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Why I Eat Dairy

May 7, 2014

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In light of a recent study proving the benefits of saturated fats, which appear prominently in butter, I want to take a moment to discuss one of the most highly debated topics in the nutrition world: Dairy.

Some say that humans simply aren’t meant to consume milk past the stage of infancy. They cite the fact that humans are the only species that continuously drink dairy milk throughout their lives. This side of the debate encourages the consumption of milk alternatives like almond or soy, and leaving the cow milk to the ones who should really be drinking it: calves.

I tend to fall closer to the opposite end of the spectrum. While I wouldn’t call myself an avid milk drinker, I believe that (assuming you’re not lactose-intolerant) dairy can be a valuable source of nutrition if consumed correctly.

Milk: The Whole Story

Sadly, the case against dairy is heavily fueled by the 1980’s low-fat diet craze. We’re finally starting to come around to adding healthy fats back into our diet (avocado toast, anyone?) but the mindset hasn’t quite switched when it comes to dairy.

At dinner with a friend some time ago, my own negative associations with dairy were brought to the surface.  She ordered a particularly spicy dish, andafter eating about half of it, she desperately chugged a tall glass of milk, pausing only to say: “Thank goodness it’s whole milk!” As a recovering serial dieter at the time, I couldn’t help but cringe at the idea of drinking a glass of whole milk. Now that the diet phase is (thankfully) far behind me, I’m whole-y committed to whole milk.

To make skim, 1%, and 2%, the milk is highly processed to remove almost all of the cream from the milk. In this process, natural occurring vitamins are removed with the cream, only for the milk to be fortified again with vitamin D after the cream is removed. Whole milk, on the other hand, retains its original vitamins, and is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B12, and small amounts of vitamins E and C. All of these vitamins work to keep your skin healthy and glowing, organs functioning properly, red blood cells multiplying, and bones strong. Just like you eat kale or apples in their whole state to reap all of the nutritional benefits, you should do the same with milk and other dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and butter.

The Benefits of Probiotics

Because they both promote digestive health, yogurt and kefir have become staples in my diet. Yogurt, a cultured milk product, is made by adding live, active cultures to milk. These cultures are very beneficial in keeping the level of healthy bacteria high and the bad bacteria count low in your gut. Some yogurt, Greek especially, also has high levels of protein, making it a great addition to vegetarian diets.

Kefir is similar to yogurt, but it is fermented. It’s made from milk, and can taste slightly sour (and sometimes even carbonated!) due to the fermentation activity of the bacteria used to culture the milk. Kefir is packed with more probiotics than any other food available. If you are having digestive trouble, and don’t want to start taking daily probiotics, experiment with adding a small glass of kefir to your daily diet to see if your digestion improves.

Choose Your Cow Wisely

Reading dairy labels is just as important as reading the labels on meat or packaged products. If you do decide to eat dairy, here are a few things to look for on the label:

rBST Free: The cow was not given any artificial growth hormones.

Antibiotic Free: Cows were only treated with antibiotics if they became sick, at which point their milk is not consumed.

Grass-fed: The cow was fed a primarily grass-based diet instead of corn or grains.

Pasture- or Free-stall-Raised: Cows have access to pasture and have a safe, dry place to take cover with enough space to roam.

Organic:  The cows are fed organically-grown, all-natural feed.

As always, I truly believe that to feel your best and to live your best life, you need to listen to your body and eat what makes you feel great. If dairy makes you sluggish and tired, and especially if it makes you sick, then it probably shouldn’t be a part of your diet. On the other hand, if dairy makes you feel great, then by all means have a daily glass of milk!

How do you feel about dairy? I know that we’ve barely scratched the surface of this hot topic so if you have anything to add we would love to hear from you in the comment section below!