Dairy Products

With this food category, we enter into the animal kingdom and the foods made from and by animals and their products, such as eggs, milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt; and then the actual animal flesh—fish, poultry, and beef and other red meats. These are, in general, denser and higher-protein foods, more concentrated body-building foods, and also higher-fat foods. They are most important in growth years and during pregnancy and lactation, but because of their prevalence in our early years, many people, especially in Western cultures, continue to consume what turns out to be an excess of these protein and fatty foods. This may then contribute to the congestive problems and degenerative diseases that occur in later years. In general, other than for special therapeutic situations that will be described later, I believe that these animal-product foods should be consumed moderately in our diet, probably not more than 10–20 percent of our total intake, and can even be totally avoided with proper nutritional care to create a balanced strict vegetarian (vegan) diet.

Milk Products

Milk Cheeses
ButterProcessed cheeses
YougurtCream cheese
KefirCottage cheese
ButtermilkIce cream

Milk is a special food—the primary baby food, the first food of most mammals. It is considered our basic food of life, the connection between mother and child. Milk is often associated in early years with survival, with our love from and for Mother—so it is no wonder that many develop a lifelong addiction to this sweet essence of life. Theoretically, the relationship to sweet food, of which milk is our first, may be the basis of so many people’s acceptance and use of sugar and sweet foods throughout life. An excess of sweets in the diet creates all kinds of problems, from tooth decay to obesity to diabetes. (See more about sugar in Chapter 2, Carbohydrates.)

Lactose, a simple sugar, should be easy to digest and use in our body for energy, but some children may be unable to utilize this sugar; that is, they are lactose intolerant. Even more adults are sensitive to milk sugar; this is a separate (and major) issue from milk allergy. Nearly half of the world population is lactose intolerant, which may cause bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after milk is consumed. Luckily, though, most children can handle at least mother’s milk and do all right on milk products, at least in their early years.

When other milks, such as cow’s or goat’s milk, are substituted for mother’s milk in infancy, milk allergy is very common. These milks are richer in proteins and have new protein molecules for the baby’s system to handle. Lactalbumin and milk casein are two of the proteins to which people, especially children, may react. Milk is the most common food allergen. Milk allergies may manifest as skin rashes, eczema, chronic otitis media (fluid and/or infections in the ears), hyperactivity, and other problems. Taking a child off milk products for a three- to four-week trial period and seeing how he or she does and then retesting with a meal of milk products is probably the best way to evaluate whether milk is a problem. If there are mild allergies, it is still possible to bring milk products back into the diet later after eliminating them for a month or two, which reduces the allergic capacity, possibly to a degree that they can be tolerated in moderation. Then a rotating diet where they are consumed only every four Day s will often be better tolerated. Sometimes substituting goat’s milk or, even better, soy milk or nut milks, will make a difference. (See more about this in the Allergy program in Part Four.)

(In the rest of this section, when discussing milk, I will be referring to cow’s milk, which is by far the most commonly consumed.) Even for adults, cow’s milk and its products are not ideal and really not even suggested, especially from factory-farmed cows. We know that when an upset mother nurses her infant, he or she may have intestinal difficulties; what can we expect from these mistreated animals?

On the more positive side, milk is a very good protein food and an important source of calcium. It has a better balance than vegetable foods in all the essential amino acids. Milk is considered a complete protein food from which we can build bodily tissue proteins. Milk also contains many of the B vitamins, including B6 and B12, has vitamins A, D, and E, and contains most of the minerals, though mainly calcium and phosphorus, along with potassium and some sodium. It has traces of zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, and copper and a little vitamin C, but certainly not enough to meet daily needs for any of these essential nutrients.

One glass of milk contains about 300 mg. of calcium, a level hard to find in very many other foods, and it is also in balance with phosphorus, so good for bone health. Other foods, such as meats, nuts, and seeds, have a much higher proportion of phosphorus. Many cheeses made from milk are also concentrated in calcium. Some extra calcium is helpful for elderly individuals or people with high blood pressure, as it helps to relax the vascular tone and sometimes reduces muscle tension. However, research has recently shown that the actual calcium utilization is not that good from milk or meat, or when consuming a high protein diet. More important, though, the higher fat levels of milk may increase cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels, which increases the atherosclerosis risk and may create more long-range problems with hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Thus, drinking milk or eating a lot of milk products is not generally recommended in the adult population.

Fat and Calorie Content of Milk (one glass, 8 oz.)

