Eating dairy has always been a bit of a feat for me. I love my dairy so much.
I love my coffee, my custard, yoghurt, cheese. I always have. Especially when it comes to ice-cream sundaes.
I remember when I was little, my mum and I would go and pick out some ice-cream from the home ice-cream truck every now and then during summer, and I always loved to pick these creamy mango pops. The middle was a creamy vanilla icecream (almost like a frozen yoghurt taste), with a mango puree coating, and it was to die for. Especially with the Aussie summers, where all you wanted were these guys and some watermelon!
And, I just realised they still sell them!!! YUM. Might have to put that on my after baby food list.
But, my question has always been whether dairy is healthy for you. It is always an argument between paleo, clean eater’s and vegetarians/vegans of course, but putting animal issues aside, what does it do for your body?
From my many years of yo-yo dieting, and fads, I do know a little bit about dairy.
Paleo eaters remove most of it from their diets, as dairy products were not consumed in those days, except of course for mother’s breast milk. This makes sense as human breast milk is adapted for humans, and it continues to adapt for the age of the infant until they are weaned, ensuring they get all the nutrients they need for development and growth.
This goes the same for animal breast milk, you know, cow’s milk for example. Yep, it comes from a cow’s boob (or udder if you wanna get technical, but I like the effect ‘cow’s boob’ has on the mind when you realise that’s what you’re getting it from — hopefully not literally). This milk is not meant for human consumption, it is meant for the baby animals and therefore has ingredients in there that aren’t great for our bodies. Hense, the reason why so many of us have intolerance’s towards milk, or allergic reactions.
The biochemical make-up of cow’s milk is perfectly suited to turn a 65-pound newborn calf into a 400-pound cow in one year. It contains, for example, three times more protein and seven times more mineral content while human milk has 10 times as much essential fatty acids, three times as much selenium, and half the calcium. Some may like cow’s milk but drinking it is both unnecessary and potentially harmful (Ref).
Let’s also throw in the fact that milk isn’t what it used to be. It is now highly processed, when it used to be unpasteurised or raw, and the way that the cows are bred and looked after is also different, usually including a mix of dangerous hormones and pesticides (Ref).
However, dairy is a recommended food group, and men and women aged 19-50 years should be having 2.5 serves a day, as stated by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. So what’s good in it?
You may know that dairy contains calcium, meant for strong teeth and bones. Unfortunately, to get that calcium to your bones, you also need to coincide your dairy intake with Vitamin K foods (leafy green veggies) such as kale, spinach, and chard. Also going out in the sun to increase your Vitamin D will help to boost your calcium absorption (Ref).
Consuming recommended amounts of dairy has also been linked to the reduced risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes and reducing blood pressure in adults (Ref).
But is dairy a clean eating option?
I really think it depends on who you talk to, and what their individual view and lifestyle choices are.
Some will completely cut out milk, but will eat cheese, yoghurts and kefir as they are fermented for long periods with usually little to no interruption (Ref), especially some forms of greek yoghurt, although make sure to watch out for the fake products marketing you the wrong thing! You could always go one further into paleo territory and opt for coconut yoghurt, or kefir.
Cooking Light‘s Nutrition Editor, Sidney Fry, recommends avoiding all low-fat, 1/3-less-fat, and pre-shredded cheeses. Processed cheese products are a no-go, clearly. And you probably want to steer clear of any flavored cheese products, like herbed goat cheese spreads or honey-swirled cream cheese (Ref).
My Dairy Recommendations and Choices
I’m a cow’s milk lady. I need it for my morning coffee, and I refuse to substitute. I’ve tried to do very clean alternatives using almond milk or coconut milk, even bulletproof coffee, but there is always either a strange or bitter taste (especially the almond milk), so I continue to use full fat cow’s milk. I’ve always believed that staying away from low-fat or other forms of milk is better for your health as they are less processed – especially low fat as it contains different additives. Fat isn’t the enemy!!
If you’d like to try to be as clean as possible, attempt this healthy coffee recipe by Wellness Mama, which I quite enjoyed, but wasn’t too fussed on the idea of butter in my cup of goodness.
One of the most surprising things that I found from having Gestational Diabetes with this pregnancy, is that cheese is a healthy option. I was advised I can eat as much cheese I want (within reason of course), but that it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels, nor really contribute to weight gain (also, within reason haha). But, in terms of clean eating? It does have a high fat content, but it is one of the least processed foods, depending on what you buy. If you search, you can find some amazing blends (especially from factories themselves!).
