Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Jan

The Definitive Guide to Dairy

I knew going in this was going to be a tricky one, because dairy, especially raw and/or fermented full-fat dairy, resides in a Primal gray area. The literature, the evolutionary reasoning, and the anecdotal reports all unanimously point to sugar, cereal grains and legumes, processed foods, and industrial vegetable oils as being net negatives on the human metabolic spectrum, but dairy is somewhat different. The other Neolithic foodstuffs we can rule out because the science condemning them is fairly concrete and they weren’t on the menu 20,000 years ago. Heck, they weren’t just off the menu; they were basically unrecognizable as food in the raw state. Dairy, on the other hand, is a relatively recent food chronologically, but it is most assuredly and obviously a viable nutritive source in its raw form. It’s full of highly bioavailable saturated fat, protein, and carbs – in equal portions. You could conceivably survive on milk alone (I wouldn’t recommend it, but you could technically do it; try doing the same with honey or raw millet). Milk is baby fuel. It’s literally meant to spur growth and enable a growing body. Our bodies definitely recognize dairy as food, even foreign bovine dairy. But is it good nutrition?

I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone really does, in fact, which is why I place dairy firmly in Primal limbo. And so, this Definitive Guide to Dairy may come across as being a bit less than definitive, but that’s only because I’m being honest: we simply don’t know whether dairy is suitable for regular human consumption. Whether you include or exclude it from your diet, the decision must be borne from a review of the available literature (Cordain v. Weston Price, for example) with an assessment of the potential risks and benefits, followed by a personal assessment of dairy’s effect on your body (try it, then strictly eliminate it, and note the differences). If you’ve been eating dairy your entire life, your body doesn’t know anything else. In that case, you’ll want to fully drop it for at least a month to get an accurate assessment. Remember – pre-Primal, you probably “felt fine” eating grains and sugar every day. You may have to take the same approach if you really want to figure out what dairy does to you.

You could listen to Dr. Loren Cordain and other strict paleos who adamantly oppose all forms of it. They offer a number of reasons why dairy doesn’t belong in the human diet – mainly lactose intolerance and casein intolerance. Yet, the truth is,  lactose (a form of sugar) and casein (a form of protein) are both found in human breast milk, so each of us – and certainly every one of our ancestors – was not only able to tolerate but to thrive for some time during infancy depending on both of these “questionable” molecules. That’s the main thing that makes eliminating dairy a little less clear cut than eliminating grains and legumes. But let’s look a little closer at the intolerance issue.

Lactose Intolerance

The widespread presence of lactose intolerants, who still make up a majority of the world’s inhabitants, is somewhat compelling evidence that maybe dairy isn’t the ideal food many assume it to be. Worldwide, we see that most people aren’t adapted to lactose consumption after age four, when many of us lose the ability to properly digest lactose (actually gene expression for the enzymes involved in lactose digestion are down-regulated). Nevertheless, it would appear that among many people, most of whom can trace ancestry back to herding cultures, some adaptation has taken place that allows them to continue to effectively digest lactose throughout their lives. I would never argue that a lactose intolerant person should drink milk; if it makes you feel like crap, don’t eat it! At the same time, though, if that same person were to complain about getting enough fat in his or her diet, and olive oil and coconut oil weren’t cutting it, I would suggest incorporating some cream, butter, or ghee. Little to (in the case of ghee) no lactose to speak of, and you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better all-purpose cooking fat. Lactose intolerance won’t kill you if you ignore it. It’s actually pretty impossible to ignore rumbling guts, explosive diarrhea, cramps, and bloating, so I doubt the truly lactose intolerant will miss it.

Casein Intolerance

Casein is the primary protein in dairy. It shares structural similarities with gluten, a highly problematic grain protein that can shred the intestinal lining and lead to severe auto-immune issues. Bad, bad stuff, and a big reason why grains are so unhealthy. (And if you’re still not convinced that grains are unhealthy read this (PDF).) Now, paleo opponents of dairy say casein wreaks similar havoc on our guts, and it’s true that gluten intolerance goes hand-in-hand with casein intolerance. But is casein a primary cause of leaky gut, or does it slip in only after gluten has opened the floodgates? Once a floodgate is opened, any protein can enter and cause issues. And after all, casein is the primary protein in human breast milk…

