This blog is part of the All About Fad Diets blog series. They’re not really fads, but more like lifestyles.
NZ being a dairy-producing country, we are big milk drinkers. It must be good if kids get it free in schools, right?
Milk has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
Animal milk consumption is thought to have originated in North-Western Europe around 7,500 years ago. People around Ireland and Scandinavia possessed a gene characteristic known as lactase persistence. When these people merged with various ethnicities, the gene was passed down. Milk drinking originated in countries requiring a greater need for vitamin D in their diet. The dietary need for vitamin D may be a reason why lactase persistence began all of those years ago in Northern Europe.
Even in its purest form, no other mammal on this planet drinks milk from an animal that is not their own species. This may be an indicator that cow’s milk is not designed for human consumption.
Dairy began as raw, unpasteurised and unhomogenised milk straight from the cow. It is still available as nature intended at Mr Farmer’s gate, if you have your inside sources. Raw milk cannot legally be sold in stores due to its potential risk of carrying salmonella, E. coli, listeria, campylobacter, and other foodborne illnesses. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, a child, elderly, or have compromised immunity, it is definitely not worth the risk. However, for healthy adults the benefits may out-weigh the risks. People who are lactose intolerant and unable to tolerate normal yoghurt report being able to tolerate raw milk yoghurt (raw milk cultured into yoghurt). There is valuable information on the Weston Price Foundation website about raw milk.
Pasteurisation, named after Louis Pasteur in 1864, is the process of destroying harmful bacteria by heating milk to a high temperature for a certain period of time. Milk is heated to 63 degrees celsius for 30 minutes or 72 degrees celsius for 15 seconds. The higher the temperature, the shorter the amount of time. Ultra-high temperature (UHT) involves heating milk to 138-150 degrees celsius for 1-2 seconds. This enables it to last for months without refrigeration.
Pasteurisation destroys enzymes naturally present in raw milk. One of the key enzymes is lactase. Lactase is the enzyme that enables us to digest lactose. Hence why people who are lactose intolerant are able to digest raw milk more easily.
Homogenisation is the process of smoothing out milk so that fat is emulsified and even throughout. Its purpose is just to make milk appear consistent. Other than that it serves no functionality or benefit. Unless you dislike a layer of thick cream on the top of your milk.
The downside is that fat particles are separated into smaller molecules which can oxidise the fats and deem them unrecognisable to the body. The oxidation of fat and cholesterol in milk may increase the risk of heart disease. Unhomogenised milk is available in stores (but it is still pasteurised of course). If raw milk is unavailable or a health risk to you, and you want to consume cow’s milk, the next best option is organic unhomogenised milk (even better if it is A2).
A1 and A2
These are the new kids on the block. 20 or so years ago it was all about B1 and B2 from Bananas in Pyjamas. Now the spotlight is on A1 and A2.
A1 milk is primarily from Friesian/Holstein cattle. A2 is mostly produced by Jersey/Guernsey cows. Some people can tolerate A2 milk but not A1. A1 makes up the majority of milk on the market. Now A2 milk is labelled due to increased awareness regarding its benefits. A2 boasts more protein and calcium, and less behavioural symptoms in children with autism. The difference between A1 and A2 is the casein protein it is much easier to digest in A2.
Comparatively, breast milk only contains 40% casein. The remaining 60% of the protein is whey. This is the main reason why mother’s milk is much easier to digest than formula for a baby. Animal-based formula is significantly higher in casein. Cow’s milk is 82% casein (of the protein content).
When I Grow Up I Want To Be a Cow
Lactose intolerance is prevalent is as many as 25% of Caucasians. While in Asian and African populations it is 75-90%. The average in the overall human population is 65%.
Yet some of these populations drink milk like it’s the Elixir of Life! By these numbers of lactose intolerance, do you think maybe cow’s milk isn’t designed for humans?!
Check out my Happy Tummy Tonic.
- Abdominal pain
- Rumbling/gurgling stomach
- Joint and muscle pain
- Nasal congestion
- Frequently blowing the nose
- Heavy breathing
- Mouth breathing
Should I Avoid Dairy?
If you have any of the following, I recommend you take a break from dairy – eczema, acne, asthma, ear infections, diabetes, leaky gut, any autoimmune condition, or hormone-dependent cancer (e.g. breast, ovarian, cervical, uterine, or endometrial). Plus the obvious – lactose intolerance or dairy allergy.
Cow’s milk contains levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) hormones to enable a 50kg baby calf to grow to a 300-400kg within its first year, and reach 500kg as a fully grown cow. There are links between dairy consumption and hormone-dependent cancers, these include breast, ovarian, uterine, endometrium, and prostate.