Whole 2% Skim
milk milkmilk
Calories150.0 120.085.0
Protein (g.)8.0 8.18.4
Carbohydrates (g.)11.3 11.711.8
Fiber (g.)0.0 0.00.0
Total fat (g.)8.2 4.70.4
Saturated (g.)5.0 2.90.3
Unsaturated (g.)2.7 1.50.1
Cholesterol (mg.)33.0 18.00.4


Source: Nutrition Almanac, McGraw-Hill, 1984.

A great concern with milk is its fat content. The regular drinking of whole milk and intake of dairy products leads to excess fat intake and all of its potential problems. Whole milk is described as 3.5 percent fat, but about half the 150 calories in a glass are from the 8–9 grams of fat (at nine calories per gram). Skim milk has most of the fat removed and has about half the calories of whole milk; low-fat, or 2 percent, milk is in between, with about 50 of the 120 calories coming from fat (two-thirds saturated). Yet whole, low-fat, and skim milks are very similar in their vitamin and mineral makeup, as well as their protein and carbohydrate levels. The only difference is the amount of fat. Another concern is that these milks are also processed products. This natural white substance that comes from cows is heated, treated, and diluted to make even the “normal” homogenized, pasteurized milk. It loses some vitamin E, biotin, B12, and other vitamins with pasteurization; often, vitamin A and irradiated vitamin D are then added to “fortify” this food, which some erroneously consider a “drink.” Homogenization is possibly the biggest concern in milk. It basically involves the blending of the milk fat into small globules so that it does not separate as it normally will do when it sits. It is possible that this process interferes with the body’s ability to digest and utilize this fat in homogenized milk. The increase in cardiovascular disease has been correlated with the rise in the use of homogenized milk; however, further epidemiological study is needed to prove this relationship.

In general, I do not recommend the drinking of milk for adults. A warm glass before bed can be helpful for sleep, likely due to the tryptophan content. Generally, though, calcium and protein needs can be met with many other foods. Chamomile flower or valerian root tea may be helpful for sleep in nonmilk drinkers. For adults who seem to tolerate milk products well, are not overweight, and do not have high blood pressure, high blood fats, or a family history of heart disease, I would suggest moderate use of milk products, but not daily because of the possibility of developing milk sensitivities. I think that yogurt and kefir, the cultured milk products that get predigested by friendly bacteria, even though that may sound disgusting to some, are probably the best choices of the dairy family. Low-fat milk products and a low-fat diet in general are also wise guidelines to follow.

Butter. Butter, made from whole milk through a churning process, is mainly the milk fat. It is a high-fat (two-thirds saturated fats) and high-cholesterol food that is also high in vitamin A and added vitamin D. It has minimal amounts of some other vitamins and minerals, usually is salted so that it is high in sodium, and is fairly high in calories (100 per tablespoon). Because of its sweet flavor and the fact that it is saturated and so doesn’t break down as easily as the unsaturated fats, it is used commonly in cooking and baking, and slathered on potatoes, noodles, vegetables, and other hot foods or poured over popcorn. A little butter is okay, but butter is one food that it is very easy to overuse.

Yogurt. Yogurt is considered the “health food” of the milk family. One of the foods thought to promote longevity, it is commonly consumed by those peoples who tend to live a long time. Yogurt is the end product of the fermentation process of either whole milk or low-fat or nonfat milk acted upon by bacteria and yeasts. The friendly human intestinal bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus and the one originally used, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, are the common ones used to make yogurt, which resembles a milk custard. Yogurt is a form of soured milk that becomes reduced in fat and calories, usually with an increase in the B vitamin levels. Many of the minerals become more concentrated as well. The calcium content of yogurt is very good. Yogurt, like the other cultured or soured milk products, is more stable and resistant to spoilage than fresh milk, and this can be helpful in many instances.

Yogurt is usually thought of in terms of its health or medicinal benefits. Many experience it as an aid to digestion. Acidophilus yogurt tends to help reimplant normal colon bacteria, which can then act more effectively in the complete digestion and utilization of high-fiber foods. Our friendly bacteria also aid in the production of many of our needed B vitamins.

Yogurt can be eaten alone as a snack or dessert, mixed with cereal, or made into sauces or dips. Lower fat yogurts are becoming more popular in recent years as people watch their fat intake. Frozen yogurt has also increased in use as a slight improvement over ice cream. Fruited and sugared yogurt is commonly available, but this is not recommended. Often, people who have a lactase deficiency do all right when eating yogurt because much of the lactose has already been acted on by the bacterial process and turned into lactic acid.

