Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past.
–Old Dutch proverb
What to do about dairy? Some people love it, some people hate it, everyone wants it on pizza. Vegans won’t touch it, while Paleos claim it’s too new a food to safely eat. Some are sure it makes them gain weight or at least feel temporarily bloated, yet many Europeans consume it like candy and seem to enjoy both good health and healthy body weights regardless. Some people groups, such as the Chinese or Vietnamese, have rampant lactose intolerance; yet some societies–like the Mongols, Tibetans, and Masaai–have or do subsist largely on dairy and are strong and healthy. Some scientists claim that it will give you cancer and cause gut leakage problems, while others swear that it’s the best and healthiest way to get your Vit D, calcium, and is even protective from cancer. One study tells you it will spike your insulin and derange your metabolism; another will tell you that it protects from diabetes.
WHAT’S GOING ON?!?!?!
It has taken a while to get around to it, but it is time that we took a look at the pros and cons of this loved and hated food group. It’s important to me, not only because I’m interested in it, but because I suspect many of you are in the same boat as I am. I would have a very hard time eating enough healthy fat and protein without dairy because of the cost. Butter and cheese and cream are less expensive than clean beef and whole chickens, at least where I am. I am also allergic to eggs, which means there’s a huge, cheap nutrition source that I can’t capitalize on.
But before we look at specifics, let’s just remind ourselves of a couple general points that are good to bear in mind.
1. If you are lactose intolerant, this discussion is not for you. It doesn’t matter how much calcium, fat, or vitamin D milk has in it: if you rush off to the bathroom ten minutes after you drink some, you aren’t getting any of that calcium, and you are probably doing damage to your intestines. You know if you’re lactose intolerant and what you can and can’t eat. Obey that command of your body.
Incidentally, I had an Australian friend years ago who was horribly lactose intolerant. She couldn’t drink the smallest amount of milk without incapacitating stomach pains. She could barely eat any cream, yogurt, or cheese, either, which some lactose intolerant people can still tolerate. I know exactly how sensitive she was, because she insisted on eating all these things anyway. She loved them, despite the pain and discomfort. I was a little slow back then, from all the grain, probably, so it took me months to wake up and realize that the one “dairy product” she could eat without the slightest twinge of digestive discomfort was McDonald’s soft serve ice cream.
2. There’s a huge difference between the processed garbage and the real stuff. We’re not talking about Velveeta, spray cheese in a can, whipped dairy product or anything similar. If it contains emulsifiers, says “cheese food” on the side, has a shelf life un-refrigerated or, like the horrific stuff Brother #4 saw at the Dollar Store once, says “product will not melt” on the package, you shouldn’t be eating it at all.
Here, for example, is the ingredient list for Easy Cheese:
milk, water, whey protein concentrate, canola oil, milk protein concentrate, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sorbic acid, sodium alginate, apocarotenal, annatto, cheese culture, and enzymes.
Here is the ingredient list for the goat’s cheese I got the other day:
Goat’s milk, culture (the same probiotics as are in yogurt), salt
Only one of those things is food.
With that out of the way, let’s consider four areas of concern. First, should we be eating dairy at all if we think our ancestors gazillions of years ago didn’t eat it? Second, what about the studies that suggest dairy is bad for your health–why are there conflicting studies? Third, are there differences among dairy items and among different brands that mean anything important? Finally, why can’t some people lose weight unless they cut out the dairy?
Should we be eating this at all if we think our ancestors gazillions of years ago didn’t eat it?
This is basically the Paleo argument: dairy is a “new” food in the human diet, we were never intended to eat it, therefore it causes a lot of health issues and should be avoided. We’re the only mammals that drink the milk of another mammal.
This is a ridiculous argument. I’m sorry, but it is. This is not logical. There may be great reasons for you to avoid dairy products. We’ll talk about those in the next section. But this particular tack is just illogical.
Every animal and plant on the planet resists being eaten. Actually, as long as we’re being honest here, we have to acknowledge that just about the only food we could say was “meant” to be eaten is dairy.
For another thing, what is it that these people imagine their ancestors were eating three million years ago? They certainly weren’t eating this:
Nothing a current Paleo proponent eats can be the same as what his supposed Paleolithic ancestors ate, and he himself is believed by evolutionists to have many biological differences from his Paleolithic ancestors. You can’t eat ANYTHING exactly like Paleolithic man supposedly ate, for you aren’t a Paleolithic man: so why balk at dairy?
