After cheese comes nothing.
–English Proverb (from the Latin)
Having discussed whether we should avoid dairy entirely solely because our supposed Paleolithic ancestors are believed not to have eaten it, let’s now consider a couple other thoughts, shall we?
The next thing to think about is this:
2. What’s up with the conflicting studies? Why does one study show that dairy will kill you, while another claims that it is a health food?
Let’s look at some examples from both sides.
DAIRY IS DEATH:
- Dairy contains betacellulin, a growth hormone that is useful to infants and baby cows, but in human adults could possibly cause cancer by activating beta cells.
- Milk is insulinogenic, often causing an insulin rush all out of proportion to the actual amount of sugar (lactose) that it contains.
- Dairy contains casein, a protein that is similar in structure to gluten, the bad boy in grain that causes auto-immune diseases and perforates your intestines causing celiac and leaky gut, among other things.
- Dairy will make you fat.
DAIRY IS A MIRACLE FOOD:
- Dairy will protect you from cancer.
- Dairy is packed full of minerals and vitamins, more bioavailable (able to be digested) than many other sources.
- Dairy will make you thin.
What’s a person to do?
Cancer: The biggest, most current study is one I linked to above: “High- and Low-fat Dairy Intake, Recurrence, and Mortality After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.” This is the current darling child of the nutritional world, because it proves, PROVES mind you, that full-fat dairy will kill you. But there are some problems with this.
Once again, the study relied on food questionnaires–always unreliable. (Guess how many and how large your servings of full fat cheese were one year ago!). Second, they used the Cox model of analysis for conclusions about full vs. low fat dairy–a model that makes it easy to fail to correct specification errors. Third, they didn’t differentiate between different kinds of dairy–the woman eating raw organic cheese was treated the same as the one eating ice cream. Fourth, their findings were within the range of statistical noise.
Fifth and worst, they had the women fill out two questionnaires–one at baseline (right after diagnosis, treatment, and being declared cancer-free) and one six years later. If the woman had a recurrence of the cancer at the six-year mark, they ditched the six-year data and relied solely on the woman’s original baseline diet report. In other words, if you got cancer again, they assumed that your diet was the same as when you first reported, and that if you said it was different, you were a big, fat, liar. You must be, or you wouldn’t have gotten cancer again, right? If a woman had no cancer at six years out, they averaged the baseline and six-year diet reports.
I find that behavior so appalling I am struggling for the words to describe it. It’s deceptive, despicable, and just plain stupid. It shows that none of the research was honest, for they had already decided the outcome they wanted to find. Yet in their report, they seem to think that they’ve done something wonderful by messing with the numbers like that. I don’t.
But there are studies and reports on both sides of this issue–gazillions of them. All of them are associations. All of them are pretty much junk science. You remember associations, right? That’s where you see, for example, that people tend to lose their hair as they age at about the same rate and percentages as they develop arthritis. Therefore, of course, losing your hair causes arthritis.
“To prevent arthritis,” she said, “doctors recommend limiting your hair loss to no more than 20 strands per day.”
Associations are worthless for making any kind of real decision about anything, not least because in scientific literature about 80% of them are eventually proved wrong. It is, in general, really stupid to look at an association and use it to advise someone to change their behavior dramatically. Associations are useful for two things:
1. Pointing us in a direction for further testing
2. Showing us that a hypothesis is wrong.
Associations can’t prove a hypothesis, but they can certainly disprove it, and that’s where these conflicting studies about dairy help us. I could spend all day linking you to studies that associate dairy intake with higher risk of cancer. But I could also spend all day linking you to studies that show the opposite. All of them involve fairly minuscule percentages. So what does that tell us?
That dairy likely isn’t an important factor in cancer one way or the other.
Casein: This is the protein in milk, and it is quite similar in molecular structure to gluten. This causes some people to worry that it might have the same disastrous gastrointestinal effects that gluten has. In very, very simplified form, gluten tears up your intestine and allows things to penetrate the wall that have no business doing so. In case you’re wondering: this is bad. In case you’re wondering: this is not something that only happens to celiacs. This happens to everyone who eats wheat. The “gluten holes,” as we’ll call them for now, allow undigested proteins to pass into the system, resulting in an immune response. If you have a horrible, violent, immune response, you’re a celiac. If you have a lesser response, you are not a celiac, and your body is capable of closing holes back up before much damage is done. And that’s only one of the fun problems you too can develop from a diet that includes wheat!
What does that have to do with casein? Well, since the casein in diary is molecularly similar to gluten, the theory is that it can follow the gluten out the “gluten holes” really easily, causing you all kinds of problems. Celiac and casein intolerance, after all, usually go together like a horse and carriage.
