Many food choices we make these days are no longer just about food. It’s no longer just about what you’re growing in your garden, or what the neighborhood farmer has in season. When it comes to dairy, the choice is more complicated than ever. Do you know what you’re choosing?
When you buy something at the grocery store, you’re voting. You’re making an ethical statement, reinforcing beneficial or self-sabotaging patterns, and a host of other things we’re rarely conscious of. It’s time to shine a light on what has become an unconscious choice for many of us.
There’s a huge debate around dairy. Everyone seems to have an opinion, which is great because it’s bringing all sides of the topic into the spotlight. But for those of you who are still unclear about what kind of dairy is best for you, or whether you want to consume it at all, the contrasting viewpoints may be quite confusing.
Some say that low or non-fat dairy is healthy for the body and should be consumed multiple times per day, while others tout raw, full-fat dairy as the healthiest option. Others argue that no dairy is best, and that humans aren’t meant to consume dairy at all.
With all the conflicting information out there and a staggering number of choices that can make your head explode, how are you supposed to know what kind of dairy to buy, if any?
To complicate the matter further, why not just super-size your confusion by adding in the animal factor—what animal are you getting your dairy from? Cow cheddar, goat cheese, sheep feta—there are many ways to cut the cheese wheel.
Within each type of animal dairy, there are also different cultures of dairy that affect your body differently due to their enzymes, fat content, and molecule size. Milk will interact with your body in a different way than butter, soft cheese, hard cheese, yogurt and kefir.
(brain explodes due to option overload)
Some people do fine with cow yogurt (the type that has live helpful cultures called probiotics, not the sugar-filled stuff), but have major issues with cow’s milk. Some people can’t digest cow dairy at all, but enjoy goat dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) without any problems.
What’s that? Everyone’s different?
Spot on. Your body and what works for it is unique. When it comes to dairy, there is only one right answer—the one you feel good with.
Some factors to consider when deciding if dairy is right for you:
Is it from a local dairy farmer or is it factory farmed? Is it grass-fed or feed-fed? Animal feed is normally grains or soy, but cows normally eat grass. How far did it travel to get to you (resources used)? What needs to happen to ensure it didn’t spoil before getting to the store, in your shopping basket, and finally into your home?
Were the animals fed Genetically Modified (GM) feed? Was the grass or feed that they consumed grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers? Were antibiotics used to treat sick milk-producing animals? What processing, if any, was involved and what chemicals were used in that process?
These kinds of questions can help you determine what level of potential (or very real) toxins you want to intentionally bring into your life. After all, once you have the knowledge, it becomes a conscious choice.
Is it pasteurized or raw? There are pros and cons to both. The process of pasteurization kills pathogens and bacteria that may be harmful to humans (bonus, as no one likes food poisoning). Some studies have shown that pasteurization destroys essential enzymes, vitamins, and minerals and kills potentially beneficial bacteria. Knowing the facts will help you make an informed decision about what you want to put in your body and why.
Can your body process dairy without a problem, or does it have an intolerance or allergy to it? Blood type and ancestry can play a large role here. If you suffer from gas, bloating, cramps, acne, diarrhea, or any other noticeable symptoms after you consume dairy, it’s worthwhile taking a closer look at your choice in food. Your body loves you unconditionally, and deserves to be loved back by you and your food choices.
Type of culture
All forms of dairy have varying degrees of live-cultures or fermentation, depending largely on pasteurization. Many people find that the more cultured or fermented the dairy is, the easier it is for the body to digest it. Most non-pasteurized fermented/cultured dairy products have live beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes that help break the dairy molecules down, making for better digestibility. Yogurt and kefir are great examples.
How are the animals treated? Do they live in inhumane conditions? Are their bodies pumping with adrenaline, fear and stress hormones? Just as a human mother’s hormones affect her breast milk, the same goes for animals. Food for thought.
The key is to listen to the consensus between your body and mind.
If your body says “no thanks!” but your mind is still hooked on it, try other forms of dairy that are easier to digest (i.e. goat dairy, or fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir) or reduce the amount of dairy you eat overall. See if that works.
If your body says “fine with me” and your mind says “can’t handle it ethically,” see if you can find other things that make your body feel good while enabling you to feel good about your food choices.
Many people choose to consume nut “milk” or grain “milk” as an alternative to dairy milk. These milk substitutes can be made from rice, oats, almonds, hazelnuts, soy and even quinoa. Note: these milk alternatives are often packed full of sugar and preservatives, so read your labels closely. Choose unsweetened and organic whenever possible or make your own!
In the end, the choice is yours. With so many options out there, you can experiment to see what works best for your unique body. Make the choice you can be happy with on all levels.