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Have you been told to avoid dairy?

Written by

Sabrina Freudenmann BHSc

We’ve all heard it at some point in our lives, “You should cut out dairy.” The question is why?
Why do most functional medicine practitioners recommend a “no” dairy diet?

Isn’t dairy good for you?

I’m guessing you remember the days where the headlines plastered everywhere saying that adults should drink at least 3 cups of milk daily to get enough calcium (+ other nutrients) to protect our bones and overall health? It’s an approved nutritional guide after all…

Let’s dive deeper into this subject and discover why dairy consumption is often not recommended by functional practitioners.

What does dairy contain that could be harmful for your health?

  1. Lactose (milk sugar)
  2. Milk proteins: Casein, Whey and Lactalbumin
  3. Dozens of reproductive hormones, antibiotics, and growth factors such as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor)
  4. Pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins are other examples of contaminants found in milk.
  5. Milk contains protease inhibitors that may contribute to the development of a leaky gut.
  6. Calcium

1. How is lactose digested?

Lactose digestion occurs in the small intestine with the help of the enzyme known as lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose into the monosaccharide’s galactose and glucose, which makes them available for absorption.

Research has shown that about two-thirds of the world’s population does not produce enough lactase to sufficiently digest lactose. Leading to lactose intolerance.

Lactose intolerance results in the expression of physical symptoms such as abdominal bloating and cramps, diarrhea and gas.

2. Sensitivities and allergic reactions to the milk proteins: Casein and Whey

First of all, I would like to explain the difference between sensitivities and a real allergy. There are currently three main explanations for the negative reactions that occur in the body from specific foods. These reactions are classified as IgE, non-IgE, or IgG-mediated. The “Ig” in these abbreviations stand for “Immunoglobulin”. Immunoglobulins are important regulatory proteins in the immune system that regulate inflammatory reactions to strategically focus the immune system on specific targets such as viruses and foreign bacteria.

In a classic allergic reaction, which can be occur by eating certain foods such as peanuts, fish etc. we are looking at an IgE- mediated process. These reactions can be life-threatening and happen immediately after eating allergenic foods.

Non IgE reactions are typically isolated to the gut and result in gas/bloating, possible diarrhoea, which overtime results in damage to the GI- tract.

Finally, the primary culprit in food sensitivity developments is a non- IgG- mediated reaction. These reactions can cause systemic problems in the body over time leading to low grade inflammation. The longer you are consuming the food the more you begin experiencing symptoms.

Typical symptoms of food sensitivities are:

  • Moodiness
  • Brain Fog
  • Food Cravings
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Heart Burn
  • Joint Pain
  • Gas/Bloating
  • Acne or Eczema
  • Leaky gut
  • Autoimmunity


Food sensitivity or allergy against casein and whey lead to inflammation which can cause serious conditions in the long run. Leaky gut, Inflammatory Bowel disease, autoimmune conditions, arthritis….

Insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes is linked to consumption of dairy products (milk protein) in infancy. A 2001 Finnish study of nearly 3,000 infants with genetically increased risk for developing diabetes showed that early introduction of cow’s milk increased susceptibility to type 1 diabetes.

3. IGF-1 or insulin-like growth factor

The consumption of milk increases the hormone IGF-1 or insulin- like growth factor, which stimulates cell cancer growth. Studies in diverse populations have shown a strong and consistent link between IGF-1 in the blood and prostate cancer risk.

A study of 1,893 women diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer revealed that eating more high-fat dairy products was linked to higher mortality (death) rates.

The consumption of dairy products may also contribute development of ovarian cancer. The relationship between dairy products and ovarian cancer may be due to the breakdown of the milk sugar (lactose) into galactose, a sugar which may be toxic to ovarian cells.

4. Pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins

Pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxins are other examples of contaminants found in milk. Dairy products contribute to one-fourth to one-half of the dietary intake of total dioxins. All these toxins tend to build up in the body over time. Eventually, this can harm the immune, reproductive, and nervous systems. Moreover, PCBs and dioxins have been linked to cancer.

5. Calcium in dairy products

A prospective cohort study did a 22-year follow-up with more than 96,000 people found that the more milk men consume as teenagers, the more bone fractures they experience as adults.

Another large study published in The British Medical Journal on dairy and bone health showed that milk did not prove to reduce the risk of fractures. To avoid osteoporosis, we need not only calcium but also Vitamin D and Vitamin K. Without enough vitamin D, only 10-15% of the calcium you consume is absorbed and milk does not naturally contain Vitamin D.

Certain green vegetables such as kale and broccoli are especially beneficial for bones because they contain both calcium and vitamin K.

How do I found out if I have a lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivity?

1. Lactose intolerance test
(hydrogen breath test)

This is the test more commonly used to detect and diagnose lactose intolerance. This test measures hydrogen gas in breath samples taken before and after consuming a lactose drink. With lactose intolerance, undigested lactose reaches the large intestine and is broken down by bacteria, producing excess amounts of hydrogen gas. The hydrogen gas enters the circulation and is eventually exhaled by the lungs and can be measured in the breath.