Cancer

Cordain thinks milk leads to cancer, citing a fairly impressive array of studies that seem to suggest a link between milk consumption and various types of the disease. He fingers betacellulin, one of milk’s epidermal growth factors, as the causal agent. In the fetus and suckling newborn, betacellulin helps with growth and tissue differentiation. It’s completely essential for growing infants. In adults, Cordain says it passes cleanly into the gut, completely intact and free to enter circulation, where it can bind to receptors and enhance cancer cell growth. What Cordain doesn’t mention is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is also found in milk fat (especially raw, grass-fed milk, which is never included in any study) and has been shown to possess anti-cancer effects by inhibiting breast cancer cell growth and reducing the activation of insulin-like growth factor receptors (the same receptors Cordain identifies as sensitive to betacellulin). The studies Cordain cites as support of the milk-cancer connection are interesting, but their messages are muddled. As Chris Masterjohn points out, milk proteins mostly appear harmful only when separated from their natural fat. Low fat and skim milk appear to have associations with certain cancers (like prostate), while whole milk appears protective (of colorectal cancer) or neutral. It would be nice to see researchers take a good, long look at full-fat, pastured dairy’s effects on cancer rates. Conventional milk consumption probably isn’t advisable, but the jury’s still out on whether raw, pastured, whole milk is also problematic. We need more data.

Insulin Response

Milk is highly insulinogenic, more than most carbohydrate sources. We’re all aware of the dangers of chronically elevated insulin levels, but that’s also what makes milk such a popular post-workout recovery drink. If you’re insulin sensitive following a tough strength training session, milk’s insulin response can be an effective way to shuttle in protein and glycogen. I don’t do it myself, because I like to fast post-workout (and I don’t like the taste of regular milk) but some people swear by it. This is just speculation, but perhaps the potentially negative effects of milk are negated by the post-workout internal environment (starved muscles, depleted glycogen, insulin-sensitive tissue). Or perhaps those powerlifters are slowly but surely eroding their gut lining. To be on the safe side, maybe limit your milk drinking to immediately post-workout if you’re going to drink it at all.

There isn’t a whole lot of consensus on the subject. People with whom I normally agree on everything regarding nutrition have completely different takes on dairy. Some MDA forum goers report no ill effects, while others complain of joint pain and clogged sinuses from consuming even a single ounce of dairy. More than any other food, dairy seems to be entirely subjective. There is no “one size fits all” approach to it. To be on the safe side and to go “full Primal,” you would technically eliminate it completely, but that may be unnecessary for a relatively large number of people.

In a strange way, this entire blog is just a detailed, science-based map of my own personal journey augmented with anecdotes and experiments from others on similar, but slightly divergent, paths. Much of what I write is founded in science but based on my experiences, and this particular post is no different. When things are gray and murky and the science is unclear and far from definitive, I generally go with anecdote and personal, n=1 experimentation. Personally (and, in a way, this entire blog is just a detailed map of my own personal journey), regular dairy doesn’t generally agree with me. I don’t buy or drink milk. Having said that, I’m a big fan of heavy cream in my coffee and butter in my eggs (and on my steaks and vegetables). I like a nice thick yogurt sauce on lamb, and occasionally either Greek yogurt or fresh whipped cream with berries for dessert. I even have a bit of artisan cheese once in a while. It works for me. I don’t get cramps or gas, and I don’t get leaky gut symptoms from casein alone (gluten is another thing altogether). I’d say, on average, I consume at least one dairy item each day (usually butter), but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

As I mentioned in my book, I think there’s a continuum, a cascading scale of suitability when it comes to dairy. It’s not all created equal.

Raw, fermented, full-fat dairy is probably best.

Tons of traditional, fairly disease-free groups lived with dairy (just as tons of traditional, fairly disease-free groups lived without it), and they all included some form of fermented or cultured product. Cultured butter, yogurt, kefir, clotted milk, cheese – these are traditional ways of increasing shelf life, improving digestibility, and incorporating beneficial probiotics into the gut. Fermentation takes care of most of the lactose, and some posit that it may even positively alter the structure, function, and safety of casein.

Raw, high-fat dairy is next.

Raw butter and cream are minimally processed sources of good saturated fat. They’re free of most lactose and casein, and let’s face it: butter and cream just make everything taste better. If it’s essentially just pure, raw animal fat from grass-fed animals, without offensive levels of milk proteins and sugars, what’s not to enjoy? Ghee is another good choice, and though it technically isn’t raw, it is pure animal fat without a trace of lactose or casein.