Dairy is quite inflammatory and increases IGF-1. Dairy of course has benefits and is nutritious in small amounts for the average person. However, it should be considered a treat or condiment rather than a staple in our diets. Some people don’t eat dairy at all, some only have raw/fermented/organic dairy, and some people eat a bit of anything and everything. To eat dairy or to not eat dairy is a personal preference and very individual. This does not need to be black and white (all or none) either.
Most Junk Food Contains Dairy
If you’re at a party you’re not going to be able to eat the party food. A dairy-free diet reduces the amount of junk food the average person eats (because you won’t be able to eat the cream buns at shared morning tea).
If you eat dairy-free you have to check everything that comes in a packet (if your food comes in a packet).
What About Calcium?
This is the most frequently asked question by people who are told to give up dairy.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency include muscle cramps, pins and needles/numbness, weak/brittle nails, white spots on nails, and in severe deficiency, heart problems, tooth erosion, bone fracture, osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis) and osteoporosis.
It is true that dairy products are one of our highest sources of calcium. Although, there is a theory that calcium is not well absorbed from milk. Or not as well as we thought.
Calcium requires an acidic environment to be absorbed. Our stomach is an acidic environment, providing we have sufficient stomach acid present. However, milk is alkaline by nature due to its water content, and calcium is an alkaline mineral.
Yoghurt is a more reliable source of calcium. It is more effectively absorbed due to its acidity from fermentation of lactose into lactic acid. Calcium from cheese is also more easily absorbed than milk because of its acidity. Acidic in the stomach does not mean acidic when it is digested in the body.
In some cases, people who are lactose intolerant can eat yoghurt and cheese (or some types of cheeses). Lactose intolerance is not black or white. Experiment with your grey area to find out what suits your body. Especially if getting calcium is a concern for you.
If you cannot eat dairy at all due to allergy, severe lactose intolerance, veganism, or personal preference, there are many other ways to get your calcium (see below).
The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 1,000mg per day for adults aged 19-70 for men and 19-510 for women. This increases to 1,300mg per day for men over 70 and women over 50.
Dairy sources of calcium and their approximate calcium content per 100g:
- Parmesan – 1,109mg (remember 100g is a lot of cheese!)
- Edam cheese – 731mg
- Cheddar cheese – 721mg
- Feta – 493mg
- Camembert – 388mg
- Calcium-enriched milk – 190mg
- Milk – 120mg
- Greek yoghurt – 110mg
- Cottage cheese – 83mg
- Butter – 24mg
Dairy-free sources and their approximate calcium content per 100g:
- Sesame seeds – 975mg
- Tahini – 426mg
- Tofu – 350mg
- Almond butter – 347mg
- Soybeans – 277mg
- Canned salmon with edible bones – 249mg
- Almonds – 264mg
- Molasses – 205mg
- Dried figs – 162mg
- Kale – 150mg
- Tempeh – 111mg
- Bok choy – 105mg
- Broccoli – 93mg
- Silverbeet – 51mg
- Oranges and cabbage – 40mg
If you don’t eat dairy you will need to be a bit more conscious of including these foods in your diet on a regular basis to achieve the recommended intake. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. About 99% of our calcium is stored in our bones and teeth.
Strong bones isn’t all about drinking truckloads of milk.
When fat is removed from milk, something must fill the gap. Similarly to during the low-fat era when fat was removed from foods, it was replaced with sugar (or carbs). If milk is higher if fat, it is lower in sugar. If milk is lower in fat, it is higher in sugar. The same goes for yoghurt.
Dairy products are insulinergic, meaning they create a spike in insulin levels more than other foods. When fat is present in dairy, it lowers the insulin response as fat slows digestion and the release of sugar into the bloodstream.
Low-fat dairy is even more insulinergic than full-fat dairy. This is only beneficial after a hard workout or if you are training for a body building competition. The reason is because insulin is a storage/building hormone. If you have not been exercising, this storage will go to your adipose tissue (fat cells) rather than muscles.
Full-fat milk is a source of the fat-soluble vitamins, A and D. Fat-soluble vitamins are found in foods containing fat and they require fat present for absorption. Nutrients found in all mils include B vitamins, vitamin B12, calcium and phosphorus, as these are not reduced when fat is removed.
Calcium Is Not The (Only) Answer
A few years ago research came to light showing an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease from taking calcium tablets. Calcium supplements have the ability to make their way into fatty plaques in the arteries causing calcification, and possibly leading to atherosclerosis. We know that bone density is multifactorial (not just calcium). Most calcium supplements now are in combination with vitamin D and/or magnesium. This confirms that eating a balanced, varied diet and leading an active lifestyle is irreplaceable by supplements and quick fixes.
Milk made from plants such as nuts, grains or beans, rather than cow, sheep or goat.
