Consumers are regularly bombarded with information about many different types of diets, foods to avoid, and foods to consume, such as going gluten free, dairy free, soy free, sugar free, ingredient free (anyone catch that??), and the new food that could kill you, or the top food to eat for any health concern, respectively.
While there are a number of people who avoid dairy products for ethical reasons, or because they know they just don’t like how they feel when consumed, it may create some confusion around what to believe when advertising can promote both the health benefits and reasons why to avoid dairy.
Listening to our body, sometimes with the help of a professional (because even doctors need doctors) can be our best suit of armor in navigating through all the marketing and research.
Is Dairy Actually Good For Your Health?
Dairy, especially yogurt, has been popularly debated as a health food given its probiotics, as well as a good amount of animal protein, plus several other vitamins and minerals important to our health. In addition, certain bacteria strains have been linked to healing various health conditions, and many of those are found in yogurt.
For example, one study demonstrated that Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains are more prevalent in the intestinal flora of children who don’t have allergies versus those who do (1).
Similarly, women who have a vaginal birth provide their children with more beneficial bacteria and have decreased risk of immune system disorders, allergies, and asthma, than babies born by Cesarean (2, 3). People can also lose weight due to its protein content making it a filling food.
Yogurt has also been shown to quell inflammation (a response the body has to fight any type of dis-ease internally), something that occurs in all of us to varying degrees at any given time (4).
However, the article, which references a number of different studies, also discusses that it has not yet been deduced if it’s the probiotics in yogurt, or other ingredients in yogurt itself, that has that effect. Evidence has also been mixed, and as it turns out, the National Dairy Council also funded one of the studies touting its anti-inflammatory effects.
As yogurt can have beneficial ingredients, the latter study does also mention that it’s not quite clear how yogurt does exert its anti-inflammatory processes, and further, so far the studies done compare yogurt nutrition to other food items that are much less healthy. From a research standpoint, it’s also important to look at the population of studies (e.g. health status, how many people, gender, age) and how the study was done (i.e. randomized control is optimal) to really deduce effectiveness.
Ok, But Dairy Just Doesn’t Work For Me- Why Is That?
On the other hand, many people don’t do well with dairy (much of it now is produced industrially, versus fresh dairy especially outside the United States) as we lose the integrity of the enzyme as we age, and dairy contains a growth hormone- such as how it helps babies grow in their first few years of life.
Translate that into adult health (we are the only mammals that consume milk throughout life) and it can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms, hormone imbalance, weight gain, acne, asthma, allergies, blood sugar issues, heart disease, arthritis, and other inflammatory issues.
Try an Elimination Diet
Consider eliminating dairy for a few weeks, then adding it back in significant amounts (unless you feel really crappy right away) for a day, then see how your body feels over the next few days. Any reaction, even as slight as low energy or mood changes, can signal a food intolerance (a different reaction than grabbing an epi-pen).
We can always find studies to support any opinion, yet we need to learn how to listen to our body. Whatever symptom our body has is its way of telling us that something isn’t right, and when we do need help figuring out the best diet for us, a knowledgeable practitioner can help us on that journey.
Reducing inflammation is going to take a multi-systems approach of addressing nutrition intake, as well as sleep quality, lifestyle habits, stress management, and emotional health, and then any other testing or modality of treatment to achieve a healing effect.
How to Replace Dairy With Healthy Alternatives
Yogurt may have benefits due to its nutrient status and a rich source of probiotics, but if dairy is not an option, there are many other foods to consume that also offer a dense amount of nutrients and probiotics (e.g. pickles, kimchi). Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic pill or food to solve everything we need as the majority of current concerns are due to our environment (a small part is due to genetics), so the best we can do is be proactive, ask questions, and learn to understand our body’s signals.
This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
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