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Issue 123: Extraordinary Dairy

You’ll never hear ordinary dairy technically called scary dairy, but it’s a term I think might be appropriate. Let me explain.

As a board-certified gastroenterologist, I often get questions about dairy foods and how healthy they really are. My answers can vary based on my patients’ individual needs, but one response is consistent: the kind of dairy you eat is most important. For example, on both a professional and personal level, I see significant drawbacks to the consumption of ordinary dairy, including the conventional raising and feeding practices of dairy livestock, mainstream dairy’s nutritional profile and its digestive implications.

Here’s why: ordinary conventional dairy comes from cows that are genetically manipulated, injected with hormones including bovine growth hormone (BGH) and estrogens, are often treated with excessive antibiotics, fed an unnatural diet (usually genetically-modified corn or other grains), are relegated to a confined area and sent to market after only about four or five years—although a cow’s lifespan is usually around 25 years—because they are used up from excessive milking.

But that’s not all. Then there are the processes of pasteurization and homogenization. 

Pasteurization is a heating process that destroys all bacteria (including the good ones called probiotics) and most, if not all, enzymes. Pasteurization also reduces vitamin content and destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6. Additionally, it alters the molecular structure of milk’s protein molecules—particularly the milk protein casein—possibly leading to casein intolerance, which can cause digestive disturbances and other unhealthy effects.

Homogenization uses high pressure to force whole milk through small openings in order to break up the fat into much smaller particles and to prevent cream from rising to the top. The homogenization process subjects the milk to high heat for a second time and alters the milk’s color, flavor and nutritional value. The homogenization of skim milk, for example, removes healthy, important fats and fat-soluble vitamins, and when consumed, can result in undue strain on the body, including the liver and cardiovascular system. Vitamin A, for instance, is adversely affected by homogenization as is CLA, a healthy medium-chain fatty acid.

The result of ordinary dairy is hormone- and antibiotic-laden milk lower in important nutrients like vitamin C, B vitamins and vitamin A as well as probiotics and enzymes, including the enzyme lactase. Lactase is significant, of course, because it helps to digest lactose, which many people can’t tolerate and can lead to digestive distress. You can see, then, why I don’t recommend consuming ordinary conventional dairy that’s been pasteurized or homogenized.

I think the most extraordinary dairy is grassfed, raw dairy from the best and healthiest dairy cattle possible. If raw milk isn’t available, then organic, pasteurized, non-homogenized, full-fat, cultured dairy from cows, sheep and goats is the way to go.

The reasons I recommend cultured or fermented dairy are numerous. First off, fermentation naturally preserves dairy by increasing its beneficial organisms and lactic acid levels and is a great source of probiotics and enzymes—both of which are essential to gut health and overall health. Likewise, fermentation increases the probiotic and enzyme content of raw milk and restores probiotics and enzymes that are lost in pasteurization, including enzymes that help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. Speaking of enzymes… fermentation increases the enzyme lactase that helps in digesting lactose—making fermented dairy better tolerated.

Fermented dairy is also rich in B vitamins and vitamin C because of the live bacteria or probiotcs. Additionally, the fermentation process positively changes casein by breaking it down for better digestibility and tolerability. An added bonus is that fermented dairy tastes delicious and there are a variety of cultured products to choose from including kefir, butter, soft cheeses, cottage cheese, hard cheeses and my personal favorite, yogurt—especially Greek yogurt. I usually make my own yogurt because Greek yogurt made from scratch has up to double the amount of protein (and low carbs) than regular plain yogurt, is easy on the digestive tract, contains less lactose, is low in sodium and can be used in a myriad of ways—topped with fruit, for dips and as a replacement for sour cream. 

The truth is that yogurt and other fermented dairy foods give you a healthy boost and a taste of high culture, so be sure to add fermented dairy foods to your diet. You don’t want to miss out on this deliciously healthy slice of dairy culture.  


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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