The Dairy Dilemma

Dairy CowsDisclaimer: I am not a scientist or nutritionist. I am simply fascinated by the relationship between our minds, bodies, and the foods we eat.

Before we get rolling, check out this post by Stupid.Easy.Paleo. – a teacher and self-proclaimed science nerd. If you don’t have time to read it, no problem! I’ll summarize.

The idea is that milk has a protein in it called casein, which is concentrated in the curds. The curds are used to make cheese. When casein reaches the intestines, it breaks into tiny particles called casomorphins. Stop for a minute. Look at that word. Check out the similarity to morphine. Casomorphins in fact do elicit an opioid effect on your brain. The reasoning, some say, is that it’s beneficial to create this amazing, feel-good connection between a mother and her baby at the time of birth and one way to do this is through the milk. Makes total sense to me.

What it boils down to is this: Cheese, my friends, is addictive. I’m not out there saying cheese is a drug like other drugs, but what I am saying is heck yeah! I knew it all along! Because I love cheese to distraction.

That brings us to my dilemma. One of the reasons I did a Whole 30 was to figure out which foods fuel my body optimally and which foods cause problems. I think when it’s all said and done, there are going to be some obvious winners and losers. But I also think that there will be some foods that are negotiable. When I completed my first Whole 30 last year, I didn’t do a very scientific reintroduction phase. In fact, on Day 31 I went to a wine and cheese tasting event with a dear friend. So…that little headache…was it the wine? Or the cheese? I can’t really say. I don’t THINK I have an adverse reaction to dairy, but this time around, I’d like to introduce it more carefully to find out. If you’re wondering what I plan to do on Day 31, there’s your answer. I’ll be trying dairy a few times throughout the day to see what happens.

If nothing happens, though, I still need to ask myself the question of whether or not I want dairy in my life on a regular basis. There are different schools of thought on this within the paleo/primal community. I really believe it depends on the individual and for me, I am a little sad because I think that dairy might be a problem for me, even if digestively I can handle it. I have a feeling that I might love dairy just a little too much and therefore need to avoid it a little while longer.

To give you some perspective, as a child, I would walk around carrying sticks of cheese. As a young adult, I lived in France and was introduced to an entirely new world of cheese. While others would consider something different after dinner – a yogurt, a piece of fruit – I only had eyes for cheese. Now, when friends come over, the first thing I think about is what kind of cheese would be nice to have. Clearly, my relationship with cheese has nothing to do with its nutrition and everything to do with its taste and the feelings it evokes. And that’s not horrible either; I believe food should be a source of pleasure too. What I fear, is that I completely lose the ability to make health-based decisions when dairy is involved.

That being said, I can pretty much guarantee that unless cheese sends me hurtling to the toilet to throw up, I will continue to eat amazing cheese on occasion, especially with friends.

However, I need to take a look at other sources of dairy as well. There are several yogurts, regular and Greek, that I really like, as well as a certain cottage cheese. These are helpful because of their high protein content so I could argue that they make a great post-workout snack. Three factors come to mind though: 1) dairy causes an insulin spike and I am trying to keep my blood sugar stable, 2) there are other sources of protein that don’t create any possible issues, and 3) all dairy leads to ice cream. You might not think this is true, but seriously, dairy is a gateway drug.

Okay – here is my list of dairy “questionables” and how I plan to handle them:

Cream and butter – If they come from pastured cows, which means their fat content will be richer in beneficial vitamins and minerals, then I will occasionally use them. Cream in my coffee will not be a regular thing, but I will indulge on special occasions or from time-to-time.

Yogurt and cottage cheese – I am withholding a decision until I have experimented with reintroducing these. I think that if I feel great, only eat those from pastured cows (this will automatically limit them a bit), and stay away from any added sugar, they might be something I eat from time to time.

Cheese – As stated above, cheese is important to me for more reasons than health so I will probably make a conscious decision to indulge on special occasions, but I will probably stay away from regular, every day cheese. I think it might trigger overeating for me and I don’t need that.

Milk – In general, I plan to avoid milk. I don’t miss it and it goes really well with things that I think should be gone for good, like cereal and cookies. I might have to have a seasonal latte though – but maybe just one? Ugh. You see the problem, I’m sure.

Ice cream – It should be an obvious “no” because of all the added sugar and other junk that gets put in ice cream, but it is also something I love. I don’t think I can make a case for it being meaningful or even remotely healthy so I’m trying to come to grips with that. Maybe if I commit to making my own ice cream using coconut milk, then perhaps I can do without the rest. I think this is probably best for a little while and then we’ll see.

