2

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Are modern dairy products really that healthy?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 14, 2011 at 11:55 PM

Butter. It seems to be something that almost all paleo/wapf/ancestral diet practitioners and proponents can agree is an almost ideal food. With an ideal fatty acid ratio, and a plethora of vital and hard-to-get nutrients like Vitamin K2, preformed Vitamin A, etc., many have touted it as a great candidate for a dietary staple. However, is there more to modern dairy than meets the eye? As someone who has experience with truly ancestral dairying practices, I can answer that question in the affirmative.

I spent much of my childhood in Central Asia(hence my name), where there are still those who live a pastoral lifestyle. Milking of livestock follows a much different schedule than at western commercial dairies. Cows are milked only while pasture is available, and are left dry during the winter months. Mating occurs in late summer, so calves are born in the spring. Consequently, cows are only milked a few months into pregnancy. In the west, on the other hand, plentiful and nutritious winter feeds allow dairies to milk their cows all year round. As a result, these cows are milked well into pregnancy.

This has non-trivial consequences. Hormone levels are much higher in cows when they are in deep pregnancy, and they pass these hormones on in their milk. These studies demonstrate some possible adverse consequences:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19496976

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19618695

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14729019

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16125328

Also, this is a good summary of the relevant information from a Mongolian doctor who also has experience with pastoralists. Her work was what led me to research this issue.

http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/05/modern-milk.html

All these hormones are fat soluble, meaning that they will concentrate in products like butter and cream, the very dairy products that most paleo-types recommend most heartily. I'm not saying that dairy products are definitely problematic. However, I feel that in light of this evidence, greater caution is advised.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 14, 2011
at 05:32 PM

Not sure why you're talking hormones, I think Dana was referring to vitamins/phytonutrients that are present in spring and summer lactations.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on March 16, 2011
at 12:00 AM

Jack......not any.....but very few. I am lucky enough to say dairy does not bother me. But raw milk is a good one but it is very difficult to source.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on March 15, 2011
at 05:56 AM

This is an interesting question -- but one that is significantly more complex than it seems given that there are differences between Bos Taurus and the Bos Indicus breeds of cattle. The latter lactate only in the presence of their calves whereas the former lactate with or without the calves being present. Read Raymond Crotty

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on March 15, 2011
at 02:59 AM

what about drinking raw colostrum? wouldn't that be filled with high levels of natural hormones?

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on March 15, 2011
at 02:31 AM

The difference is that in the past, cows were usually only milked 3 months into their pregnancies. Now, they are often milked 7 or 8 months into pregnancy. This has been going on since the 20's, so "traditional" dairies are referring to traditions that are only about 90 years old. Hormone levels go up dramatically in that intervening period. There is a great visual representation of this in the Harvard article.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on March 15, 2011
at 01:35 AM

disagree with your first statement. and i only drink raw milk. are you saying that you dont believe that there are any healthy dairy products available today Dr K?

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on March 15, 2011
at 12:44 AM

Unfortunately, even if the milk is collected only during the summer months it still probably contains higher levels of hormones. In the west, cows are kept pregnant at equal rates throughout the year in order to keep production constant. This has been going on since the 1920's, and almost no dairies in the west employ traditional practices, even among those that are family owned.

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5 Answers

1
Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on March 15, 2011
at 01:30 AM

any processed product is not. Raw milk is very rare today. And Big Dairy is legally trying to shut it down totally. Crazy really

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on March 15, 2011
at 01:35 AM

disagree with your first statement. and i only drink raw milk. are you saying that you dont believe that there are any healthy dairy products available today Dr K?

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117

(25477)

on March 16, 2011
at 12:00 AM

Jack......not any.....but very few. I am lucky enough to say dairy does not bother me. But raw milk is a good one but it is very difficult to source.

1
Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on March 15, 2011
at 01:19 AM

I think modern dairy products can be just as healthy as dairy products of days gone by. The healthiest possible way to consume dairy is to obtain it from a local source while it's freshest. For those that have a local dairy or farm where they can purchase fresh milk, cream, cheeses, and other dairy, I don't see how today's products would be any different from yesteryear's? The only thing I can think of is perhaps soil depletion? But I wouldn't say that makes it unhealthy just because it lacks a fully powered punch of the nutrients.