Mylks are not naturally rich sources of calcium. They are fortified with calcium, meaning calcium is added in (a supplement in food) to replicate cow’s milk as closely as possible. Nut mylks vary in calcium content depending on the brand. For people who don’t eat dairy, they definitely help to achieve your calcium RDI. Choose unsweetened milks. Save your sugar quota for another sweet treat!
Water is the best liquid to drink but it’s just not always robust enough for coffee, smoothies, and recipes. You need something vaguely thick and white to pass as milk. It is getting easier to replace dairy with more alternatives on the market.
This is simply normal milk with added lactase to make it more tolerable for individuals who are lactose intolerant. Lactose is present in small amounts in breast milk but once babies are weaned off, production of lactase declines. Babies are rarely born with lactose intolerance, they only develop it when on animal milk. Lactose-free milk is for people who want the closest thing to the real deal.
Naturally contains easy-to-digest A2 protein. Goat milk is not homogenised even though it will be pasteurised if it is purchased on the shop shelf. It has a higher fat content, but it is lower in lactose and casein compared to cow’s milk. Goats being a smaller animal, the milk is more structurally similar to human milk than cow’s milk. Meaning goat milk is more suitable for human consumption, if you can get your hands (I mean hooves) on it.
This was the only dairy-free alternative for years until the others came along to give soy some competition.
Soy is naturally the highest food source of phytoestrogens – plant-based oestrogens with the ability to mimic oestrogen and attach to our oestrogen receptors in our body. This is only really beneficial for women who have low oestrogen, bone density, or are menopausal/post-menopausal. Men stay clear.
Oestrogen dominance in women can cause period pain, menstrual irregularities (including clots), water retention, breast swelling and tenderness, cyclic headaches, mood swings, weight gain, infertility, and excess fat around the hips and thighs. Oestrogen dominance in men can show as weight gain, low libido, or moobs (Google if this word is new to you).
Almonds are high in protein, second only to peanuts (but I haven’t heard of peanut milk yet). Almonds are a nutritious nut containing fibre, magnesium, copper, vitamin E, and manganese. Almonds are one of the most nutritious nuts, called a superfood by some.
We’re talking about the ones in cartons used as a milk alternative. Coconut mylk has the benefits of coconut and coconut oil. Despite being high in fat and having negligible protein, the fat of coconut is medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Canned coconut milk or cream is more suited to cooking curries and soups. If you are using it as every day milk, water it down as it is quite dense. A small amount of coconut cream is commonly used in smoothie bowls to keep them thick and prevent them from melting into a liquid smoothie. Coconut mylk in a carton is essentially a watered down version of coconut milk in a can, which is a watery version of coconut cream. There is nothing wrong with using half coconut milk/cream and half water in place of coconut mylk.
Contains a small amount of gluten, as oats naturally do. Gluten is not so much present in oats themselves, it is a gluten-like compound. The problem is that oats are cross-contaminated with other grains like wheat during processing.
Has the highest proportion of carbs because that is the nature of rice. Rice and rice mylk have a very high glycaemic index, meaning they are absorbed quickly and rapidly increase blood sugar. Rice mylk has very little protein and fat, therefore, it is not as filling as other milks. It is not recommended for diabetics or anyone with blood sugar irregularities. The only micronutrients in rice mylk are the ones added by fortification.
Non-dairy mylks are usually fortified with the same nutrients found in cow’s milk to replicate the real thing as much as possible. These are calcium, and sometimes vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Provides a rich, creamy alternative. Macadamias are the highest in fat out of all of the nuts. The fats are monounsaturated which are beneficial for the heart and cholesterol. Macadamias are calorie-dense but they very filling so even if you eat a few too many, you will be full for a while.
Macadamias are a popular nut choice by those on a Paleo or keto diet, due to being the highest in fat and lowest in carbs. Macadamia mylk is the best mylk option on a low carb diet, as long as it is unsweetened.
Cashews contain an array of nutrients including copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K, zinc, iron, vitamin B1, and selenium. Cashews are slightly higher in carbs compared to other nuts. This is nothing to worry about unless you are on a low carb diet, then another nut may be a better option. Cashews (and almonds) are among the lowest calorie nuts.
To Wrap It Up
The purpose of this series of blogs isn’t to choose a diet to follow. It’s to inform you of the pros, cons and my recommendations, if you do choose to (or already) follow one of these diet trends.
I personally pick and choose what I like, and more importantly what suits my body, from each diet to create my own personalised diet. My motto is “Realigning Nutrition with Intuition”. Try N=1 Self Experimentation.
Intuition is now totally disassociated from Nutrition. We don’t eat what or when we feel like eating. We eat what and when we are told we should be eating. Realigning Nutrition with Intuition means being in-tune with your body and rediscovering what diet/lifestyle is most suited to you. As I trained as a Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist, I am not about strict plans. That is for you to decide for yourself.
There is no one-size-fits-all baseball cap when it comes to diets.
Your Nutrition Mentor,