Non-fat and low-fat dairy have been touted as some of the healthiest sources of protein. During our grandparent’s day, the milk man would show up with a delivery and you hardly heard any complaints. Now with all the alternatives like skim milk, 1% milk or 2% milk, fat free cheeses etc. we’ve begun to see a variety of issues stemming from dairy intolerance. No wonder why there is a growing trend of nut milks and other substitutes.
Lactose Intolerance is a part of the problem with dairy consumption. It’s a widespread condition in which the body has difficulty handling lactose. People with this lactose intolerance may get diarrhea, stomach pains and bloating if they drink milk or eat dairy products. In this case dairy should generally be avoided although full-fat milk may be easier to digest than skimmed milk. Thicker foods such as yogurts and curds are likely to be better tolerated because they move through the bowel at a slower rate. Even those with lactose intolerance may still do okay with occasional hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Parmesan or Swiss since during the cheese making process, much of the lactose is drained off with the whey.
Dairy is Insulinogenic which means that it can stimulate the production of insulin. This seems a bit confusing being that it is also fairly low-glycemic. We tend to associate foods high in carbohydrates and low in protein as problematic for altering blood sugar levels. Although, drinking milk (whether skimmed or full fat) was researched in a study for The America Journal of Clinical Nutrition as being as dangerous on our blood sugar levels as some of these high carbohydrate foods. This piece demonstrated how milk can raise insulin levels similar to the effects of eating white bread.
When eating dairy, the options that cause the least impact on insulin levels are those that are fermented and have some fat. The fermentation of full fat dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, produces lactic acid, which appears to significantly lower the high insulin index.
Full Fat vs. Fat Free
Full fat dairy does not necessarily make you heavier even though it goes against everything that’s been ingrained in mainstream news. In fact there is research to support that those who eat full-fat dairy are less overweight than those who regularly consume non-fat dairy. Non-fat dairy products are less filling and usually contain more sugar. One of the biggest diet disasters is a bowl of cereal and skim milk. Starting off with this kind of breakfast will spike insulin levels, and it definitely will not keep you full. Not stabilizing your blood sugar can cause unhealthy cravings and put you at risk for insulin resistance and diabetes.
A better choice if you wanted to have a dairy breakfast would be a full fat (naturally fermented) Greek yogurt with berries.
If you decide to do without dairy all together and choose plant based milks – make sure to read your labels. Almond milk and coconut milk are my favorites but look out for carageenan. It’s an ingredient derived from seaweed that is used an emulsifier but it’s also a digestive trigger and linked to other health issues.
You can get adequate calcium without dairy. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, bok choy and watercress are rich in calcium and can paired with high calcium proteins like salmon, tofu or sardines. Chia seeds or almonds also provide a lot of calcium too and can be a great standalone snack or added to power up your smoothies.