As for your comments and links regarding the hormones, may I ask what would be different about today's pregnant cows versus pregnant cows from 200 years ago? If naturally occurring hormones are a problem now, then they would have been a problem since humans began drinking milk scores of generations ago, so I really don't think there can be any logical reason to be concerned about that.

My final answer: Assuming that you are getting fresh organic dairy and especially if the cows are well kept and graze on grass pasture, and the farm has impeccable standards for production, I think dairy products can be perfectly healthy and very nourishing, even in modern times.

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on March 15, 2011
at 02:31 AM

The difference is that in the past, cows were usually only milked 3 months into their pregnancies. Now, they are often milked 7 or 8 months into pregnancy. This has been going on since the 20's, so "traditional" dairies are referring to traditions that are only about 90 years old. Hormone levels go up dramatically in that intervening period. There is a great visual representation of this in the Harvard article.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on March 15, 2011
at 02:59 AM

what about drinking raw colostrum? wouldn't that be filled with high levels of natural hormones?

1
F9a0b72f38860d7601afd5a45bb53394

(3618)

on March 15, 2011
at 12:26 AM

It depends on the modern dairy. If I'm not mistaken, Organic Valley has a pastured butter that they stock up on in the spring and summer months and then sort of parcel it out year-round, but it's not produced year-round, just in the spring and summer.

This just points up the necessity of getting to know your local animal-food producers and finding out what their practices are. With modern food preservation techniques it is not unreasonable to be able to procure certain foods year-round, you just have to be careful.

(edited for brand name--whoops I screwed that up >_<)

7ee01316570b660bd47e9481e8db7c30

(60)

on March 15, 2011
at 12:44 AM

Unfortunately, even if the milk is collected only during the summer months it still probably contains higher levels of hormones. In the west, cows are kept pregnant at equal rates throughout the year in order to keep production constant. This has been going on since the 1920's, and almost no dairies in the west employ traditional practices, even among those that are family owned.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 14, 2011
at 05:32 PM

Not sure why you're talking hormones, I think Dana was referring to vitamins/phytonutrients that are present in spring and summer lactations.

0
D89511137c1849427593b3ef172578cb

(395)

on October 14, 2011
at 02:29 PM

I eat raw cheese and pasteurized cheese from either goats, sheep or cow. I eat diary at almost every meal and sometimes 200-300g of it in one go. I'm still alive. I love diary.

Just go for what you feel instead of what other people say you should our shouldn't eat.

0
B6a13fe7674cd7f3c0dc13a9839f8a71

on October 14, 2011
at 02:16 PM

Khwareizmid,

When I decided to find a goat and milk it for raw milk I researched milking goats thouroughly and came to realize what you are explaining in your post.

We managed to make goat butter, its a lot of work trying to separate the fat from the milk with goat milk but its very tasty and worth the time.

I think that milking goats into the pregnant stage is wrong as are a lot of other practices in commerical dairying. I read about the hormones of which you speak.

It's similar with laying hens. By keeping artificial lights in the hen house the laying season can be stretched out beyond what is natural over the winter months so they will produce eggs year round, but then the hens are not producing the beautiful large eggs in their older years, instead the shells are thin and brittle by the next year! If hens have true green grass and real bugs, sunlight and the season of laying is not artificial, the eggs will be better and larger each year.

We had laying hens that laid really nice eggs up to 6 and 7 years. The class "organic" just means they are not fed chemicals or antibiotics, it doesn't mean they are necessarily healthier hens laying optimal eggs.

I don't believe that there are commercial businesses in dairying or egg businesses in the USA that would be able to maintain a truly natural/organic business and stay afloat.

In Europe it is still similar to the old ways in that there are seasons for foods. Now we are at the end of grape season, figs are finished, oranges are next and fresh Ricotta from sheep has just begun to be sold again, but there were several months where none was available.

Kale is completely unavailable in the warmer months as are many other vegetables. There are no strawberries or cherries except in early summer. We have watermelons for about 2 and one half months. Squash is now making an appearance and the carrots are excellent; the late summer crop put in for autumn.

Although canning and drying vegetables and fruit is done, there is not much reliance on these food sources, most people here are still eating a very 'natural' diet that consists of whatever is freshest.

The big difference for my husband and I is the taste of these foods that are not artificially produced or forced, like the eggs I spoke of. Perhaps one has to experience a culture where things are artificially produced and forced and then live where they are fresh to understand the difference. By having a goat or some hens and raising them naturally one would be able to taste the difference and see the reasons for taking that time and effort.

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