Why Dairy May Not Work for You

Here are some reasons why dairy products may be giving you some trouble.


By Karen Rylander


Did you enjoy some cream in your coffee this morning? Perhaps some yogurt for lunch and cheese on your dinner salad? This is all very typical, but you may want to pause and ask yourself, is dairy working for me? How does it make me feel?

As a nutrition consultant, my goal is to empower people to make better health choices. I help clients figure out which foods work best for them and really connect what they’re eating to how they’re feeling. A major source of problems for many of my clients is dairy. Many find they feel better once they remove it from their diet. I always ask my clients to experiment and see how they feel without for a few weeks.

Dairy foods, which includes milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, and butter has been a part of our diet for many, many centuries. I personally love creamy, rich dairy, but I avoid it 99% of the time. Maybe you know someone like me, or you also avoid dairy. But you may wonder why so many people have issues with dairy and cannot digest it well.

The symptoms can range from extreme allergies, lactose intolerance, whey or casein intolerance, or mildly unpleasant symptoms like bloating or acne. These are all signs that dairy may not be the best food for you and could even be harmful.

One reason is that the dairy of today is simply different than what it was in our great grandmother’s time. Our dairy that used to come straight from the pail gathered from local, grass fed, well-treated cows now typically comes from very large scale commercial dairies. This massed- produced dairy can contain hormones, excess antibiotics and may come from sick animals in confined spaces being fed non-traditional diets of grains.

Another answer is that you may not have the necessary enzymes to break down the dairy proteins. A very small percentage of people can actually digest lactose beyond infancy. As babies, we all have an enzyme lactase to help us digest our mother's milk.

In general, as we grow older, we lose that enzyme making it difficult to break down and digest dairy. We also lose helpful enzymes through the process of pasteurization, which makes the milk even harder to digest. If you cannot break down the proteins (whey, casein) or sugars (lactose), your body will launch an immune response against the undigested particles.

The breakdown on dairy:

1. It can be hard to digest for some, damaging the gut lining, and causing chronic inflammation which can lead to disease.

2. Modern, commercial dairy contains added hormones and antibiotics, which you in turn ingest. While dairy has naturally occurring hormones that can be beneficial, excess amounts of these outside hormones can disrupt our endocrine system, sending own hormones out of balance. Over exposure to antibiotics can cause gut dysbiosis which may contribute to chronic diseases.

3. Your tolerance to dairy is highly individualized and depends on your genetic makeup. Do your ancestors hail from Scandinavia or Northern Europe? You may be more tolerant of dairy. The only way to know for sure is to experiment on yourself. Remove dairy for 30 days, then add it back in and see how you feel.

The bottom line is that some people experience unpleasant symptoms and choose to avoid dairy altogether. Others may find they can eat raw dairy products just fine, or that yogurts don’t bother them. You’ll need to experiment to find out. Work with a nutritionist if you need more guidance.

An easy way to find out if dairy bothers you is to simply eliminate it for 30 days. Add it back in and take notice of any symptoms. These symptoms could include gas, bloating, eczema, headaches, acne, or joint pain.

If you do want dairy as a part of your diet, I recommend looking for the highest quality you can find. This means finding dairy that is organic, grass-fed, raw and local if possible. Not only does this support responsible animal husbandry, but it also reduces your exposure to any added hormones or antibiotics which may lead to endocrine disruption and gut dysbiosis. If you find you do well with dairy, it can be a great source of protein and quality fat.

Karen is a certified nutrition consultant, trained chef, and real food enthusiast. She earned a B.A. in anthropology from University of Colorado-Boulder in 2000 and a professional Food and Wine certification from CookStreet in 2007. After adopting a primal-type diet in 2009 and finding great health improvements, she attended Bauman College in Boulder, CO to receive her certification as a nutrition consultant in 2011. She has been working with clients since then, helping them learn what foods to eat, how to cook them, and how to find greater health and vitality. For more information, check out her website, Go Primal by Karen.

Main Photo Credit: Christian Draghici/; Second Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: Alexeysun/; Fourth Photo Credit: Evgeny Karandaev/