When I was a kid I hated the taste of milk. There aren’t many things I would use the word “hate” for, but I did (and still do) hate milk. Unfortunately for me, my dad just loved milk. He drank almost two gallons of skim milk every week throughout his life. As a kid, I was required to drink a glass of milk with every meal. But some days I just couldn’t stomach another glass. I’d eat my whole meal, never touching the milk. Maybe I thought it would magically disappear, or that somehow I’d be off the hook. But that magic never happened for me. One night when I was about eight years old, I was caught in this delusion and avoiding my milk. At the end of the meal, Dad said I had to stay at the table until my milk glass was empty. I just stared at that full glass, and it stared back at me. It got warmer and warmer with each passing minute. Then Dad added ice cubes because I used the warmth as an excuse to stop drinking. Of course now it was an even worse situation. Skim milk is thin and skim milk with melting ice is horrible. I finally had to drink this wretched stuff. And as soon as I had a choice about beverages, I stopped drinking glasses of milk!
Since becoming a health coach, I have begun to wonder if the childhood me didn’t have an innate sense of what was really healthy for me. As an adult, I’ve learned that dairy is painfully disruptive to my digestion and inflammatory to my body. No matter your feelings about these foods, I want you to hear about the connection of diary and pain.
What’s Inflammatory about Dairy?
The conventional methods of processing and pasteurization (heating at high temperatures) denatures the protein, fat, and calcium that are considered the beneficial elements of dairy products. Thus, they are also generally inflammatory to our bodies.
Conventionally produced cow’s milk also contain xenoestrogens, synthetic growth hormones, and antibiotics. These are all inflammatory substances in our bodies.
The marketing engine for dairy products won’t tell us that we don’t actually need dairy products to survive. All of those elements I mentioned above—calcium, protein and fat—can be effectively received from alternate dietary sources. For example, dark green leafy vegetables are one of the richest (and most often untapped) sources of calcium available to us.
Another inflammatory issue with dairy items like cheese and ice cream is the way milk is super-concentrated to make them. Imagine not just one “layer” of milk, but many more “layers” or concentrations. So if you find that you have an inflammatory connection to milk, it may actually be even more difficult for your body to manage its highly concentrated forms.
Many of the food items that we think of as dairy are also loaded with sugar—things like yogurt, frozen yogurt and ice cream. That’s another strong inflammatory connection since sugar and pain are closely linked.
Cheeses that are the most inflammatory are those with mold, such as blue cheese, and soft varieties, such as Brie. Also if you are migraine-sensitive like I am, the harder cheeses, such as parmesan and cheddar, can be inflammatory as well due to the aging process. Molds used in blue and other cheeses are essentially a toxin to our bodies. They set off your natural defense system, creating inflammation to “protect” you from that toxin. Remember, a little inflammation for a short period of time IS protective. Inflammation leading to chronic pain is caused by long-term, high-volume ingestion of substances our body doesn’t know and doesn’t understand—so it will constantly “protect” us by creating major inflammation.
Quick Pitfall and Solution
Like many of the inflammatory foods we’ve talked about, dairy can be hidden on our ingredient lists with alternate names. This will be especially useful if you’re not getting the pain relief you hoped for from removing dairy from your diet. Some dairy-related ingredients include: hydrolyzed whey protein, lactose, lactablumin, lactalbumin phosphate, whey, casein, lactoglobulin, lactic acid, simplesse, whey protein isolate, and whey powder.
Steps to reducing your dairy consumption
There is some possibility that you may find organic, grass-fed, naturally raised dairy to be less inflammatory and more tolerable. You may want to test these products after eliminating all conventionally produced dairy for at least a week or two.
There are also many non-dairy beverages available as options in our supermarkets. Almond, oat, rice, and hemp “milks” are all examples of these non-dairy beverages. I would caution you, however, to read your labels on these milk substitutes. They often contain carrageenan, which is a type of MSG and can also be inflammatory. An alternative here would be to make your own non-dairy beverage, like almond milk.
You can make some easy substitutions for dairy in your cooking. For example, a cup of broth can replace milk in a savory recipe. Pureed sweet potato or coconut milk can make recipes creamier. With a sweet recipe, you can use a non-dairy milk in equal quantities to the suggested cow’s milk. If you’re baking, an additional tablespoon of healthy non-inflammatory oil can maintain the richness and consistency of a recipe.
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