Then raw milk.

I don’t advise regular consumption of raw milk, mind you, but if you can tolerate it (no stomach upset, no bloating, no gas, no intestinal issues) an occasional glass is probably OK as a sensible vice. Some farms will even supplement their raw milk with colostrum (the extra rich, “first run” milk that provides even more vitamins and nutrients), resulting in a lower-carb, higher-fat, higher-protein product. Look for that stuff if you’re thinking of buying raw milk.

Organic, hormone and antibiotic-free dairy (full fat, of course).

Bottom line: don’t consume non-organic dairy if you can help it. Avoid homogenized milk if you can, and try not to purchase pasteurized milk (organic or not) on a regular basis. If you’re out getting coffee or something, the regular half and half or heavy cream are fine, and Kerrygold makes a great pastured, pasteurized butter that’s available nationwide.

Other things to consider:

A2 Milk versus A1 Milk

Milk proteins are made up of different beta-caseins, which vary between cow breeds. There are two main categories of beta-casein: A1 and A2, each with different effects. A1 cows (Holsteins and Friesians) produce A1 beta-caseins, which release an opioid-like chemical upon digestion. This chemical, called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM7), is a protein fragment that figures into the joint pains, digestive issues, and leaky gut symptoms that detractors typically blame on just casein. A2 cows (Jerseys and Gurnseys), on the other hand, produce A2 beta-casein, which has been vindicated. Raw, pastured milk tends to come from Jersey and Gurnsey cows; Holsteins and Friesians produce far more milk and so are used by conventional, factory dairy farmers. The Masai, for example, have A2 cattle.

Goat

Goat dairy is another option, with more fat (that’s never homogenized, even when pasteurized), less casein, less lactose, and fewer digestive issues. Structurally and nutritionally, goat milk is one of the closer corollaries to human breast milk, making it arguably more suitable for human consumption than cow’s milk.

In the end, is there a definitive stamp of Primal approval, or Primal disapproval? I just can’t go either way. Sometimes, the correct path is to admit that you simply don’t know. You can read all the blogs you want, pour over every comment, follow every link, and pontificate about every hunter-gatherer group on the planet, but if you don’t try things out for yourself – either by trying certain dairy products or by eliminating them and noting the effects – it’s all just speculation and hearsay. In the murky, milky world of dairy, it’s up to you to decide your ideal path.

Tell me about your experiences. Is dairy part of your Primal eating strategy? If so, what (butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.) and how much?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. What about sour cream?

    Does sour cream have too many additives?

    Mark wrote on January 29th, 2010
  2. The funny thing about myself when it comes to dairy is I don’t drink whole, skim or 2% milk anymore because it doesn’t sit on my stomach well. However, I can eat ice cream with no problem. Does that mean I’m lactose intolerant or just half way?

    Rahim wrote on January 29th, 2010
    • My mother-in-law cannot tolerate dairy except ice cream either. She thinks it is because the proteins are broken up in the freezing process. I’m a bit skeptical on this theory but it would certainly be interesting to find out why this is the case.

      Angelina wrote on January 29th, 2010
      • Stranger still, it seems the more raw cream in raw milk, the longer it takes to spoil or change unrefrigerated and remain healthful. It works especially well to preserve it by also mixing a drop of unheated honey in, just leave it in a dark cabinet. Maybe the extra non-lactose sugar is a key too.

        RawZi wrote on June 5th, 2010
  3. Milk has never bothered me and I love my ice cream, also since adopting a more paleo diet, I rarely have a craving for it. *shrugs* I still eat cheese although not as much.

    What I can’t wait for is our goat to freshen so I can start milking her. At first I pasteurized because the family was a little hesitant about drinking raw milk. Then my teenager read up on benefits or raw milk so now we drink it raw. We’ve also made fresh cheese and kefir.

    Veronica wrote on January 29th, 2010
  4. Excellent post Mark, maybe even one of your best.

    Anthony wrote on January 29th, 2010
  5. As an acne sufferer I have cut down my dairy intake by 95%. It has done wonders for my skin and for my overall health.

    I use to drink about 6 cups of skim milk a day and now drink 0. I use to eat a decent amount of cheese and now eat cheese minimally.

    I now eat plain greek yogurt (well, about to try it) but will consume it sparingly.

