What’s The Deal With Dairy?

Posted by FJ Leto on August 26, 2021
Various fresh dairy products on wooden background

Whether you’re eating a plant based diet, doing Whole30, going paleo or following another popular nutrition program, many recommendations vastly differ or even contradict each other, but there are a few things that hold true for most:

  1. Eating whole foods (no processed foods)
  2. Lots of vegetables
  3. No dairy

Whether you ask your doctor, dietitian or your grandmother, they probably would not argue that #1 and #2 are a good idea to do all the time. But #3… now that’s a controversial concept. 

But is it?

Dairy sales have been steadily dropping in US year-over-year. That’s a lot of people voting to go dairy free with their dollars. So what’s going on? Why are so many people ditching dairy?

Beyond The Tummy Ache, Why Go Dairy Free?

First to be clear, when I say dairy, I am referring mainly to cow’s milk and products created from that milk – like cheese, cream and butter. There are different sources of dairy, but most of the research has been conducted using dairy from a cow, as it is by far the most popular type of dairy consumed.

Probably the biggest reason dairy is on the decline is that about 65% of the global adult population cannot digest dairy, meaning they are lactose intolerant, or at least have a dairy sensitivity. In fact, in some places around the world like East Asia, that number is closer to 100%.

The second reason is the growing popularity and availability of plant based milks. Gone are the times where pouring a glass of nut milk meant soaking almonds for hours, blending, straining and cleaning up before enjoying. Today, at almost any supermarket you visit, plant based milks will be abound.

But beyond the dairy intolerance and ease of finding dairy free replacements, many people are phasing out of dairy for more serious reasons. 

Saturated Fat

Dairy is the main source of saturated fat in the Standard American Diet. Dairy also contains cholesterol. It’s well known that diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol increase the chance of developing heart disease, which is the number one killer in America. So people with high risk or heart disease, or those looking to stay out of that category may choose to pass on the whipped cream.


Dairy elevates the body’s level of the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). IGF-1 has been shown to increase the chance of all cancers, but in some studies, for breast and prostate cancer in particular, participants who consumed the most dairy showed an increased chance of cancer of up to 50%.

Bone Health, Surprisingly Enough

Milk and other dairy products are high in calcium, which is why we have been told since childhood they gives us strong bones. However, the consumption of dairy actually pulls calcium out of your bones instead of reinforcing them. Dairy produces acid in the body when consumed, and calcium is an excellent acid neutralizer (think Tums for acid reflux). In order to neutralize the acid created by the dairy, the body not only utilizes the calcium contained in the dairy, but it also may leech some from our bones. In fact, higher diary consumption is linked with osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Environmental Impacts

Most dairy comes from factory farms, and livestock on these farms account for about 18% of all emissions in the US. There are about 1.5 billion cattle on the planet right now, requiring food, water and almost all of them are treated with antibiotics, which leak back into the water system and into dairy products we consume. 

The Belly

  1. If you’re one of the many people who have trouble digesting dairy, your body is trying to tell you something – don’t eat it. Many people are so used to feeling chronically bloated they don’t even remember what it’s like to feel normal. 
  2. The purpose of cow’s milk is to make a 70 pound calf grow into a 2000 pound cow as quickly as possible. That usually does not bode well on one’s waistline? 

It’s Kinda Addictive

You may be reading this, understanding it all, and still be thinking, “Got it…but I’m still going to eat cheese, right?” Well, ditching dairy is not totally a matter of logic and willpower.

Dairy contains casein and casomorphins, which are an opiate like compound. These compounds stimulate dopamine production, and when we associate the behavior of consuming dairy with the dopamine release, it becomes a trigger to go back for more to recreate the experience. Cheese has about 7 times the amount of casein as milk, so if milk is your cocaine, cheese is your crack. 

Researchers think this was nature’s intelligent design to encourage infants to drink as much milk as possible, to grow as quickly as possible, and then have the best chance of survival as possible.

What To Eat For Cheesy Goodness Sans Dairy

Making dairy substitutes at home is relatively straight forward and pretty easy. You can make them out of just about every type of nut, as well as grains like oats and rice, following the same basic steps. In the sense of starting simple, let’s focus on mastering making dairy free substitutes from nuts.

To make almost any dairy substitute out of nuts, you will follow 3 basic steps.

Step 1:

Let’s use cashews as the example here, but feel free to pick whatever nut you would like to use (the most common are almond and cashew, but you can really use almost anything), and soak them for a minimum of 4 hours. Over night is easiest.

Step 2:

Drain water and put soaked nuts in a blender.

Step 3:

Add more water and blend.

That’s it.

What determines if your creation transforms into milk, cream or cheese just depends on how much water you add, other ingredients you mix in, and what you do with it afterwards (just like real dairy).

Making Cashew Milk

  1. Follow steps 1-3
  2. For thick milk, add a 1:1 ratio of water to soaked cashews (1 cup water : 1 cup cashews)
  3. For thin milk, add up to 4:1 ratio of water to soaked cashews
  4. Add any flavors you would like (vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, dates, etc.)
  5. For smooth milk, after blending, strain liquid in a cheese cloth or fine strainer
  6. For creamy milk, just blend all ingredients to your desired texture

Making Cashew Cream

  1. Follow steps 1-3
  2. Add about 1/4 cup water to 1 cup soaked cashews and slowly pour more into blender until you reach your desired thickness
  3. Add any flavors you would like (garlic and lemon for caesar dressing, nutritional yeast for nacho, maple syrup for sweet cream, etc.)

Making Hard Cashew Cheese

This one is a bit more labor intensive and requires some uncommon ingredients.

  1. Follow steps 1-3
  2. Follow a recipe like this
  3. Note: many recipes require nutritional yeast and agar agar to make the cheese set which can be purchased at health food stores

Sprinkled Cheese

  1. Follow the recipe for making hard cheese and grate the cheese
  2. Simply sprinkle nutritional yeast onto any dish as a simple non-nut alternative

Bottom Line

There are plenty of reasons to ditch dairy for a bit, and other than the difficulty of breaking a habit, there are not too many good reasons not to. You may be one of the people who genetically have no problem digesting dairy, in which case the negative side effects of dairy consumption are greatly reduced. However, even though a blood test may tell you one thing or another, the best way to find out how dairy works for you is the keep it off the menu for a few weeks and see how you feel.

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