Dairy is clearly a hot topic for me. There are so many things that I love and I can practically hear a number of you saying how giving up an entire category of food can backlash, and I get it. I really do. I don’t know that this will be the definitive way that I handle dairy, but I believe that there are some addictive qualities to dairy that aren’t a good idea for me. I believe that I am HEALTHIER WITHOUT DAIRY and that is the key reason I am evaluating what I eat. I want to be healthy – physically and mentally. In case you are wondering, I believe that I get ample calcium from all of the leafy green veggies (among others) that I eat regularly. The calcium is extremely bioavailable because it is not hampered by anti-nutrients in grains and legumes and it is put to use to strengthen my bones because I regularly lift heavy weights.

Please feel free to comment and add your thoughts! I am a work in progress and completely open to assessing and evaluating information as it comes along. I am curious to know what you all think about the potentially addictive side of cheese and what you have found works for you.


14 thoughts on “The Dairy Dilemma

  1. I love this analysis. I am considering a move to the Paleo/primal lifestyle but dairy is one of my favorite food groups. Lots to consider! I definitely intend to try the Whole30 after the holidays. Sounds like a good way to learn about yourself. I should probably start cutting back on things now so its not quite as painful…

    • Thank you! I might do another Whole 30 in January too because it really creates an opportunity for growth. Let me know if you decide to do one! And I highly recommend cutting back a bit here and there. Small changes can keep it from seeming too overwhelming. Good luck!

  2. This is a great topic, Michelle, and you’ve done well addressing the issues. I look forward to hearing how you manage to always put health and nutrition first before emotional and environmental cues to do otherwise.

    • The holiday season will be full of opportunities for me to try. It’s a tough time and I haven’t quite figured out how I will navigate everything, but I’m shooting for balance, patience, commitment, and a little bit of forgiveness!

  3. Great exploration on this topic, Michelle! You know I suffer the same way you do re: cheese, glorious cheese. I’m amazed at how I don’t miss much in the way of the dairy category when I’m trying to be paleo… except that deliciousness called cheese. I think it will be interesting to see if you stay away from most other dairy, if you will be able to notice whether certain types of cheese affect you differently. Perhaps soft vs hard may make a difference for example? Keep us posted!

  4. This post was spot on! I was making my wife’s lunch the other day (she’s not doing the whole 30, though she supports me fully). She requested that I make a container of yogurt for her breakfast. You should know that we stopped eating anything “low fat/carb/sugar” a while back…So here I am nearing the final stages of the Whole 30 holding this delicious nectar of dairy in my hands…so close to the end of my challenge that I can literally smell all of the foods that I am going to eat- I almost broke down and licked the spoon. I LOVE LOVE LOVE cheese, milk, yogurt, and ICE CREAM.

    That little experiment of making her lunch showed me that I may have to keep dairy off my list as well, for a little while longer. In fact I am thinking that i may just keep a stricter than normal paleo lifestyle because I have so many “trigger” foods. Like you, Michelle I will likely do another Whole challenge in Jan…only mine will be 21 days not 30 (Meg’s bday rolls in there) and I am not missing that celebration!

    Anyway, keep us posted on how your post-W30 goes. i am curious about your reintegration strategies. During my last reintegration, I just went whole hog on everything. Methinks that was a big mistake.

    • I completely understand what you went through with the yogurt. It’s shocking what a strong hold certain foods can have over us!

      I will definitely share how reintroduction goes – I’m a bit curious myself!

  5. Cheese. It sure is delightful. This post was so well rounded in thinking about the emotional place cheese takes you and the loss of control you feel around it. I have quite a few foods that do that to me as well and it’s got me thinking about them in this light. I love cheese, but I know it gives me zits. I know it. I also totally agree that it’s a gateway drug….at least to crackers…

  6. I’ve been contemplating what to reintroduce too and you’ve given me a lot of “food for thought” when it comes to dairy; I’ve missed adding cheese to things for sure; milk I think I could also go without…ice cream I WANT to bring back into my life;-)

  7. Wow! So much to think about! My husband and I have cut back on dairy, but my children LOVE milk, cheese, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, cheese, lol. My son has celiac disease and cutting the dairy out of his diet would probably benefit him greatly! I wonder if he would miss it…

    • I know my son would really miss dairy and it would take quite some time to make the adjustment. I missed dairy more during my first whole 30 than this time around, and as I reintroduce it, I’m not finding a huge desire to keep much of it in. There are other, more satisfying ways for me to get those nutrients. Kiddos and dairy, though…that’s a tough one!

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