    As far as ice cream goes… only during a birthday or special holiday! And I eat about 1/8 – 1/4 of a serving of dark chocolate (87%) a day.

    It is great to follow such a wonderful blog that is questioning milk as well.

    http://www.milkdocumentary.com/Site/Home.html…. coming out this spring!

    Todd Dosenberry wrote on January 29th, 2010
  6. Mark,
    Awesome article, well researched and informative.

    I’m new, here, just found your blog and enjoying going through it.

    While,as you pointed out, many have lactose issues, I often wonder if at least some of the seemingly higher incidence of milk issues in society is a product of the “processed food supply” of the last 60 years.

    At any rate, your suggestion of raw or organic choices is a good one…IF…you know the source. As a proponent of the small “ag” producer I advocate local (within 100 miles or so) purchases. Especially with milk. AND as one of the comments suggested…look for the pastured or grass based variety. A true grass fed dairy will not use hormones, anti-biotics, or force their “girls” to be constantly pregnant in order to produce a larger quantity…Sorry, I’m passionate about these things and tend to pontificate too much…Keep up the good work!

    Smokey wrote on January 29th, 2010
  7. As a child, I loved milk – preferred it to water. Until I gave it up in my late 40’s, I had little pimples all over the backs of my arms and legs, breakouts on my scalp and butt, and a big problem with chronic boils. I mentioned the boils to a woman patient at an alternative allergy doc’s office about the boils and she mentioned that whenever she ate dairy, she got boils. I had an epiphany right then and there – that’s what was causing my breakouts and boils, and my nursing daughter’s violent projectile vomiting. A few months after giving up ALL dairy (gotta watch those inert pill ingredients as well), I noticed my skin had cleared up and the chronic winter itchiness and dryness, and flakiness also went away. I also had less calcium buildup on my teeth when I had them cleaned. It wasn’t easy, though. Milk is highly addictive, and is added to lots of processed foods and pills. I lifted weights for a year or so and stayed away from any type of whey products. There is good egg protein supplements, thought. I just don’t think that humans are meant to drink cow milk any more than cows are meant to drink human milk.

    Renee wrote on January 29th, 2010
  8. PS – I never get sick anymore, unless I eat too much corn (which I’m not eating any longer anyway). No more earaches, which are basically boils on the outside or inside the ear. I haven’t tried raw dairy, but I don’t think I want to. Not drinking milk, eating pizza or ice cream or cheese kinda makes one an outcast amoungst friends and at work, especially if you’re sharing or being treated to lunch. But we all have choices to make.

    Renee wrote on January 29th, 2010
  9. For those who don’t do milk… Try an “egg milk”. In a blender crack an egg and add 2 tbsp coconut oil (or butter if you have no problem with dairy). Add 1 cup of boiling water while the blender is running and voila’… Dairy free milk.

    This recipe is remarkably versatile btw. Use coffee instead of water for a frothy latte. Add cocoa, vanilla or cinnamon. Some sweetener and nutmeg makes a yummy, warm egg nog. Can even be used as a base for soup. Can be chilled but you need to stir it up.

    Gabi wrote on January 29th, 2010
    • WOW!! Thanks Gabi. I have never heard of this before and will definitely be giving it a go. I love my organic lattes and have been trying to work out how to have one without dairy or soy milk.

      Angelina wrote on January 29th, 2010
    • That sounds incredible! I will have to give that a try sometime. Thanks for sharing!

      Todd Dosenberry wrote on January 29th, 2010
    • Tried it this morning with organic plunger coffee and a dash of vanilla and it was great ;) I did have to heat it up a bit further to get rid of the overpowering raw egg taste though. But after that it was just nice and creamy. Great recipe !

      Angelina wrote on January 30th, 2010
      • Try melting the CO or butter in your liquid before pouring over egg in blender. Keeps it hotter. Also using room temperature eggs helps.

        Gabi wrote on February 2nd, 2010
  10. I’m usually a substantial milk drinker (~1.5 a day), but for the last week I’ve had no milk. The difference to my sinuses has been noticeable.

    lelak wrote on January 30th, 2010
  11. Mark, or anyone who knows…

    Since whey protein is the other protein in milk that is not casein and since it does not have the sugar lactose… is it ok for people who want to consume non-dairy?

    People don’t want to consume dairy for many reasons… but since whey protein has no casein or lactose (right?) then it should be ok… right?

