THINK YOU CAN'T DRINK MILK? THINK YOU CAN? CLEARING UP THE CASEIN CONFUSION

Milk is one of the most confusing foods out there. Some people say it’s unnatural to consume it, and that we shouldn’t consume it past infancy (breastmilk). Other people tout it as the best source of calcium. Many people have some sort of reaction to it, but don’t know if it’s from the lactose or is an allergy. Others think they are fine consuming milk, when in reality it is impacting their health.

It is complicated to figure this all out. So how do you know if you should be enjoying cheeses, yogurt, milk and ice cream?

DIFFERENT TYPES OF DAIRY

Before figuring out whether or not you should be consuming milk, and all those tasty things made from it, it’s worth taking a minute to understand a bit about it.

Brown Jersey cows produce A2 casein rich milk. A well tolerated milk for most people.

Brown Jersey cows produce A2 casein rich milk. A well tolerated milk for most people.

The milk that is most commonly consumed is cow’s milk. In North America, it typically comes from Holstein cows. These cows produce high volumes of milk, so are ideal for dairy farmers. The milk that comes from these cows is high in A1 casein. Casein is the protein found in milk, and it’s this protein that is often problematic for people with chronic health conditions. Lactose is the other substance in milk that can be problematic.

Some people who don’t tolerate cow’s milk do much better with goat, sheep, or buffalo milk. Camel milk is another option, which I sometimes get inquiries about, but so far I have not seen any local sources of camel’s milk. You can however, order it from Desert Farms and it’s pasture raised. Goat, sheep and buffalo milk sources are available locally, along with cheeses and yogurts made from them. All of these animals produce milk that is higher in A2 casein. Keep reading to find out some local sources of A2 casein milk!!!

It turns out that the type of casein in milk really matters. Most people who are having an allergic reaction or food sensitivity are reacting to A1 casein. Sometimes people with an allergy to cow’s milk are able to consume sources of A2 milk with no reaction (1), so this can be worth exploring.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I REACT TO MILK

If you have a milk allergy, you probably already know. If you are unsure, then ask your doctor for a referral for allergy testing. With an allergy, symptoms usually appear from 15 minutes to 1 hour after consumption. In its most extreme form, a dairy allergy can be anaphylactic, and individuals with this condition will usually carry an EpiPen for emergency situations. If you have a young child who continually has a runny nose, dark circles under their eyes, or red cheeks or ears, then a dairy allergy (or some other food) might be the culprit. Common symptoms of milk allergy include:
- swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or face
- nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, coughing or itchy eyes
- skin reactions such as itchy skin, rashes or hives

If you have lactose intolerance, you may have figured it out on your own, but you can ask your family doctor to do a Lactose Tolerance test. With lactose intolerance you will typically have digestive symptoms that can include:
- bloating, abdominal pain, or flatulence
- diarrhea or painful poops

If you have a food sensitivity you may not even know it. It’s with food sensitivities that things get confusing, because you can have a sensitivity without any digestive symptoms, and with very broad ranging and obscure symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms can include:
- the same digestive symptoms as for lactose intolerance (but you might not have any of these)
- fatigue and/or headache
- brain fog
- muscle aches or joint pain that aren’t explained by exercise or injury
- anxiety or depression
- asthma, eczema… (the list goes on and on)

Dairy is one of the most common foods for people to have a food sensitivity to.

THE GOOD NEWS

If you know you have an allergy to cow’s milk, you may be able to consume other forms of milk. Ask your doctor to do testing for goat, sheep and buffalo milk allergies.

Water Buffalo yogurt is rich and creamy! YUM!

Water Buffalo yogurt is rich and creamy! YUM!

There is less lactose in buffalo, sheep, and especially in goat milk, compared to cow’s milk, so you may be able to consume these. If you decide to try these alternatives, then start with goat milk, and be mindful and listen to your own body. Yogurts and some cheeses will have reduced levels of lactose, since the lactose gets broken down in the making of both of these products. This reduction in lactose is why many people with a lactose intolerance can eat yogurt and some cheeses, but not milk or ice cream.

If you are experiencing unexplained symptoms then it is worth exploring a food sensitivity to milk. You can do this by taking all dairy out of your diet for 3-6 weeks, and then reintroducing it to see if it triggers any symptoms, or you can get a food sensitivity test done through a naturopathic doctor. If you find you have a sensitivity, then it is important to remove dairy, while you address the underlying factors of dysbiosis and leaky gut. Often dairy can be reintroduced after these factors have been addressed.

The fat content of Water Buffalo milk is double that of A1 casein Holstein cows. Cow’s milk has 3.25% fat.

The fat content of Water Buffalo milk is double that of A1 casein Holstein cows. Cow’s milk has 3.25% fat.

THE BEST NEWS!

There are a lot of A2 casein options, which most people tolerate well. You can walk into most grocery stores and find goat milk. Health food stores will also carry yogurt, kefir and cheeses made from goat milk. In Alberta we have a growing variety, but one of my favourite local goat cheese producers is Dancing Goats Farm. Sheep milk options are growing too, so keep your eyes peeled for those as well. Remember, these sources of milk are high in A2 casein, which tends to be less problematic for people. More recently buffalo and even A2 casein cow’s milk have arrived on the market. If you don’t like the flavour of goat or sheep milk, then this is exciting news! Rock Ridge Dairy raises pastured Jersey cows in Alberta, which produce milk high in A2 casein, and this milk also has a higher protein and calcium content. While these cows don’t produce as much milk, there are clear benefits from a health perspective. Another alternative available from BC is Water Buffalo yogurt from McClintock’s Farm. Buffalo milk has a much higher fat content (check out the label in the photo) than cow milk, making it a good choice for rich, creamy yogurt and cheeses.

