calcium. Sardines with bones would be our best Paleo option, kale is not bad, but boy do you have to eat a lot of it. Blech. You also have to watch out with green sources of calcium, because they may contain a lot of phytic acid, like spinach, which makes the calcium in it pretty unavailable, so you have to pay attention and rotate your greens. Dairy is also a terrific source of fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin K2 which is amazing for teeth and bones and seems to be a “magic” activator of other nutrients. K2 is not the same jive-K1 found in greens that deals with blood clotting. K2 is mostly found in animal fats and pastured egg yolks. Raw dairy also helps fortify the cells with glutathione, a very powerful and protective anti-oxidant.

In Closing, You Decide

All in all, dairy falls into limbo for me when discussing the Paleo diet. Some experts recommend avoiding it completely, others recommend it SO LONG AS YOU TOLERATE IT, and don’t have cancer or an autoimmune condition. You do need to eliminate it for 2-3 weeks to see if you tolerate it though. This will give your system time to heal itself, provided you are not eating a bunch of other crap, and allow your gut or immune system to react properly when you reintroduce it. You want to be careful about going too long without dairy, because this can stimulate the production of lactase to shut down, as nature had intended it to.

One more thing to consider is whether or not the dairy is from a grass-fed source, otherwise labeled as “pastured”. The vitamins that you are hoping to get from dairy are much more optimized in grass-fed sources and pretty paltry in commercial sources. Also keep in mind that the good nutrients in dairy are fat soluble, so if you’re eating skim-milk based yogurt, for example, you’re not getting any of the real nutrient benefits.

Dairy is awesome, so for your sake, I hope you make it through the gauntlet. Fortunately for us all, if you happen to not make it through the gauntlet, there are a number of tasty replacements out there, so you won’t barely even miss it 😉