We have two amazing cheese factories near us – Maleny Cheese Factory, and Kenilworth Cheese Factory (they have an amazing sweet chilli blend! YUM!), so if you are in Queensland, Australia, I definitely recommend you try out these!
Ricotta, feta and cottage cheese are also healthy soft cheese options, but I would recommend steering clear of cream cheese varieties as they tend to be very highly processed, with lots of gunk and sometimes, lots of sugar too!
Also, always avoid pre-packaged shredded cheese because it contains anti-caking agents. I learnt that you can do the same by grating your own cheese up and adding a tablespoon of your own flour blend – arrowroot flour would work, and freezing in bags. Definitely a lot cheaper too!
Yoghurt is definitely a product that you need to make sure you read the labels of! I always stick to greek yoghurt, and even though it is recommended to steer clear of sweet blends, I’m not a fan of standard greek yoghurt, so I choose to use Jalna Sweet and Creamy Greek Yoghurt. I do definitely recommend trying unsweetened, and just mixing in your own maple syrup/honey or fruits for sweetness.
Butter is a tricky one! Butter is a go-to option in Paleo (organic, grass-fed), but when it comes to clean eating, is it really good for you? Yes, it does contain saturated fat, BUT it also contains monounsaturated fat (the good kind), and fat-soluble vitamins that our bodies need to function, move and poop! If you stick to organic, clean as possible alternatives, butter can be very healthy for you (Ref).
Of course, you’re not going to chow down on a chunk of butter now are you. It’s gonna make you vom, or poop your brains out most likely! It’s all about moderation, in small amounts. If you still would rather take things one bit further, you can always try clarified butter – a highlight if you ever try the Whole30!
Clarified butter is the process of melting the butter slowly to separate the milk solids and evaporate the water content, then using a cheese cloth to remove the solids. Once it’s cool, because it does not contain any milk solids, it can be left out of the fridge, and what’s even better, it still tastes like butter! YEP! I tried it a few years back, and it was awesome – but I would recommend fridging it if you live in Aus, because our weather is too humid and unpredictable!
Don’t want to use butter at all? You can find some other healthy alternatives, for instance, I also use Nuttelex, which is a no preservative, no additive, GMO free, dairy free “butter”. But if you’re not fussed with the dairy component, why not try this butter recipe by The Gracious Pantry. I haven’t tried it but it looks good! You could always use other forms of butters including almond, cashew, peanut, or coconut oil, or even the humble avocado!
Quick tip: refined coconut oil does not have the coconut taste, so if you’re concerned about throwing some coconut flavour on your clean carbs, then try it out instead!
Try other clean eating alternatives!
Kefir, coconut yoghurt, almonds milk, rice milk, coconut milk.
My favourite’s to use are almond milk and coconut milk, depending on what I’m cooking. Coconut yoghurt is definitely different, but really nice to have in summer with fresh fruits of choice. I have yet to try kefir – it seems strange to me, but the benefits are meant to be AH-MAY-ZING (we’re talking good gut health here!).
As I always say, it all depends on your own preferences and lifestyle, especially when it comes to dairy (there’s a reason this is the Number 3 clean eating change in my No Takeaway April Challenge – it’s a hard one!).Whether you’re choosing milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter or other alternatives, try to always stick to clean options, which means, reading your labels! Go for organic where possible, and stay clear of sweetened varieties!
If you can’t handle a certain clean product, then don’t do it! We only live once, but make sure that most of your options you choose are cleaner alternatives, to ensure less toxic load in your body! Even though you live once, you do want to live as long as possible.
If you’re interested in learning more about clean eating, or transitioning to clean eating for yourself, you can check out my No Takeaway April Challenge, where I’m not eating any takeaway for the month, and slowly transitioning to a clean eating lifestyle. Each week, I change a food group over to clean alternatives, and include a FREE meal plan just for you! You can catch the first post here.
I hope that this post has been useful in helping you choose healthier dairy options for your individual lifestyle! If you have any favourite products or ways to eat clean dairy, please share – it may just help someone out, even me as I transition my eating!
Also, if there is any other topic you’d like me to touch base on, feel free to let me know! I love to hear from you, your experiences, your own tips and tricks! Each of us has our own special way of living and eating, why not share it!