SHOULD I CONSUME MILK?

If you have an allergy, then consider getting tested for some of these other milks. A2 casein milks are sometimes easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance, so you might want to give some of these a try if that is an issue for you. If you know you have a sensitivity, then these varieties might also be worth a try. If you have any chronic health issues, and just don’t know if you are reacting to milk then food sensitivity testing or avoiding all dairy for 3-6 weeks with a reintroduction (while monitoring symptoms) are your two options.

The question of whether or not you should consume milk depends on what is going on in your body, and especially in your gut. It’s possible that you might never be able to eat dairy, but it’s also possible that with some work on your gut health you might be able to consume raw milk, or yogurt/kefir/cheeses that have live, active cultures. Unpasteurized dairy is the healthiest option, but can be difficult to get. If you have traditionally consumed dairy for calcium, then there are a lot of great options for calcium such as leafy greens, or soaked nuts and seeds, so if you are on a gut-healthy diet, you will be getting those sources.

Hopefully you aren’t as confused anymore about dairy, and have some different options to explore. Enjoying a goat cheese on a grain-free pizza crust, or topping a bowl of seasonal fruit with a dollop of Water Buffalo yogurt might allow you to enjoy foods you didn’t think you’d ever be eating again.

I love dairy, so was extremely excited to find Jersey milk and cream, and Water Buffalo yogurt at health food stores. I don’t eat it often, but it’s nice to have a healthier option. What are your favourite milky treats?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

3 YEARS INTO MY GUT-HEALTH JOURNEY: MY PERSONAL STORY

It’s hard to believe I’ve been on a gut-healthy diet for 3 years now.  Starting the journey was a difficult decision to make.  I think most of you can probably relate, when I say that the difficulty is not in eating a gut-healthy diet, but the hardest part is just starting.  Change can sometimes feel overwhelming.

I had huge incentive to start though.  I did it for my youngest son, Sam.  We adopted him from China when he was 3 years old.  After receiving the diagnosis of microcephaly and global developmental delay, we spent the next few years immersed in the world of sensory integration and neurodevelopmental therapies.  I know these therapies are life changing for many individuals, but we saw no changes in our son after 3 years.  In frustration I decided it was time for me to go back to school to get a break from working with my son.  Even though I was doing it for purely selfish reason it was to be the most beneficial thing I would do for Sam (and for me).  I spent a year studying nutrition, and then went on to become certified in the GAPS diet (The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet).  By the time I had finished studying Natural Nutrition, I knew that I needed to learn more about the gut to help Sam.

Sam and I marked a date on the calendar for the end of October 2014, and I talked to him about the diet daily.  I ended up moving our calendar date ahead by a week.  Once I’ve made a decision I like to jump right in.

The changes for Sam were life altering for him and for us as a family, but what I hadn’t even considered at that time was how it would impact me.

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Here’s how things have changed for me after 3 years on a gut-healthy diet:

1.     I used to be a mouth breather at night, and often during the day as well.  When I look at my history, I realize I’ve had sinus inflammation for my entire life.  I still have some inflammation, but I breathe well through my nose all the time now.

2.     I don’t have seasonal allergies anymore.  I used to dread spring, because it meant months of itchy eyes, a drippy nose and severe fatigue.  Anti-histamines never seemed to work.  Amazingly those allergies are gone.

3.     Other allergies are disappearing.  This summer for the first time in 35+ years I have been able to pet dogs without getting hives.  It feels amazing to be able to interact with a dog.  Reactions to other animals are diminishing.

4.     I’ve had skin issues since I was a baby.  Rashes and dry skin plagued my childhood, and then I developed eczema on my hands in my early teens.  Like most people, I had tried every topical solution known to man.  NAIT treatments helped (an acupuncture desensitization) but they still weren’t addressing the cause.  I still get some eczema, but it is much better.  Dry skin is a thing of the past.  It still gets dry in our Calgary winters, but “normal” dry, not cracked, scabbing or severely itchy.

5.     Like my skin issues, I’ve had multiple chemical sensitivities for as long as I can remember.  I can remember feeling nauseated from being in a new car or from the smell of gasoline as a young child.  With each passing year I seemed to react to more and more scents, until I couldn’t be close to anyone wearing perfume, or sometimes even be close to someone wearing scented lotion or deodorant.  At its worst, I couldn’t go into a store if anyone in the store had perfume on.  I certainly couldn’t go into a conventional grocery store with its aisle full of scented laundry and household cleaners.  I used to have to hold my breath to get through the perfume section of a department store.  Sometimes exposure to scents left me vomiting and bedridden for a few days.  I still have to be careful to avoid chemicals, but I’m just so grateful that I’m not living a life of avoidance anymore.

Since most of these issues had plagued me my whole life I hadn’t even recognized them as problematic.  I had just assumed it was normal for me to breathe through my mouth, have itchy, irritated skin and react to most environmental triggers.  It seems so absurd now, but like many people I had just accepted that that was the way I was.

I still have a ways to go.  I measure my gut leakiness regularly.  I figure I have another year to go to reach optimal gut health.  I don’t plan on ever eating grains, or legumes regularly again.  Maybe my future will include small amounts of sprouted ancient grains, but I don’t miss them.  I like muffins and pancakes made with nut flours and butters better. 

Where ever you are on your journey, I hope you are seeing the changes you want.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  When I think of how long I was suffering from health problems, the last 3 years seems short.  After decades of damage, repairing it all takes time.

What has been the best thing about your journey?  Are there still symptoms you struggle with?

Happy, Healthy Journey!
Tracey