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.
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.
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 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!