Also, we don’t actually know when people first started eating dairy; or anything for that matter. If you read up on this aspect of evolutionary hypothesizing, what you eventually realize is that there is some firm, tangible evidence of what humans were eating in the past; but none of that firm, tangible evidence can be dated older than at the most 10,000 years ago. After that it’s all speculation. So what we get told is that we “know” humans didn’t eat dairy from 3.5 million to 10,000 years ago, and then suddenly they did. And we’re really super sure about it, too, because we KNOW. After all, we used to say it was 6,000 years ago that dairy entered the diet, and then we keep finding evidence pushing the date back farther and farther.
6,000 years was the standard line for a long time, mostly because the brain trust in the anthropology department thinks we evolved lactose tolerance about that time. Of course lately they’ve been dating pottery shards with dairy products on them to as old as 7,500 years ago and 9,000 years ago. And then it was 10,000 years ago.
This is rough on them, you see, because now they have to explain why on earth people had dairy herds and were eating diary products before they had the ability to digest them. My favorite idiotic explanation for this came from some scientist or other who postulated that perhaps it was some Neolithic equivalent of a frat boy’s drinking game. In other words, a bunch of guys sat around downing pints of milk to see who could keep the stuff down longest. The rare guys with the lactose tolerance could drink a bunch, so they were heroes and got all the girls and spread their genes and so lactose tolerance spread.
My favorite part about all this is that even the dating methods rely on assumptions about the past–and the whole point of most of the articles on dairy is that our assumptions were wrong. We were wrong in assuming that people started eating dairy at this time, you see, but we’re NOT wrong in the assumptions we’re making that allow us to do our dating.
To me, the upshot is this: for as long as we actually have concrete, tangible evidence of what people have been eating, humans, at least in some parts of the world, have been consuming dairy and been very health and lean.* If it’s causing us a problem now, something has changed and maybe we can change it back. In this case, most likely what’s changed is either the quality of our dairy (Velveeta and low-fat sugar bomb blueberry yogurt) and/or many of us are so metabolically broken that we can’t handle the insulin response to even good quality diary. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.
And finally, the claim that we’re the only mammals that drink the milk of another mammal may be true, but it is hardly important. We drink it because we have the brains to figure out how to use the milk of another mammal. Isn’t that why you say we didn’t evolve super-speed, or armor plating, or enormous claws? Instead, we got brains and thumbs? Whether you are with me that God made us with these brains, or you think we evolved them, I think we can all unite around the fact that we’re supposed to USE them. We eat, drink, and do all kinds of things because we’re able to figure it out when animals can’t. Animals don’t drink wine, either, yet the same Paleo diet folks who want to crucify you for drinking milk will in fact drink wine.
BUT WE’RE THE ONLY MAMMAL WHO DOES!!!
You can see that this distinction is only because of our superior brains and reasoning skills just by offering a dairy product to another carnivore. I have had a lot of dogs in my life, and I’m still waiting to meet one that doesn’t go nuts for cream, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, cheese, or butter. Cats too. (Of course cats and dogs are both largely lactose intolerant, so no milk.) At Big Cat Rescue, they find that their big cat kittens are more likely to tolerate goat’s milk than formulas. I had one dog who would spin in wild circles trying lick a little cream off her own tail. That was a lot of fun. My current dogs get to lick out the sour cream, yogurt, and cream containers when I’ve emptied them: a privilege they take very seriously. They absolutely know what those containers look like and they follow them with very big eyes from the refrigerator to the counter. Never once have they had the slightest trouble digesting it.
Does this mean they should eat a diet made up primarily of dairy? Of course not. But they LIKE it, will eat it if they can, and thereby nullify the argument that we humans shouldn’t eat dairy because other mammals aren’t capable of milking a goat.
And do any of the above arguments mean we should all be eating buckets of cheese all day? Again, no. It just means that it’s illogical to say we shouldn’t eat any dairy solely because we guess that some ancient ancestor didn’t eat it. There are other things to consider besides just what supposed Paleolithic humans ate, and we’ll get to those in the next installment.
