Is there such a thing as healthy dairy? Modern diets like “The Whole 30” and “Paleo” do not include dairy on the menu, but in school, we are taught that dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter) are essential foods that promote healthy bones and teeth.
So, what’s the deal? My answer: It depends. Here’s what we need to look at to determine if a particular dairy product is healthy:
- What did the cows eat?
- How was the dairy product processed?
- Is it organic?
- Are there additives, such as rBGH (synthetic growth hormone)?
- How do YOU feel when you consume dairy?
Dairy contains good cholesterol, calcium, and other nutrients, but quality matters!
Why Quality Matters
If the cow that produced the milk you’re drinking, for example, is treated with hormones and antibiotics, these chemicals will make their way into the milk — and eventually, into your body. Similarly, when the cow is eating grains and crops that are sprayed with herbicides (i.e. the dangerous, gut-damaging glyphosate) and pesticides, these will make their way into the milk, too.
Not to mention, the dairy pasteurization process leaves your milk products with very little nutritional value. Healthy enzymes, good bacteria, and vitamins (A, C, B6, B12) are destroyed or greatly reduced. Removing the good bacteria through pasteurization can actually end up promoting pathogens.
Healthy Dairy Criteria
To make sure you’re getting “gold standard” dairy, look for products that match this criteria:
Dairy from grass-fed cows
No added antibiotics or hormones
While it may be difficult to find dairy that meet these high standards, brands like Kerrygold and Organic Valley are making it possible. I personally don’t consume dairy very often, but when I do, I get the best of the best.
Why Raw Dairy From GRASS-FED Cows Has More Health Benefits
In February of 2012, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a study that labeled raw milk as unsafe. However, it seems that raw dairy might not be as scary as we think if it comes from grass-fed cows and farmers who follow the proper raw milk standards. Don’t get me wrong. I am not telling you that you NEED to eat raw dairy. But, personally, I would choose grass-fed, raw dairy over pasteurized dairy.
Why? Grass-fed milk has natural antibiotic properties that help protect against pathogenic bacteria. It’s also worth noting that the risk of foodborne illness from other foods (i.e. factory farmed meat, poultry, and pre-cut vegetables) is much higher than raw milk. There hasn’t been a single death due to raw milk between 1988 and 2008, while the largest recorded outbreak of Salmonella in the U.S. was a result of pasteurized milk.
To learn more about why raw dairy might surprisingly be a better choice than pasteurized dairy, checkout these articles:
- Why You Shouldn’t Drink Pasteurized Milk
- Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Dangerous?
- Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk
- Why is Raw Milk Condemned?
- CDC Admits No Deaths From Raw Milk in the Last 11 Years
- 10 Things You Should Know About Raw Milk
Full Fat Vs. Low-Fat
Compared to low-fat and non-fat dairy, whole milk products are lower in lactose, which makes it easier for most people (especially those with lactose intolerance) to digest. Full fat dairy also contains a fatty acid known as butyric acid, which has been shown to support gastrointestinal health and promote healthy gut bacteria. A 2013 study suggests that butyric acid might even help reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Another reason to go for full fat dairy products: Companies that make low-fat and non-fat dairy products typically add sugar and other scary ingredients in an effort to make them taste better.
Lastly, research suggests that people who eat full fat dairy have less health risks than those who go for reduced fat dairy. Checkout these articles to learn more:
- 5 Reasons to Start Eating Full Fat Dairy, According to Science
- The Case Against Low Fat Milk is Stronger Than Ever
The Safest “Healthy Dairy” Option: Ghee
Ghee is basically butter without the milk solids, which makes it a healthy dairy option for people who struggle with digesting milk products. Like butter, ghee has fat-soluble vitamins and healthy fatty acids.
Since ghee does not contain milk solids, it has a higher smoke point than most cooking oils, such as coconut and olive oil — making it ideal for high heat cooking and baking without creating inflammatory oxidation.
Ghee can be used when cooking or baking as a substitute for any cooking oil or fat you’ve been using. I sometimes use it as a substitute for butter in your favorite dishes.
Health Benefits of Ghee
1. It contains fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamins A, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins that play an important role in healthy skin and vision.
2. It’s free of casein and lactose.
Ghee doesn’t contain lactose and casein protein, the usual culprits of dairy sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy.
Since lactose and casein are removed when making ghee, it can be a great option for people who are sensitive to dairy.
3. It supports strong bones.
Regular consumption of ghee provides adequate vitamin K, which is critical for heart and brain health, blood circulation, and strong bones.
4. It improves digestion.
Ghee is loaded with butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid responsible for maintaining optimal digestive health. Consuming ghee regularly promotes gut health by feeding your good gut bacteria, while reducing inflammation. It has even been found to help alleviate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.
Where to Find Ghee
Ghee is widely available in many grocery stores and health food stores.You can also make it yourself.
You can also purchase ghee online. I get mine on Thrive Market. Use this link to get 25% off your first Thrive order.
The Final Verdict
Focus on my healthy dairy criteria: organic, full fat, grass-fed, raw, no additives (hormones, sugar, antibiotics), and raw. If my list of criteria stresses you out, or you find that you don’t feel good when you eat dairy, skip it all together! It IS possible to get optimal nutrition on diets that do not include dairy, such as the Paleo or Bulletproof diet.