Recently, Khloe Kardashian came out with her secret to weight loss: completely cutting dairy out of her diet. She claimed doing so without changing anything else in her lifestyle made her lose 11 pounds within a month.

Khloe is not alone in this new dairy-free craze. A number of other media sources are citing this dietary switch as the cause for weight loss, clear skin, decreased risk of disease, and much more. Many people, myself included, have wondered if going dairy-free is really as magical as some make it seem.

I’ve found that these anti-dairy articles neglect to address the type of dairy the person was eating previously. Were they consuming conventionally- or organically-produced dairy? There is a big difference between the two, and the effects each has on the body are important to take into account before making any major dietary changes. For individuals who are intolerant to dairy, cutting it out entirely is definitely beneficial, but for those who have no symptoms, is it worth it? 

The difference between organic and conventional dairy

Organically-raised cows produce milk with a strikingly different nutritional profile than conventionally-raised cows. This is largely due to their diets. Organic cows are fed a grazing (grass) diet, compared to genetically modified corn and soy feed fed to conventionally-raised cows.

The unnatural feed given to conventional dairy cows alters their gut flora and in turn the entire nutritional profile of the milk they produce. The difference is the fatty acids produced. Conventional milk contains omega-6 fatty acids which is the type of fat that comprises vegetable oils and highly processed junk food. Organic dairy only contains omega-3 fatty acids which are very beneficial fats. Some other omega-3 rich foods you may have heard of are chia seeds, flaxseeds, fish oil, avocado, and salmon.

Another important factor is the usage of antibiotics and growth hormones on conventional farms. Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a growth hormone given to dairy cows to increase their milk production beyond natural levels. When digested in the human body, rBST stimulates another hormone with insulin-like properties called IGF-1 which has been explicitly linked to increased risk of cancer. Cows given this hormone often become ill with mammary infections, so they are pumped with antibiotics. These antibiotics carry into the milk those cows produce, and when consumed can develop into drug-resistant strains that are able infect humans. Certified USDA organic dairy is prohibited from the use of any growth hormones or antibiotics, which shows the overall healthier nature of the cows and their milk. It’s also important to note that in order to reap the full benefits that organic dairy has to offer, it’s better to buy higher fat options rather than fat-free. 

Some common arguments for going dairy-free:

1. Dairy causes diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Articles that have linked cancer to dairy consumption talk about the stimulation of IGF-1 that occurs when dairy is consumed which is linked to increased risks of cancer, but neglects to address that organic dairy does not contain rBST, and therefore does not stimulate the production of this cancer-causing agent. Organic dairy does contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid with cancer-fighting properties. CLA also prevents cardiovascular disease, whereas omega-6 fatty acids in conventional milk has been linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk. 

2. Dairy is inflammatory and will make your skin break out.

The omega-6 fatty acids in conventional milk do cause inflammation because they inhibit proper functioning of cells in the body. Organic dairy actually has been shown to improve inflammation, not cause it. Calcium and vitamin D work together to enhance each other’s anti-inflammatory properties. Organic dairy also contains bioactive peptides that suppress any inflammatory responses the body may be creating. Although I will point out that there are studies that have shown that the simple sugar galactose (found in even organic milk) can produce low grade inflammation, but this can be avoided by consuming fermented products such as yogurt or cheese in which this sugar is absent. 

3. Dairy causes weight gain.

This claim fails to address the bigger picture. Dairy is just a small part of an individual’s diet. Dairy alone will not make a person gain weight, and it shouldn’t be a reason to cut high quality sources of dairy out of your diet. Cutting dairy products means cutting out a rich source of fat and protein with relatively few calories, making it hard to replace. The ratio of fat to protein in higher fat dairy products keeps you fuller longer because it digests slowly. Often, people will replace dairy with foods not as nutrient-dense, which is more likely to cause weight gain. If you are going dairy-free, it is important to replace your usual serving with something with similar nutrients such as nuts, avocado, eggs, or beans, not simple carbs. 

4. Adults cannot digest dairy because it is unnatural for human consumption.

Almost every article I have read urging people to go dairy-free has stated the same fact: 60% of the world does not digest dairy. Now, this is true in the sense that after the ages of 2-5 years old, most of us stop producing the lactase enzyme which is responsible for breaking down the sugar in dairy products. However, there is something called lactase persistence that occurs in adulthood because our bodies have adapted to the consumption of dairy. In fact, it has been confirmed by a study that there is a specific genetic mutation which accounts for this. This mutation allows adults to continue to digest dairy with a low amount or absence of the lactase enzyme. If you can’t quite wrap your head around that, another thing to note is organic dairy products are chock full of probiotic bacteria. Organic yogurt and cheese products can have over 60 types of digestive enzymes. They also contains immunoglobulin antibodies, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron, which have enhanced absorption in the presence of the active bacteria. Studies have found that all of these components improve your gut health by helping regulate “gut transit time.” 

5. Dairy will make men develop female attributes.

Gynecomastia is related to excessive estrogen consumption. Consuming conventional dairy on a regular basis is linked to gynecomastia because of the dangerously high levels of rBST hormones. People who struggle with this medical condition are advised to avoid dairy and meat products treated specifically with growth hormones, not dairy entirely. Organic dairy does contain hormones, but they are naturally occurring and not at dangerously high levels. Also, when people eliminate dairy, many turn to soy alternatives which can also cause an upset in hormone balance (in men and women) if consumed in large amounts. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which are plant-based hormones that act just like estrogen when digested in the body. The most important takeaway from this point is to ensure you are consuming dairy not treated with growth hormones, and if you are not eating dairy products, be wary of what you are replacing it with. Anything in excess can create problems.  

The scoop: Every body processes dairy differently.

I am not going to tell you what you should do. It’s an individual choice, just like meat consumption. There’s not a right or wrong answer. There are people out there that will benefit from going dairy-free, but the key is that it will not affect everyone.

Listen to your body and make smart, quality choices when grocery shopping. If you’re eating conventional dairy and experiencing acne, maybe try switching to organic dairy products and see if there is improvement there first. If that doesn’t work, then try eliminating it for a few weeks. People who are experiencing digestive problems may try cutting dairy but find that dairy is not actually the problem. Those individuals shouldn’t continue to restrict it just because some are deeming it a healthier lifestyle. It is not a miracle diet; a lifestyle that is dairy-free is not objectively better than one that includes it, and vice versa.

Experiment and see what works for you. If that means trying a dairy-free diet to see how it affects you, then go for it! Who knows, you might have low-grade intolerance symptoms you never noticed and feel much better afterwards. That said, don’t cut out dairy for no reason or to follow trends. That may be hurting yourself more than helping. 

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About The Author

Kelsey is a sophomore at Binghamton University in New York studying psychology. Some things she loves includes: taking spin classes, going on hikes, eating ice cream, and baking all kinds of fun desserts. If she's not in class or studying, she's probably at the gym or watching Parks and Rec on Netflix.

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