A common question we get in our Rochester, NY office is whether or not a person should be consuming dairy. For years, marketing projects have boasted about the health benefits of dairy - remember “Got Milk?”. Milk and dairy products have even made their way onto government-sponsored programs like the food pyramid or MyPlate. More recently, dairy has been looked at in a more negative light - some professionals even recommend avoiding dairy altogether. Let’s take a look at what dairy is, the nutritional make-up of dairy, and whether or not you should be including it in your diet.

Dairy is any food that has been produced from the milk of a mammal. Cows are the most common source of milk but there is also milk from goats, sheep, and even buffalo. Drinking milk from other animals is a relatively new concept in human history. While the human species is roughly 300,000 years old, the first evidence of dairy consumption took place in northern Europe around 7500 years ago. The primary sugar in milk, lactose, was something our prehistoric ancestors were unable to digest. Those original Europeans have had time to evolve and now produce enzymes that can digest lactose. Descendants from the rest of the world still need time to catch up. There are some parts of Africa and Asia where lactose intolerance is present in almost 95% of the population.

There aren’t many foods that can nutritionally compare to milk. In one glass of milk, you will get Vitamin B2, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Calcium, Potassium,  Phosphorus, and Iodine. Milk also will give you about 8 grams of protein per cup. These vital nutrients all coming together in milk makes sense when you remember that its main purpose is to provide everything for a newborn baby. While some of these nutrients are beneficial to both adults and infants, others that are found in milk may have negative effects on adults. Milk has also been shown to increase Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that plays a role in increasing the development of muscles and bone strength. While this is important for developing infants, increased levels of IGF-1 have been shown to increase adult’s risk of cancer.

There are a few mechanisms that can cause people to have a reaction to dairy. The most common reason is lactose intolerance. This condition means a person does not have the digestive enzymes required to break down the sugar lactose that is found in dairy products. In someone who is lactose intolerant, the milk travels through the intestines and draws in water from the body, resulting in diarrhea. The sugar can also be digested by bad bacteria in the gut, resulting in bloating and gas (*cough* Dr. Wong). Having a problem with lactose isn’t the only way your body can have a bad reaction to milk. The proteins in milk can also trigger acne and other skin conditions to develop. 

If you are having a poor reaction to dairy, then you should not be consuming it. These reactions are immune responses and are your body's way of trying to heal from the damage dairy is causing. While milk is very nutrient-dense, you can get all of the vitamins and minerals through different sources. A salad with full-fat dressing contains similar and sometimes greater quantities of all nutrients found in milk. If you think you are having a reaction to dairy and are looking to transition to a dairy-free diet, schedule an appointment with our nutritionist. Here at Rush-Henrietta Family Chiropractic, we help people work around many different types of food allergies. Come to our Rochester, NY office for a free consultation.