However…(Did you know this was coming)
I think the evidence is sound that the culprit here is not the casein, unless gluten has already ripped you up. I have three reasons for saying this. I know…you can’t WAIT to hear them!
- “Similar” is not “same.” The protein structures of gluten and casein are not identical, so we can’t treat them as if they were identical.
- Your mother’s milk contained all kinds of casein. Human milk is not identical to cow’s milk, don’t misunderstand. But the casein in human milk is the same as what’s in cow’s milk. No one worries that babies are going to tear up their intestines with all that dangerous mother’s milk.
- Many people have successfully re-introduced dairy into their diet after eliminating all gluten, yet it never works in reverse. You can “heal” celiac by never eating gluten again; but you cannot suddenly become able to eat gluten again. However many people are able to go back to eating dairy just fine once they completely eliminate gluten from their diet and give their gut time to heal.
Fatness: The final negative possibility with eating dairy is increase in weight, or rather inability to lose weight. Now, does it make you fat? We’ve discussed this many times: fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating full-fat dairy will not make you fat because it’s full of fat. However, some people respond to dairy with a far more insulinogenic response than we would expect given the actual amount of sugar (lactose) that is in dairy. This is especially true of milk. Some of you are getting a big sugar rush when you eat this, while others of you are not. Some of you are only getting that rush in response to milk, but not other dairy. Others get it even with the minimal lactose left in yogurt or cheese or cream. (By the way, no one responds like that to butter, which is almost pure fat. It is generally safe for all.)
And here we stray giddily into the realm of “what works for you is not what works for me.” Everyone’s response is different. You have to do what works for you.
But here’s what I’ve seen happen a number of times. Someone starts cutting carbs out of his or her life, but then…you have to eat something. Meat is expensive. Vegetables and the occasional fruit are all fine, but you start to realize they make you feel a bit like this:
They’re fine, but they just don’t really fill you up. So you turn to dairy to fill in the gap. For some people, this works out really well. Dairy is a great source of nutrition–something we’ll talk about in a later post. But for some people, it just doesn’t work out.
I’ve noticed two things about my friends who seem to find themselves really unable to lose a pound unless they eliminate all dairy:
- They have all been very fat for a very long time, and have yo-yo dieted repeatedly in life. (i.e. they are very, very, very sensitive to insulin).
- They crave dairy even when they don’t realize it. They don’t just love crackers: they particularly crave Cheese Nips. They can go through a whole block of cheddar in a sitting. I’ve even sat beside different ones of them once or twice cringing internally as I heard them talk about cheese the way some people talk about a lover. Forget pie. Forget cake. All they want is ice cream. Now I like cheese too, don’t get me wrong. But their response should be triggering all kinds of warning bells. That kind of addictive speech and behavior, especially combined with an inability to lose any weight despite cutting out sugars and grains, means they are having a strong insulin (read: “addictive”) response to this food.
If I just described you, what are your options?
First, do not despair: dairy is not the same as sugar. You don’t go off sugar with the hope of gradually going back to eating 150 pounds of it a year. But you can go off dairy with the hope of being able to eat it again soon. Try ditching it completely for 30 days and see what happens. You may be able to break your addictive insulin response, lose some weight, and go back to eating appropriate amounts of it in the future.
Second, try going as low lactose as you can. That means absolutely no milk and no soft cheeses of any kind. The harder the cheese, the more of the lactose has been eaten away in the fermentation process. You can also try plain, unsweetened yogurt–the thicker the better. Strained Greek yogurt is the best. The fermentation eats some of the lactose; the straining gets out even more. If you eat cream, get the highest fat percentage you can. The more fat, the less lactose. Eat these things in moderation–watch yourself that you’re not snarfing up half a block of cheese in a sitting. If you can’t control it, the insulin response is too strong and you need to just keep it out of the house.
Third, never, never, never, never, never eat low-fat or non-fat dairy. Removing fat just makes any type of sugar spike your insulin even faster and harder than normal. (There are also some excellent benefits to full-fat dairy that we’ll talk about next time–benefits that you miss completely when you skim the fat off. Dairy comes packed in fat for a reason. ) Along with that, pay attention to when you’re eating your cheese. Don’t eat it for a snack by itself mid-morning or while dinner is cooking. Only eat it with meat, or on a salad covered in healthy, fatty dressing and some meat, or after a meal as dessert with a little fruit.
Speaking of which, I think we’ll have some strawberries and that 45% cream this evening after dinner.
Plato says he’s hungry
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