    There are strong links to dairy and acne… STRONG links… many studies done. Just wondering if quality whey protein is ok.

    Thanks!

    Todd Dosenberry wrote on January 30th, 2010
  12. Hi Todd, Mark said above that he has a whey protein article coming for us next week. I look forward to reading it also.

    Angelina wrote on January 30th, 2010
    • Thanks for letting me know! I must have skimmed over where he said that.

      I am excited for the article on it as well.

      Todd Dosenberry wrote on January 31st, 2010
  13. “Milk is highly insulinogenic” , what about the fermented forms? ie; yogurt,kefir and cheese.

    thania wrote on January 31st, 2010
  14. @Jim Purdy~
    Try herbal teas. Mt. Rose Herbs has a fantastic selection of blends. Usually a store that sells bulk herbs will have tea blends as well, if you have one locally.
    Best of luck!

    Sheri wrote on January 31st, 2010
  15. Amen on the Kerrygold, my friend. Their butter is to die for.

    E.M.R wrote on January 31st, 2010
    • And now Kerrygold do a softer, spreadable. Still with no vegetable oil [just a little salt].

      Flax seed “bread” + Kerrygold = heaven. :)

      Harpo wrote on February 2nd, 2010
  16. Seems logical, that a Grok would have learned that an animals milk would have been consumable as he would have noticed that humans milk is. In the spirit of consuming all parts of the animal to get the most form it, milk would be part of that.

    Pete wrote on January 31st, 2010
  17. What about ranch dressing? Can it be primal? I love some creamy ranch on my salads!

    Megan wrote on January 31st, 2010
  18. Mmmm…milk. You can have that sweet, sweet nectar when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

    unheatedgarage wrote on January 31st, 2010
  19. This is a great guide. I have been lactose intolerant since I was born. I’ve never had a glass of milk. When I do eat small amounts of cooked cheese, I get bloated, constipated, and congested in my head, so I try to avoid it altogether. This has been getting worse as I age, which is weird.

    Hugh wrote on February 1st, 2010
  20. Goat’s Milk FTW. Love that stuff. Trader Joes carries a really tasty brand

    Ryan wrote on February 1st, 2010
  21. Has anyone read eat right for your type? Not that it is 100% correct but the Dr i work for does a lot of research with it and apparently B type blood types can tolerate it in moderation….i dont know about that though because I am B and it makes me very congested and muscousy. I do love the taste though….however; raw milk is difficult to come by and goats milk moreso. I would do goat milk if it was more readily available in raw form.

    kevink wrote on February 1st, 2010
    • Hi Kevink. Yes, I started out on the eat right for your blood type diet. I’m a type O and it helped me a great deal to start with and eventually lead me to the paleolithic diet, which is very similar to the type O diet and seems to be good for me. I am not supposed to have any dairy according to the blood type diet and I have found that I cannot tolerate it. I also get congested and mucousy, among other symptoms. I wish it were not the case because I love the taste of milk and cheese but the reactions I get are too severe and decrease my performance levels dramatically.

      Angelina wrote on February 1st, 2010
  22. I’m not sure of the exact stat but I think 60-70% of all milk drinkers around the world actually drink goats milk, not cows milk. It seems only in 1st world western countries is cows milk the preferred choice.

    Elliot Wilson wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  23. I only drink Almond Breeze unsweetened almond milk — 40 calories for 8oz. with 1 gram of carbs — mix that with 1 TBL Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa (never Dutch cocoa!) and whey protein — yummy! yummy!

    Allison Berry wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  24. Hi Mark,

    Kudos for being willing to address this issue, and more kudos for not coming down as opposed – especially where full-fat, raw milk from grassfed cows is concerned. One of the things a lot of people who like to bash “dairy” miss is that not all milk is created equal; low-fat, pasteurized, homogenized, “milk” from cows who are fed a primarily grain-based diet is an entirely different substance from the “real thing.”

    I’m glad you mentioned Weston Price; I ***STRONGLY*** recommend that anyone who may be wrestling with this question visit the Weston A. Price Foundation’s “Campaign for Real Milk” website (http://www.realmilk.com/), and spend some time following the links. And while you’re at it, there’s a lot of a good stuff on the WAPF website (http://www.westonaprice.org) in general… not strictly primal, but traditional, and vehemently focused on REAL foods.

