Hey folks, we’re back for another round of Ask a Health Coach. This week, Erin is shedding light on the health benefits of dairy, when too much fiber is to blame, and why we should all stop labeling foods as good and bad. Keep your questions coming down in the comments or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“Kind of an odd question, but is there any science indicating whether goat’s milk is a better alternative for human consumption than cow’s milk? After a decade of primal eating, I’ve easily given up everything else (grains, sugar, etc.) but the one thing I still struggle with is milk, and I don’t have any sensitivities to it, but I wonder if there’s a better alternative.”
First of all, I definitely don’t consider this an odd question; dairy is one of the things my clients ask about most often.
Dairy soft of fits into a primal gray area. While there are tons of studies of the negative metabolic impact of sugar, industrialized seed oils, and processed foods, dairy is in a slightly different camp.1 I can see the confusion though. Many folks who follow a paleo diet eliminate it completely. And while a primal diet follows a lot of the same tenets, it’s far less restrictive – even Mark agrees that full-fat and raw cow’s milk can be a great addition to your primal eating plan.
But to answer your question about if goat’s milk is a “better” alternative to cow’s milk, the answer is…it depends on what you mean by better.
Goat’s Milk vs Cow’s Milk
Obviously, there are subtle differences between brands and whether or not there’s added oils or sugars, but in general here’s how one cup of goat’s milk stacks up against one cup of cow’s milk:
Goat’s milk: 9 grams of protein; cow’s milk: 8 grams
Goat’s milk: 10 grams of fat; cow’s milk: 9 grams
Goat’s milk: 11 grams of sugars; cow’s milk: 11 grams
Calories, if you’re into that kind of thing, are roughly the same too. So, nutritionally speaking, one isn’t much better for you than the other. The bigger question I think you should be asking yourself is: how do you feel when you consume them? You mentioned you don’t have any sensitivities to cow’s milk, but honestly, some people aren’t aware of the signals their body is giving them.
I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who tell me they feel bloated after eating cheese or that their nose runs after drinking a coffee with regular milk. Those symptoms might not align with the ones they’ve heard from their lactose-intolerant friends. You know, the sharp stabbing pains, the running to the bathroom, the other fun side effects of eating a food you don’t have the enzymes to break down.
Are These Symptoms Normal?
In my opinion, this a great opportunity to make a personal assessment of dairy’s effect on your body. If you’ve been consuming cow’s milk dairy your entire life, you might not have a clue how you feel without it. Maybe you have subtle aches and pains that you assumed were from getting older. Or five extra pounds you can’t seem to lose (this is what happens for me). Or sleepless nights you attributed to stress.
If dairy has been a regular staple, I’d encourage you to try to fully drop it for at least a month to get an accurate take on its effects on you. I definitely think it’s worth a try. Before you went primal, you probably felt fairly okay eating grains and processed foods daily too, right? You might be surprised to find out that dairy plays a similar role for you. Or… maybe it doesn’t.
I’m not here to get you to cut all food groups from your diet. I’m also not here to rob you of the joy of eating foods you love. All I’m saying is that if you’re curious if one is better than the other, only you know the answer to that. And it starts with taking cow’s milk out for a chunk of time, noticing if you feel any different, then adding it back in and noticing if anything has changed. If you end up feeling bloated and foggy, go for the milk-alternative. Energized or have no symptoms at all? You can keep drinking milk till the cows come home.
“Sorry, probably TMI, but have you ever heard of anyone suffering constipation from cassava tortillas? I can’t tell if my IBS is back, or I’ve pinpointed it to the cassava. Thanks!”
(Again, no need to apologize. Bathroom questions are so common in my client practice, I don’t bat an eyelash when they come in.)
For some, swapping grain-based staples for ones made with paleo-friendly ingredients works. And because cassava flour is made from tubers, it officially qualifies as both paleo and primal. If you’re eating this way to manage your blood sugar and hunger levels, you should know that although cassava has roughly double the carbs of a sweet potato, it’s been proven to help lower the glycemic response when added to other foods.2 And, to tee up the answer to your question, cassava flour also has four to five grams of fiber per cup.
Is Too Much Fiber to Blame?
Under normal conditions, fiber is a good thing — actually believed to “keep things moving down there, and preventing constipation. Too much fiber though, can cause bloating, gas, and yes, constipation. It’s not uncommon for folks following a whole food diet to consume upwards of 70 grams a day in the form of veggies, fruits, and tubers — which can be especially problematic if you went from consuming next to no fiber to having it at every meal.3
The easiest way to tell if your constipation is due to cassava or your struggles with IBS is to notice what happens when you change one of the variables. As a health coach, I always start with the lowest hanging fruit. When my clients tell me they have a new symptom, the first thing I ask is: what are you doing that’s new? Aside from completing a food panel test, which can be wildly inaccurate, the best system for figuring out the culprit is to be your own detective.
What happens when you drink more water? Do your symptoms get better or worse?
What happens when you stop eating cassava-based products for a few weeks?
What else are you doing that’s new? More stress? Less sleep? Less exercise?
After a few days of checking in with yourself, I think you’ll have your answer.
“I thought we were supposed to lose the beans and peanut butter in the primal eating plan? I’m new and trying to get started. Being the mother of two and in charge of feeding my extremely picky daughter and husband I need help! Can you please set me straight?”
Food rules have really done something to us haven’t they? Labeling the things we consume as good, bad, or my favorite, guilt-free. I’m so over all the ways we make our relationship with food fussier than it needs to be.
The Problem with Labeling Foods
Our beliefs, background, moral compass, and any random influencers we may or may not follow on social media play a huge role in what we perceive to be right or wrong. But foods aren’t good or bad. Sure, there are consequences to eating certain foods. For instance, if you indulge in a whipped-cream-laden pumpkin spice latte and giant muffin for your first meal of the day every day, the consequence will be something to the tune of feeling foggy, hungry, and noticing that your pants are starting to get tighter. In contrast, starting your day with a plate of scrambled eggs and veggies cooked in butter will likely result in lasting energy, a clear mind and, over time, looser clothes.
A bigger issue with food rules is that it’s not just about labeling a food as good or bad. Diet culture tells us that we should perceive ourselves as good or bad when we eat them. How many times have you said, “I feel so guilty about eating that dessert.” Or “I’m going to be good today.” Not only are those statements unproductive, they’re unhealthy. And I’m totally okay labeling it as such.
How Bad are Legumes, Really?
I can think of far worse foods for you to put on your plate than beans and peanut butter. Especially if you’ve got picky eaters in your house. If you’ve transitioned your family away from standard American diet (SAD) foods and are filling your cabinets with real whole food, I call that a win. And if you’re very worried about the lectins and phytic acid Mark talks about with legumes, take a breath. While some studies show that lectins can damage the intestinal lining of your gut, cooking deactivates the majority of them.4This study showed that navy and kidney beans had as little as 0.1% residual lectins after being cooked. And a combo of soaking and cooking can completely eliminate them.
I’m not suggesting you spend all your free time soaking beans or making your own sprouted peanut butter, which you totally can if that’s your thing. I’m just trying to get you to zoom out a little and see how inconsequential small amounts of these foods really are to optimal health.
A tip of the hat to you for making your whole family’s health a priority. You’re doing a great job. Remember to not let perfection be the enemy of good.
Got other questions for me? Ask ‘em in the comments below.
About the Author
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.