What’s so bad about dairy?

I’m a big fan of most paleo rules, but I’m also a scientist. Scientists are natural skeptics. If someone tells me not to eat something, I want to know why. I have never followed a diet (even a fad diet) without finding out exactly how it works first.

Here is why the strict paleo community outlaws dairy.


1. It contains gluten. A lot of gluten-containing additives are added to dairy products (1). Not to mention, dairy products come from cows, most cows eat grains. This is also why paleo advocates recommend grass-fed meats. Remember the no cheating post? Even the smallest amount of gluten can dull the benefits of the clean paleo diet. Think of gluten as something which you are allergic to. Do you ever see people with a peanut allergy have “just a taste” of peanut butter? No, because it still causes damage.

2. Dairy contains casein. Casein is a common allergen, and has a chemical structure similar to gluten, even though the incidence of casien intolerance is nowhere near as high as the incidence of gluten intolerance in the population of the US (2). It also reduces absorption of some medications (3). There is some sketchy evidence suggesting that eliminating casein and gluten can reduce autism symptoms, but I’m not sure how I feel about that, and scientists agree with me (4). (I think when people start proclaiming a diet as a miracle worker, they start losing credibility. Better to wait til there is real evidence.)

3. Dairy almost always contains additives. Preservatives, thickeners (carrageenan), and permeate: a nasty by-product that dairy farmers used to just throw away. Today, permeate is added back into milk. It is not a government-regulated ingredient, so there are no label requirements. Permeate is not necessarily harmful, but it is made up mostly of lactose, a milk sugar. So basically, the milk has more sugar than it is supposed to, and the healthful vitamins, minerals, and proteins are watered down (5).

4. Dairy products, even most organic dairy products contain the preservative thickener, carrageenan. Carrageenan is a large polysaccharide (sugar) that has been correlated to inflammatory conditions and tumor progression (6-8). These studies have been bad-mouthed in the press by industry-funded scientists. What industry? The dairy industry (9).  Go figure. An even larger review in the peer reviewed publication Environmental Health Perspective  of the available science (45 studies combined) urged the FDA to reconsider the use of carrageenan in food products (10).

My take on all of this: the dairy industry is the same as the wheat industry. Advertising their cheap nutrient-poor products as healthy and necessary for a balanced diet. But when I think about organic, grass-fed whole milk right out of the cow, that seems like a superfood to me. I do realize that regulated pasteurization of milk is necessary to avoid dangerous pathogens (11), but all of the additives are not. For the most part, I don’t think that pasteurization destroys a significant amount of the nutrients in milk (12), but watering it down with permeate decreases it’s value, definitely. This is why I think, despite what paleo dogma says, that consuming grass-fed whole milk with no additives is just fine for most people. If you are allergic to casein, that’s a different story. How do you know if you are allergic? Try a Whole30.


After the 30 days, have a little dairy. If you are mildly allergic or sensitive, you will know, trust me. Those who are lactose intolerant, allergic to casein, or even just sensitive to casein experience severe bloating and abdominal discomfort with even a taste of dairy products. If you have no reaction, why eliminate dairy? There is nothing unhealthy about organic grass-fed milk that hasn’t been messed with.



1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gluten-free-diet/my01140

2. “Identification of casein as the major allergenic and antigenic protein of cow’s milk – Docena – 2007 – Allergy – Wiley Online Library”. .interscience.wiley.com. 1996-03-04. Retrieved 2011-09-29.

3. Smith OB, Longe RL, Altman RE, Price JC. (February 1988). “Recovery of phenytoin from solutions of caseinate salts and calcium chloride.”. Am J Hosp Pharm 45 (2): 365–8.PMID 3129937.

4. Christison GW, Ivany K (2006). “Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorders: any wheat amidst the chaff?”. J Dev Behav Pediatr 27 (2 Suppl 2): S162–71. doi:10.1097/00004703-200604002-00015PMID 16685183. “Owing to significant methodological flaws, the currently available data are inadequate to guide treatment recommendations.”

5. Locke, Sarina (25 June 2012). “Dairy processors say no to permeate”ABC Rural. Retrieved 18 July 2012.

6. Watanabe, K., Reddy, B. S., Wong, C. Q., & Weisburger, J. H. (1978). Effect of dietary undegraded carrageenan on colon carcinogenesis in F344 rats treated with azoxymethane or methylnitrosourea. Cancer Research, 38(12), 4427-4430.

7. Taché, S, Peiffer, G, Millet, A-S, and Corpet, DE. Carrageenan gel and aberrant crypt foci in the colon of conventional and human flora-associated rats. Nutr Cancer 37:75–80, 2000.

8. Corpet, DE, Taché, S, and Préclaire, M. Carrageenan given as a jelly, does not initiate, but promotes the growth of aberrant crypt foci in the rat colon. Cancer Lett 114:53–55, 1997b.

9. Kanneganti, M., Mino-Kenudson, M., & Mizoguchi, E. (2011). Animal models of colitis-associated carcinogenesis. BioMed Research International, 2011.

10. Tobacman JK (2001) Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.Environ Health Perspect 109(10):983-984.

11.  http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/rawmilk/raw-milk-index.html

12. Terri Peterson Smith (31 August 2010). “Got E. coli? Raw Milk’s Appeal Grows Despite Health Risks”Scientific American. Retrieved 18 September 2012.


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