    Keep up the good work,

    Tom

    P.S. The “Agricultural Revolution,” e.g., switch to a largely grain-based diet, happened basically 10,000 years ago – as all Primal fans knew quite well. However, what many people may not know is that there is evidence for at least primitive forms of pastoralism – animal husbandry, and therefore almost certainly dairy consumption – as far back as 30,000 years ago. Make of that what you will…

    Tom Harbold wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  25. Raw and whole milk is the only way to go. My family enjoys raw butter from grass fed cows, raw cheese and raw milk. We all can enjoy this in moderation while we all can’t tolerate commercial dairy.

    Adrienne wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  26. Neither my children nor I can tolerate pasteurized dairy in any form (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.) and were dairy-free before finding raw dairy. I had raw milk until the age of 6 and only had access to pasteurized dairy after that, so avoided it. Our first experience with raw fluid dairy was raw milk and it happened to be from Holstein cows which produce A1 milk. I could tolerate the milk but my children could not. We then switched to the 100% jersey milk (which cost more) and we could all tolerate it with no problem. We now have jersey, jersey/guersney, goat, and buffalo milk that we rotate. We enjoy raw milk, but don’t consume vast quantities of it (my family drinks less than one gallon of milk a week). We use raw cream quite a bit, along with cultured butter, ghee, milk kefir, yogurt, and raw milk cheeses (much of which I make).

    What I’ve discovered along our own journey is that we have to have the full fat, 100% grass fed, and A2 in moderate quantities. When we go without it, we do fine and when we have it, we do fine. It’s a matter of personal enjoyment now that we know what works for us.

    As for the comment about humans being the only species that consume the milk of other species, that’s simply not true. Many animals consume the milk (both “full” milk and colostrum) of others. Goat kids that cannot get milk from their dams for whatever reason get cow’s colostrum and cow’s milk. Rabbits that are hand nursed get goat’s milk. Cats and dogs will drink cow’s or goat’s milk. Chickens will consume cow’s milk (ours love kefir in fact). … the list goes on and on.

    Zoe wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  27. I drink about 5 oz. of heated whole milk (about coffee hot) 4-5 days a week before going to bed, helps me go to sleep, It’s the Melatonin it releases when heated from what i’ve heard, anyway. Milk has never bothered me in anyway, and I have been drinking it for 72 years.

    Lute Nikoley wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  28. Just dropped milk 3 weeks ago ! I was crippled with arthritis (or was it arthrosis) in my fingers – could not move them without extreme pain. Well – no more pain I swear ! This is truly insane ! I feel like a new person. But how I miss my St-Augur and all those nice saints that have their names on my cheese ! And yogurt …..! bouhou but I’m dancing all the way to painless heaven.

    Plutarque wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  29. Raw milk does a body good! Much more so than two teaspoons of sugar everyday in your coffee *tongue in cheek* jab at Mr Sisson’s not so sensible vice :-)

    josh wrote on February 3rd, 2010
  30. Dear Mark,

    It was refreshing to read your honest thoughts about dairy in your blog. I agree that the jury is still out on the detrimental effects of dairy and your advice not to consume it if it doesn’t agree with you is the common sense approach.

    In all issues (and especially where I do not have resolute scientific advice to support an argument one way or the other) I find the most useful filter to be nature and whether or not there is natural / evolutional / functional evidence to support a course of action. Applying this logic to consuming dairy, while lost in the science, I find myself dwelling on the fact that we are the only mammal to consume milk after we’ve been weaned and stranger still, the milk we consume is not even from our own species.

    I don’t believe I am lactose intolerant as I’ve never suffered any uncomfortable symptoms after drinking cow’s milk, but with nature as my guide I steer away from cow’s milk, occasionally using goat’s milk for some things.

    No doubt one day science will provide the definitive answer.

    All the best,
    Ed

    Edward wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • Ed, Actually, we are not the only mammals to consume milk after we’ve been weaned, nor are we the only to consume milk to consume milk from another species. Spending time on a farm with animals — or reading about taking care of animals who have sick moms and have to be bottle fed — which show evidence of this. There are a number of examples of this in other places throughout the comments here. I’ve personally seen many “adult” mammals of various species consume milk of cows and goats (quite happily I might add) when given the opportunity. The milk and colostrum from other species has also been known to save the lives of animals who have not been able to nurse from their own mothers for whatever reason.

      I have no idea how that myth got into circulation, but it seems to be a popularly held misconception.

