Why You Don’t Do Dairy on the Paleolithic Diet


Dairy products are also a well-known no-no on the “Paleo Diet”. Our paleolithic ancestors almost certainly did not keep herds of mastodons to provide vats of milk to wash down those breakfasts of roots and berries, and it seems a little unlikely that the millions of stampeding buffalo on the Great Plains of North America were patient enough to stand around and produce dairy products, either.

Unfermented dairy products were, by and large, unavailable before the twentieth century. People consumed cheese, yogurt, butter, and sour milk, all modified by fermentation, but fresh milk, whether whole, 2%, non-fat, or skim, simply wasn't commonly available except on farms. Fermentation, it turns out, makes a big difference.

Getting High on Dairy Products

One of the major nutrients in dairy products is a protein called casein. Like the neuroactive mu-opioids in meat and wheat, casein latches on brain cells and triggers some of the same kinds of “mmm, aaaah” reactions that occur after eating beef or wheat. When we eat dairy products, our brains record the good feeling that ensues.

And our digestive tracts are especially responsive to casein, too. Not just casein, but whey protein, whole milk, or skim milk (although not milk fat) stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin. When the pancreas makes more insulin, as we've discussed earlier, fat cells receive glucose and fatty acids but don't release them to the muscles to be burned as fuel.

The more milk you drink, the more fat you store, even if it's non-fat milk. Every extra calorie is going to find its way into a fat cell, and even if you reduce the total number of calories you consume to some level below what your body needs, fat will stay locked up in fat cells. Your body will have to release stored energy from the liver, or break down muscle.

Dairy Products Are a Gas

Dairy products don't just interfere with the success of your Paleo Diet. For about 90% of people world-wide, most milk products (with the exception of whey powders) cause the creation of gas.

That's due to the fact that milk contains a sugar called lactose. The milk sugar lactose is a kind of molecule known as a disaccharide. Essentially, each molecule of lactose consists of two smaller molecules of sugar (galactose and glucose) chemically joined together.

The lining of the intestine can't absorb disaccharides. The gut has to break them down into monosaccharides. To do this, it has to produce an enzyme called lactase. Unfortunately, about 90% of the world's population loses the ability to make this enzyme after early childhood, and in these people, the lactose is left inside the gut to ferment, to absorb water, and to trigger flatulence and diarrhea.

If you are one of the vast majority of people in the world who lacks the enzyme to digest milk, you have several options:

  • You can add an enzyme called lactase to your dairy products, or take a lactase tablet before you consume them.
  • You can buy dairy products that already have lactase added.
  • You can eat small amounts of dairy and just know that you'll get gas (yogurt and cheese usually not causing as many problems as whole milk), or
  • You can stick to your Paleo Diet and get into the habit of drinking almond milk.

Almond milk is a high-protein, high-calcium white liquid made from ground almonds, a little added calcium as a stabilizer, and water. Unlike rice milk (made from a grain) or soy milk (made from a legume), almond milk is relatively low in carbohydrates, high in protein, and a good source of calcium in a form the body can absorb.  Where buying almond milk is a little tricky is finding a brand that doesn't contain added rice starch as a stabilizer.

Blue Diamond (made by a company that specializes in retailing almonds) offers grain-free almond milk. One of their best products combined almond and coconut milk, the coconut milk providing just a little lauric acid, a substance that helps stabilize the lining of the gut so that the more troubling compounds from problem foods (such as meat, wheat, and regular dairy) don't get inside the bloodstream.

Blue Diamond products are available in supermarkets everywhere, but they are considerably less expensive when bought in quantity online. If you develop a taste for almond milk, stock up–but be sure to treat it as a special food. Don't drink even almond milk more than once a day.


About Andy Williams

Andy Williams has a Ph.D. in biology and a strong interest in health and nutrition. The Paleo Gut web site was created to explore the health benefits of the Paleo diet and see how it is changing lives. Also, get our free daily Paleo Gut newspaper delivered to your inbox. Please feel free to contact me and let me know about your Paleo experiences or favorite recipes.

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