*I know some would argue the same for grain: we’ve been eating it for thousands and thousands of years, and people were leaner and healthier than they are now. But again, I would say the most important thing is that something’s changed–the wheat itself–and we can’t change it back at this point. At least, it’s far easier to find raw milk from grass-fed cows than it is to find an ancient strain of grow-able wheat.
And while ancient grain eaters may have been leaner than we are today, they weren’t really healthier. We get to be unhealthy AND fat because, most likely, of sugar and excessive amounts of fructose. While there is good evidence of lots of very strong, very healthy cultures consuming diets heavy in dairy, there is no evidence of a culture consuming diets heavy in grains and being anything like as strong and healthy. The ancient Egyptians, for example, while a dominant culture and very big on eating grains, were plagued by tooth decay, heart disease, arthritis, and other “modern” diseases and disorders. It’s very easy to find mummies showing evidence of serious nutritional deficiencies–a shock to researchers because of the Egyptians seemingly healthy diet: cereals, fruits, vegetables, milk, and meat. (Note the order of importance there). The average Egyptian did not live past forty. Contrast that with the Maasai, who before they were introduced to Western diets high in grain and sugar lived an average of sixty years and with hardly any of those disorders and diseases–very good health and longevity for pre-modern medicine peoples. Remember, too, that the Egyptians were relatively peaceful, while the Maasai were a warrior tribe that also had to deal with lions and other natural threats on a regular basis. An interesting quote from a modern Maasai woman:
“The ilmurran (warriors) of the past didn’t die for no reason. They didn’t get fevers or any sicknesses, but only died during cattle thefts. But these ilmurran of today who eat flour inside the house? Would you ever have seen ilmurran of the past eating flour in a house? They didn’t eat meat that had been seen by married women [and] they drank blood that had been mixed with medicines (ormukuta) so that they had the strength/abilities to steal. But those [ilmurran of today] who eat flour mixed with shortening, that was forbidden for ilmurranin the past!”
We can see the same thing with the Romans and the Mongols. Roman skeletons and records from around 200AD tell us millet was the staple food, especially for the poor. If a Roman managed to live to age ten, he could expect to live another thirty-five years or so. Malnutrition was rampant. Gastronomical disorders, tooth decay, nervous disorders, and heart disease were common. Of course infectious disease was the big killer, and this despite the fact that Rome is known for its efforts in the field of hygiene and medicine. Contrast this with the Mongols. In 1870, explorers from Russia detailed what the Mongols ate: milk, tea, butter, and meat. If they did eat a little millet, they drank it thrown in a tea to which several cups of milk and a big lump of sheep’s fat or butter had been added. (a concoction the poor Russians describe as “revolting.”) According to them, a girl was allowed 10-15 cupfuls of this stuff per day. Men drank twice as much. This milk and butter tea was the staple of their diet. They also ate all kinds of milk-based concoctions and loved mutton. Their hygiene was considered “appalling” even by the standards of the day. Yet the Russians were equally amazed by the hardiness and good health of the people. They speak of it several times: how could people they considered so lazy (they didn’t move unless they had to) and eating such appalling food, and living (in the Russian view) like such pigs be able to do amazing feats of endurance when required and enjoy robust good health?
We don’t know how long they lived on average back then because they were nomadic: however today’s nomadic Mongols still eat like their ancestors. Their lifestyle is still about the same: they sit around a lot. No one “feeds” the herds. The herds feed themselves. They are very poor, have little access to the modern medicine we enjoy, live in an extremely harsh environment, have what we and the Romans would consider appalling personal and societal hygiene, and have smoking and alcoholism rates on par with the worst countries–yet they still live to an average age of sixty-eight. Another interesting quote, this one by a Mongolian lady, “Crystal:”
“I’ was born and raised in Mongolia, and I just ran into your website and found this article on Mongolia. I found it very interesting how Westerners describe us and our diet. It is very true that our diet is mainly composed of fat meats and milk products…the traditional Mongolian nomadic sacred diet is meat and milk….As I recall we never had dental problems and I never brushed my teeth (I didn’t own a tooth brush until I was 7) until I was sent to Russian school in Mongola, and had to learn to brush my teeth. I never had green salad in my life until i came to the States at age 22. Something in our limited diet was so healthy, so normal to the human body that I didn’t have many health issues.”
Plato says he’s hungry
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