      Zoe wrote on February 4th, 2010
      • Hi Zoe,

        I was too absolute in my last comment. You are quite right, there are many examples of other mammals drinking another species’ milk after (or during) weaning and examples of mammals drinking their own species’ milk after weaning, but all of these examples (save a handful) are in regard to domesticated, farmed or human-reared animals, i.e. there’s a human influence.

        In nature, in the wild, the examples of other mammals drinking another species’ milk after (or during) weaning are few and far between. Yes, there’s that story of a wolf whose cubs were still born and who then weaned a baby dear which had lost its mother, but barring such extraordinary circumstances, mammals that in the wild do not drink milk after they’ve been weaned and certainly not milk from another species. Again, that’s not to say that they can’t or wouldn’t in extreme cases where survival depended upon it, but it is not a commonly occuring natural phenomenon.

        Ed

        Edward wrote on February 4th, 2010
  31. Just because BABIES thrive on milk – MOTHER’s milk not cow’s milk, doesn’t mean milk is meant for human consumption. If the whole rationale for the primal diet and lifestyle is, What would a caveman eat, what would Grok do? Then dairy is absolutely, definitively OUT. There is no gray area.

    I think all the peeps who have TRULY embraced the primal lifestyle, but think milk should be “allowed” deep down don’t WANT milk to be out, because they like cheese, and butter, etc. But that doesn’t mean it’s meant for human consumption.

    This is the one area I flat out disagree with Mark on. (which I guess is good, at least now I know I’m not in a cult!) Grok absolutely would NOT have consumed dairy. I’m not saying I’ll never again have butter or cheese. But it’s in my 20% on the 80/20 rule, definitely not the 80. It’s not something I choose to LIVE off of like fruits, veggies, meat, seeds and nuts.

    Fixed gear wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • “What would a caveman eat, what would Grok do?”

      That is not the question that the Primal Blueprint asks. PB: what can we eat that maximizes gene expression?

      Now, we can best understand the factors that maximize gene expression through studying “Grok” and our ancestors. But do not confuse the two.

      Am I saying that dairy is great? No, but just because it is relatively young in our diet does not automatically disqualify it. It does have some beneficial aspects to it, such as being high in fat and vitamins/minerals (the natural kind, of course). On the other hand, as many people on here have said, it can cause irritations on an individual basis. YMMV.

      Chad wrote on March 6th, 2010
  32. Fixed Gear,

    I’m not sure how you’re defining “babies” here… my 3.5yo is still breast feeding and my now 8yo nursed until she self-weaned at the age of 4yo. It’s not unusual in parts of the world for children to nurse at their mother’s breast until they’re past the age of 5yo. It’s an issue we have here in the United States that’s related to our issue with women’s breasts that results in children being not nursed at all and forced to wean prematurely — but perhaps that’s another issue all together. However, studies have shown that human children do continue to derive nutritional benefits from breast milk at the age of 7yo even because the nutrient content of human breast milk changes as the child grows. Perhaps it’s even longer than that, but the studies haven’t been done yet?

    Also, if left alone, animals can and will continue to nurse from their mother’s teats beyond what we see in your typical domesticated situations. Most farmers force their animals to wean so that they either use the milk for human consumption or dry the animals off for whatever reason (e.g., lactating animals cost more to feed).

    Zoe wrote on February 4th, 2010
    • I also nursed my children as long as they wanted to. My son weaned at almost 5 years, my daughter at about 4. I let them have all the real butter they wanted to. My daughter craved it, once time we caughter her with a whole stick in her hand, munching away. She has never had a weight problem, allergies, or major health issues. She is 5’11” tall, a swimmer, and straight A student. (will compete in the Miss California pageant in July, as our area’s Outstanding Teen.) I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, and a high (good) fat diet for children.

      Betty wrote on June 15th, 2010
    • I also nursed my children as long as they wanted to. My son weaned at almost 5 years, my daughter at about 4. I let them have all the real butter they wanted to. My daughter craved it, one time we caughter her with a whole stick in her hand, munching away. She has never had a weight problem, allergies, or major health issues. She is 5’11” tall, a swimmer, and straight A student. (will compete in the Miss California pageant in July, as our area’s Outstanding Teen.) My son is 6’3″ tall, and played football and wrestled in High School. I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding, and a high (good) fat diet for children.
      What really makes me cringe is when I see parents who are limiting the (good) fat intake in their children’s diet, feeding them only non-fat milk, diet margarine, etc.