It is interesting that, on the one hand, we are trying to get rid of bacteria in milk products through pasteurization and on the other, we are trying to obtain more bacteria in yogurt and kefir. What we want to do is to keep our friendly colon bacteria L. acidophilus, L. bifidis, and Strep. faecium working for our benefit, not to obtain pathogenic organisms that can make us sick. People often eat yogurt after antibiotic therapy, which kills off some of their normal bacteria in the intestine or in a woman’s vaginal tract. This may lead to an overgrowth of yeast organisms, such as Candida albicans, which may then need treatment to clear. (See discussion in the Anti-Yeast program in Part Four.) Yogurt or acidophilus culture douches or cultures of bacteria taken orally seem to be helpful clinically to prevent these problems, though further research is needed to clarify what is really happening with this interplay of organisms. In some areas of Europe, acidophilus and vitamin B12 are prescribed together with antibiotics.

Kefir. Another soured and fermented milk product, kefir is more of a drink than yogurt. It has similar properties, though most kefir available is flavored and sweetened with fruit. It is often a good nutritious substitute for milk, especially for children.

Buttermilk. Basically soured milk, buttermilk provides good nourishment with a reduced fat content while remaining high in calcium and protein, though its vitamin A content is lower (unless added) than that of whole milk. Buttermilk may be helpful for digestion, as are the other soured products, for those people who tolerate its fairly strong taste.

Cheeses. Cheeses have been made for centuries worldwide, directly from milk, by separating the curd, or milk solids, from the whey and then aging the curd. Cheese is a concentrated food; it takes about one gallon of milk to make a pound of cheese. In general, cheese is a high-protein, high-calcium food with good levels of vitamin A and an assortment of various vitamins and minerals.

Cheese has some of the problems of milk products in general—it is high in fats, mainly saturated fats, and high in cholesterol, and too much of it can cause the many problems that come from high-fat diets. Cheese is even more commonly abused in our adult population than milk. Sodium content is also usually higher in cheeses than in milk. There are some lower-fat cheeses available, such as mozzarella, farmer cheese, and cheeses made from skim milk. Recently, goat’s milk cheese and fetas made from sheep or goats have become available, particularly helpful for people avoiding cow’s milk products.

Most cultures around the world have their own cheeses, for which they may be famous throughout other countries. The French have brie, bleu, and Camembert; the Swiss have Swiss; Italians are known for mozzarella, Parmesan, and ricotta; Greeks for feta; and the Americans for cheddars, jacks, and colbys. On the negative side, the classic “American” sliced cheese is really a “junk” food and not part of the real cheese culture. It is often high in sodium and unnecessary additives. Cheeses are used in a great variety of food dishes, such as sauces, quiche, and omelettes.

Processed Cheeses. Processed cheeses and cheese spreads are often higher than natural cheeses in fat and sodium, neither of which is needed by most people. They are often fortified with vitamin A, but most of the B vitamins and minerals other than calcium and phosphorus are fairly low. Sodium levels are about 400–500 mg. per ounce. It is really a good idea to avoid these cheeses.

Cream Cheese. This mildly processed cheese is higher in fat and lower in protein and calcium than other cheeses. Other than vitamin A, its nutrient content is fairly scarce. However, children do like it, it is better than other cheese spreads, and many people feel they can’t live without their SunDay cream cheese and bagels. But, overall, cream cheese should be used sparingly, if at all.

Cottage Cheese. Made from soured milk, cottage cheese is mainly the curd extracted from the whey. This curd is high in protein, and cottage cheese is somewhat lower in calories and fats than other cheeses. The low-fat cottage cheese is even better. Though the sodium content of most cottage cheeses is pretty high and the calcium content low, overall, cottage cheese is fairly good to use as the main part of an occasional meal.

Ice Cream. Ice cream is both the greatest joy and the greatest tragedy of our food culture, probably the biggest treat and the biggest threat to health of any food. The high-fat congesting nature of ice cream, along with the usual high-sugar content, makes it a food that should be eaten only infrequently and sparingly, if at all. Frozen yogurt and, more recently, Tofutti and Ice Bean made from soybeans or Rice Dream made from rice are tasty and lower in fat, and better nutritional treats than ice cream.

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Written by Elson M. Haas MD

Explore Wellness in 2021