Is dairy paleo? The answer to this question, like way too many people’s Facebook relationship statuses, is “it’s complicated”.
Is Dairy Paleo?: The Bad, The Better & The Best Options
Upon first hearing about the paleo diet, most people will come across the standard response:
Dairy is not paleo.
But there’s not just one one type of paleo. When you look into the different types of paleo, you find that the dairy situation looks a little more like this:
Strict paleo: No. Nada. Zip.
Primal: Well, sorta.
Everyone when it comes to grass-fed butter: Yeah, it’s pretty good.
Let’s Break It Down
What’s wrong with dairy? Well, there are two main issues.
Some kinds of dairy trigger a huge insulin response, which immediately puts a stop to all fat burning. Not good for those people trying to lose weight on paleo. That said, there are some instances (post-workout for example) when this is beneficial.
Casein, like gluten, is a sneaky protein which promotes the deterioration of your gut lining. Not good. While it’s tough to say exactly what effect casein has on the body, it doesn’t seem too good, so we don’t recommend having too much of the stuff.
Quite a few people lack the enzymes necessary to properly break down and digest milk. As a result, they end up with bloating, diarrhea, and other indigestion problems. They are lactose intolerant.
This is where most people seem to object to dairy. Loren Cordain, the author of The Paleo Diet, argues that milk can increase the risk of cancer, as well as a whole host of other bad diseases. It’s when they hear this that most paleos write off dairy.
That said, the studies Cordain cites tend to be a little fuzzy and not all dairy is created equal. Some forms are better than others and they all react with your body in different ways.
Dairy: The Bad, The Better & The Good
Overly processed dairy:
- 1% milk
- 2% milk
Who says this? Everyone. You’ll find very few people promoting these forms of dairy as they’re all highly insulinogenic. Furthermore, the beneficial part of most dairy is its healthy fat, which is stripped away in the creation of these forms.
- Fermented full-fat dairy (yogurt/ cheese)
Most of these products are almost free of both casein and lactose, which is nice. Be sure to watch out for the sugar content of yogurt but, apart from that, these forms are decidedly better for you than the processed junk listed above.
Good to Best
Grass fed butter, cream and full-fat dairy are pretty solid. Even Robb Wolf who’s as strict as they come says it’s hard to make a case against grass-fed butter. It contains a ton of healthy fats plus a great Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio. This is one reason that bulletproof coffee is so popular in the paleo community.
Honestly, very few people will put up much of an argument about grass-fed, full-fat dairy, but this is one of the arenas that’s ideal for personal experimentation. See how it affects your body and go from there.
So Is Dairy Paleo?
We know – that’s still super inconclusive. Fortunately, we do have recommendations for you to help you find out what works best for you:
- Try cutting out all dairy for thirty days and see how you feel.
- Try adding back in grass-fed butter.
- Consider trying whole milk, yogurt and/or cheese in small amounts and see how they affect you.
The key to all of this is experimentation – trying things on yourself and seeing how you end up feeling. If you find that some foods affect your more than others, reduce them or cut them out of your diet completely (note: this should be the rule for all foods but dairy makes a great testing ground as it’s such a gray area in the paleo world).
There are some interesting arguments against dairy which are worth exploring but, in the end, it comes down to what helps you perform the best.
So what do you think? What’s your take on dairy? Is dairy paleo?
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
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