2. IgG food panel testing

This test, offered by various companies, reports IgG levels to multiple foods (usually 90 to 100 foods with a single panel test) Unfortunately this test is not always reliable.

3.Elimination Diet

An elimination removes all common reactive foods from the diet for a period of time. After a minimum of 10 days however these foods are reintroduced one at a time to identify which ones you are specifically reactive to. If you have a sensitivity to a food, your body will produce a stress response to it when it’s consumed, that results in physical, emotional and/ or mental symptoms.


What can I do if I am intolerant or sensitive/allergic to dairy?

Remove the culprit. Milk and dairy products are not necessary for a healthy diet. Unfortunately, if you have troubles with dairy then even small amounts can trigger an inflammatory response.

Of all the dairy products, what’s the lesser evil?

And better yet, ghee.

Let me explain why.

Butter has some benefits:

  • Essential elements (such as copper, iodine, manganese and zinc…)
  • Fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin A, D, K2)
  • Healthy fats (We rely on fat for brain development and energy – which butter does indeed supply. Butter contains arachidonic (AA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids. The role of DHA and AA in neurogenesis and brain development throughout the life cycle is fundamental. In addition, butter provides short and medium chain fatty acids as well as other omega fats which support your immune system)

Butter also has some problems:

  • Casein is found in butter – which as discussed above can be problematic.
  • Grain-fed conventional butter (these cows are given hormones and antibiotics which ends up in “butter” – which I wouldn’t recommend)
  • Butter and sugar – increase inflammation

If you’re going to consume butter – choose only the best organic grass-fed butter. You want cows grazing on sunny green pastures. This butter has higher fat-soluble vitamins, better healthy fat balance.

But what’s even better than butter… that’s ghee!

Grass fed ghee

First of all, the beta-casein is removed, leaving just the grass-fed clarified butter fat that contains fat-soluble vitamins. For the majority of those eating a Western diet, vitamins A, D, and K2 are all at insufficient levels and ghee just happens to be one of the best ways to incorporate them into your diet. Because it’s a healthy fat source derived from animals, this also means that is has a high smoking point. Most conventionally used oils have low oxidation levels and can form things like free radicals when heated that lead to disease. Ghee however is a great option to use when cooking and baking.

Healthy alternatives to dairy milk:

Coconut milk

Coconut is rich in healthy fats. It is also a fantastic source of magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. It is an excellent source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that may help to balance your blood sugar levels, stabilize your microbiome, lower your appetite, and help you lose weight. Coconut milk also offers anti-inflammatory and antibiotic benefits.

Almond milk

Almond milk has a very creamy texture and is rich in magnesium, riboflavin, thiamin, riboflavin and plant phytosterols. This may help to balance your blood sugar levels, lower bad cholesterol, reduce triglycerides, and protect your heart.

Cashew milk

If you like almond milk, you’ll probably enjoy Cashew milk. Cashew milk is also a great source of healthy fats, plant phytosterols, protein, magnesium, potassium, and iron. It may lower inflammation and boost your immune system.


Milk and dairy products are not necessary in your diet and can even be harmful to health. It’s best to consume a healthful diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and lentils and replace cow’s milk with non-dairy milks like almond, coconut, or cashew milk and ultimately swap butter with ghee. These nutrient-dense foods can help you meet your nutrient requirements with ease—and without the health risks associated with dairy products.

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  • 2 Responses

    1. The problem I have with this theory is that you are assuming that people are eating pesticide-laden commercial dairy products. I would like to see a study that compares the health of people who eat only organic grass fed dairy, to those who eat a vegan diet.

      Part of my curiosity is that I ate a very healthy vegan diet for 30 years (whole grains, soaked legumes, lots of organic high-calcium greens – the whole bit). I switched back to (healthy) meat & organic dairy because all my teeth were falling out, and my joints were a painful wreck! I am infinitely healthier now: more physically stable, much better digestion, and have way more stamina than I did when I was vegan. Lots more energy, too.

      So, I will need a lot more convincing to go back to my old, painful, tired ways…

      Anyway, thanks for the info.

      1. Hi there Stacye,

        I think we have a little confusion on the topic. A dairy free diet is NOT a vegan diet. If you are dairy free you can still eat all kind of meats. We avoid “dairy” opting for small amounts of organic butter but mostly ghee – but we consume organic meats in addition to our organic veggies, fruits etc..
        You are not the only person who suffers under a vegan diet. Meat is a lot easier to digest than legumes as well as it contains all amino acids, Vitamin B12 and iron. Also a vegan diet tends to be high in carbohydrates and therefore can cause inflammation in the body. This does not mean that all individuals on a vegan diet suffer, we believe an individual assessment is important as no “one size’ fits all. Instead, it’s about listening to your body, understanding what your body needs to thrive.

        So again being dairy free doesn’t mean to be vegan and that doesn’t mean all your pains come back. It can also be that you are not dairy sensitive and therefore don’t need to avoid it. Hope this clarified your concerns.

        Deborah & Sabrina

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