Should You Include Dairy?

Dairy is a highly nutritious (and delicious) food source, and humans have consumed animal milk for millennia. This does not immediately imply it is good for YOU to eat though!

Is Dairy A Whole Food?

Whole foods generally refer to foods that are in their natural and unprocessed state, or minimally processed. Most dairy products undergo some processing steps including pasteurization, homogenization, and sometimes additional processing to produce various dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and butter.

Depending on what type of dairy you are choosing, the amount of processing will differ: plain yogurt or aged cheeses with minimal additives can be considered less processed compared to flavored yogurts or processed cheeses. The level of processing also has an impact on the nutrient content and overall healthfulness of the product.

Health Benefits Of Dairy

Dairy is perfectly formulated to promote growth. Mother’s milk is packed with nutrients, saturated fats, beneficial bacteria, essential fatty acids, proteins and carbohydrates. The role of milk is to nourish and grow mammals, making dairy insulin promoting. In this sense, someone trying to gain weight and NOT having any intolerance issues could benefit from dairy on a weight gain program.

Dairy, when raw, organic, and coming from grass-fed, antibiotic-free cows and other ruminants, is also rich in beneficial nutrients.

  • Raw dairy is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
  • It is also a rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to help fight inflammation and aid in fat loss.
  • When fermented (in yogurt and kefir), it contains high doses of gut-friendly probiotics.
  • The high levels of vitamin K2 in dairy (specifically full-fat cheese) have been associated with an all-around reduced risk of cancer.

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Dairy has also been shown to:

  • Be effective at reducing body fat while maintaining lean mass.
  • Reducing markers of inflammation.
  • Reduce blood pressure.

There is no evidence that the saturated fat in dairy foods increases the risk for heart disease. Some dairy foods have a neutral effect; others actually reduce the risk. Dairy foods do not increase cholesterol levels and fermented dairy seems to lower them.

Is Dairy Right For You?

Cow dairy in particular, dairy has been closely linked to digestive and inflammatory issues for many people including sinus problems, joint pain, acne, IBS, bloating and gas. You focus on eating a diet filled with whole, real food, be it Paleo, Vegan, Keto or something in-between to maintain health, to lose weight or heal a health condition like digestive issues, autoimmune, inflammation, or controlling blood sugar. Adding dairy to your diet typically does not help you achieve any of those goals!

Whilst dairy (especially in the full-fat, fermented, or raw forms) may be good for a very healthy individual, it’s generally not great for most people with existing health or weight loss issues.

Concerns With Dairy


Casein is one of the proteins found in dairy that, once metabolized, produces a chemical that disrupts digestion, which can contribute to achy joints and even leaky gut syndrome in some, among other unpleasantries. Most commercial milk comes from Holstein cows whose casein (A1 beta casein) seems to be the most problematic.

Many older breeds of cows do not have the same type of casein. Jersey and Guernsey cows produce a casein called A2 beta casein. The A1 version found in Holstein’s milk is a mutated version, which is why it can cause problems. 

Sourcing milk from Jersey, Asian or African cows may help reduce the issues with casein. Alternatively, you can also try milk from other animals including sheep, goat and camels – the structure of their casein proteins also differs from A1 Casein.


Lactose is a large sugar molecule found in dairy products. Many believe that most of the world is lactose intolerant and do not possess the enzyme to effectively break down this sugar.

Lactose also tends to raise blood sugar levels higher expected given that milk has a low glycemic index (GI). This could pose a further problem for you if you have blood sugar issues.

If lactose is an issue, fermented or cultured milk and yogurt might provide a solution. During fermentation lactose is broken down into a more digestible format called lactic acid.

Fermented dairy tastes much better than it sounds! You can ferment your own milk in about 24 hours with kefir grains, which eat the lactose for you.


Commercial milk is heavily pasteurized (and thus processed). Pasteurization kills nearly all of the milk's healthy properties, including the enzymes needed to digest it.

Raw milk contains all the vitamins, enzymes and lactobacillus acidophilus our bodies need for healthy digestion. If the raw milk comes from an older breed of cow (not a Holstein), this may alleviate digestion issues.


Inflammation is caused by an immune reaction. Commercial milk is full of antibiotics, among other additives that are not naturally present in healthy, grass-fed cows and pasteurization makes matters worse.

One of the biggest concerns with commercial dairy is the presence of artificial hormones. Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST or rBGH) is used to increase milk production. This has been shown to increase udder infections and reproductive problems in dairy cows. This is why cows are injected with antibiotics.

Both the rBGH and antibiotics found in conventional dairy products and have been implicated as carcinogenic and tumor-promoting.

Drinking unpasteurized milk from an older breed of grass-fed cow can alleviate these concerns. You can find your local chapter of the Weston A. Price foundation, who will help you find a source of raw milk (as long as it’s not illegal where you live).

Further Concerns

Conventionally raised dairy cows are generally fed a diet of genetically modified corn and soy whilst confined in a very tight environment. This is sadly similar to conventionally raised beef. The milk is also skimmed to reduce the healthy saturated fat and pasteurized rendering some enzymes and beneficial bacteria ineffective.

Grain-fed cows produce milk much higher in omega-6 fatty acids and lower in omega-3 fatty acids, which, in the long-term, will trigger inflammation and may reduce the vibrant health you are working so hard to achieve.

Grass-fed, pasture-raised and organic cows will produce a milk of a much higher quality. These cows naturally produce milk rich in beneficial fatty acids like omega-3, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and α-linolenic acid. In addition to the healthy fats, the milk is high in vitamin K2. Removing these acids takes dairy from a whole food to a processed food. 

Note: Vitamin K2 and CLA are mostly in the fat and you are able to benefit by consuming butter or ghee with significantly less risk than what is associated with milk’s lactose and casein.

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The Bottom Line

Eating should make you feel good, physically and emotionally. Try to avoid fooling yourself into thinking you tolerate dairy without doing the elimination test first simply because you are struggling to give up cheese!

Start by eliminating all types of dairy to rule out any food sensitivities and create a baseline for experimentation. It may then be possible to introduce some high-quality dairy, starting with perhaps ghee, kefir, or camel milk, which are easier to digest. If these options work well for you, you could choose to move on to raw hard cheeses and on up to raw milk. 

If you do not feel your best when consuming dairy products, you would probably do better avoiding them. However, if the idea of giving up dairy is preventing you from thriving or stocking with your real food eating plan, do your due diligence and find a source of quality raw dairy from a grass-fed cow. It might be the thing that saves you falling off the Paleo wagon.

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