Guess what! I'm actually not anti-dairy. In fact, I eat dairy regularly. Yay- bring on the cheese! Kind of..
Let's start at the beginning, and think back to our evolutionary history with dairy. It's interesting to consider the time when humans realized that we could procure consistent food from animals in the form of butter, yogurt, and cheese. We were likely consuming dairy well before agriculture was established. What an amazing development to maintain a source of fat, carbohydrates, and protein all in one!
But that's unfortunately not a free-pass to engorge yourself with all the dairy. Even though I'm not anti-dairy, I definitely don't think it should be a major food group in your diet either. Those glasses of milk you're chugging on the regular? Please don't! I believe dairy should be enjoyed as more of a condiment instead.
There are a couple of issues that you should specifically be aware of:
1) The dairy products that we get in the grocery store are very different from the dairy that our ancestors were consuming. It's factory produced, in a system pumped with antibiotics (another whole issue!), coming from animals fed an unnatural diet.
Starting with toddler toys and children's storybooks we're taught that cows munch happily on grass in the fields. Nowadays that's not enough to meet production, so animals are fed corn to fatten them up.
[Pardon the sidetrack, but I can't help but think of this clip from Parks & Recreation! Who else misses that show?! "Fat, happy, and docile, just the way we like them." They're poking fun at corn syrup in the show, but shed a little light on the role of corn in the dairy/meat industry.]
You've heard that you are what you eat. But have you considered that you are what you eat eats, as well? The nutrient profile of grass-fed versus corn-fed dairy products is astounding. Don't believe me? A quick run to the store and you can test the difference yourself. Grab a stick of Kerrygold (easily accessible in most grocery stores) and compare it to the stick of butter in your fridge (please tell me it's at least butter in your fridge and not margarine or vegetable oil spread!). You'll probably find the grass-fed butter a much bolder yellow. It's common in the natural world for higher pigmentation and coloration to be proportional to increased nutrient density. Not rigorous enough of a test? I don't blame you. Learn more about the differences from Dave Asprey here, he's done far more extensive research than I have. And the last test! Perhaps the most important? Taste the difference yourself.
2) Not only has our dairy changed, but we've changed from our ancestors, too. Our society and way of life has drastically changed, and our digestive systems/gut bacteria/etc. have changed along with them.
From a Chinese Medicine viewpoint, our constitutions and pathological pattern tendencies have shifted with our change in lifestyle. Of course you can't change how/when/what you eat, stress levels and exposure, and body mechanics without having ramifications, right?
Long story short, I'm going to talk to you in Chinese Medicine code words: as a society, our way of life lends us to fall into patterns of stuckness, or stagnation. Dairy is nicknamed "cold-damp" in this framework. Damp things collect, coagulate, and contribute to that stagnation. And around here, we of course know what cold does. It freezes, and locks everything up! From a Western perspective, you might call this sticking effect of dairy inflammation.
So how do you know when you should ease off dairy for a bit?
Here are a few symptoms that can be exacerbated by dairy from a Chinese Medicine point of view:
- Pain, especially pain that gets worse with rain and humidity
- Achey limbs
- Swelling & edema
- Foggy, fuzzy head
- Hot flashes
- Nasal & sinus congestion
- Phlegm & mucous production
*Do you know that you are lactose intolerant? Then unfortunately the following advice is not for you. Please continue avoiding dairy.*
Are you experiencing any of these symptoms?
That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to swear off dairy forever! But it does mean that you should probably back off for a bit. I discuss experimenting with diet extensively with patients. Sometimes we mindlessly eat what we always eat, and accept feeling not-so-great as our normal. It's often not until we eliminate all of our triggers for a period, and do some nourishing self-care, that we realize how good we can actually feel in our bodies!
Once you get to a place of feeling amazing, we can consciously re-introduce foods and pay attention to how they make you feel. Remember the old "Knowledge is Power"? It's true! Maybe foods you thought were bothering you don't, maybe you've healed to the point of being able to handle that otherwise triggering food, or maybe you finally tease out the types of food that are giving you trouble. All of this information is incredibly helpful and important to living a happy healthy life!
I love walking my patients through this process, observing the journey. In many cases, acupuncture can help decrease the impact of a triggering food. Think of it like your immune system. When you are well rested and your immunity is going strong, you can be exposed to many different viruses and bacteria without getting sick. But when your run down and your immunity is low, viruses and bacteria that wouldn't ordinarily give you symptoms might make you sick. Similarly, when your body systems are functioning smoothly, you can expose yourself to triggering foods in moderation without causing any issues. But when something is out of whack, those same foods might cause extreme symptoms. Food allergies and straight up awful foods aside, acupuncture can often help bring things back into balance and running smoothly.
What's the worst thing that can happen? You find out that your beloved [insert favorite dairy product here] makes you extra [insert your symptom here]? That doesn't mean that you never get to eat it again. It simply means that yes, maybe you imbibe in it less overall, but more importantly you have the knowledge and power to control when/how/why you feel extra [insert your symptom here]!
Need guidance navigating your diet and nutrition? Or do you think you're experiencing symptoms triggered by your diet and need help? Schedule a complimentary consultation here and we can chat about what's going on, and how I might be able to help!