      Betty wrote on June 15th, 2010
  33. I was thinking about making my own almond milk to cut down on dairy, would anyone know how to work out the nutritional value of this? Since you do not use all of the almonds but strain them out once the milk is made.

    Thank you
    Tatiana

    Tatiana wrote on February 7th, 2010
  34. I really enjoyed your post, Mark. Thank you for your honesty. I feel the same way, sometimes I’m a little more convinced one way over the other. We didn’t drink milk for years because we couldn’t get raw, pastured dairy. Now, we can and we’ve been drinking it again.

    Most of our dairy has been fermented, kefir or different types of homemade yoghurts. I’m not a huge fan of drinking straight milk because I find it’s hard for my body to digest. Still, I tried for a very long time to heal my leaky gut, but I didn’t see significant healing until I started consuming my homemade kefir.

    Regardless, it’s an individual’s right and choice to consume raw dairy and I firmly believe in everyone’s right to make that choice.

    Tara wrote on February 8th, 2010
  35. Great post! This has been a debate for me for a while, and it’s kinda nice to know that other folks who have been living Primal for much longer than I have have the same questions I do.

    My solution was to consider myself HGH (Hunter-Gatherer-Herder). Both sides of my genetics come from peoples who domesticated sheep and goats -very- early in their history (well before any written history). However, I have horrific reactions to cow’s milk — and, surprisingly, an addiction to it as well. So I stick to small-animal milks with great success. I don’t drink any milk in its base state. All of my milk is fermented or turned into butter/cheese, and I stick to goat and sheep dairy. I only allow myself dairy one day out of three, and a lot of times, I find I don’t even want it that often… but just in case, I keep a boundary, so I don’t slip, unknowingly, into addictive patterns like I can with cow’s milk (like eating an entire block of cheese in a single day, just because I couldn’t make myself stop — even knowing it was going to make me sick!). I use coconut “milk”, almond milk and sprouted hempseed milk if I have to have something “milky” on the other days (like in cooking).

    For me, it works. I continue to move towards improved health, my MS stays in remission, and my mobility and mental clarity are rewardingly agile and crisp. For me, this works, so I suspect I’ll keep on doing it.

    Firestorm wrote on February 17th, 2010
  36. After this article I thought that I would try milk again. I tried goat’s milk and an unhomogenized organic cow’s milk. It was the best I could get in Australia because selling unpasteurized milk is illegal. Unfortunately, within a week I had scalp psoriasis that bad it was bleeding. I guess milk is just not for me :(

    I am finding coconut cream and milk has a slightly bitter taste. Is anyone else experiencing this?

    Angelina wrote on March 6th, 2010
  37. If I am trying to get really lean for summer I will skip the dairy. The rest of the year, however, I drink quite a bit of whole milk- up to a third gallon a day. I find the extra calories really help me recover from heavy lifting. My Crossfit WOD times improve as well, even if I am a bit heavier. Plus I’m a broke college student and along with eggs, milk is just about the cheapest food calorie for calorie. My dog lives on oats, eggs, and whole milk as well. She is the happiest, most lively, 16-year-old lab I’ve seen.

    Kevin Simons wrote on March 15th, 2010
  38. Mark, I really like that you put dairy in the gray zone and let it be up to people to experiment and try for themselves. The easy way would just be saying no to dairy – but I like that you don’t take the easy way out

    Nick wrote on March 18th, 2010
  39. Here’s some good info on goat’s milk: http://www.roseofsharonacres.com/raw_goat_milk_benefits

    Interesting to note: “Goat’s milk alkalinizes the digestive system. It actually contains an alkaline ash, and it does not produce acid in the intestinal system. Goat’s milk helps to increase the pH of the blood stream because it is the dairy product highest in the amino acid L-glutamine. L-glutamine is an alkalinizing amino acid, often recommended by nutritionists.”

    Lee Edwards wrote on March 30th, 2010
  40. ALMOND BREEZE?

    Mark,

    Given the additives contained in even the Natural version, what are the recommendations here on it in accordance with the principles recommended on this site?

    Or are you just better off grinding almonds and adding to water, perhaps with a good protein powder for a bit of sweetner?

    Thanks

    Roy

    Roy wrote on April 12th, 2010

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