Some dieticians and nutritionists are of the opinion that when you start following a diet, it makes sense to modify it according to your personal health objectives. This is practical and sensible advice since most diets may require you to eat or drink something you either don’t like or are not used to. A diet may also require you to give up something that you like very much or are used to.
A classic example is milk. Many people, when they adopt the Paleo Diet, find it hard to believe that the diet doesn’t include milk or dairy products. While it is quite well known that the vegan diet advocates eliminating milk and dairy products, it’s not the case with Paleo. It is generally assumed that since Paleo Diet contains meat, it would allow you to drink milk or eat dairy products.
However, strictly speaking, Dairy has no position in the Paleo Diet. Why?
Didn’t we always have dairy?
The ubiquitous presence of milk and dairy products in our diet will make us wonder if there ever was a time when humans did not drink milk. The truth is that we started consuming milk, only about 10,000 years ago. Now, this may seem like a very long time but it really isn’t when we compare it with human history and take into account the various evolutionary stages of human life on earth.
Human consumption of cow’s milk and dairy coincides with the agricultural revolution. To put it in a nutshell, Paleo Diet is based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. In the Palaeolithic Age, humans had not domesticated animals or started farming. Therefore Paleo Diet does not have dairy or milk.
Why not a ‘Lacto’ Paleo Diet?
If the Paleo Human did not drink milk, it was simply because it was unavailable. Now, since milk and dairy products are abundantly available, and since they are obviously good for our health, shouldn’t we consume it? Doesn’t it seem a bit of a flimsy premise to eliminate dairy just because our ancestors had not discovered dairy and farming? The arguments for dairy may proceed thus.
There are many variations of the vegetarian diet from the strictly plant-based vegan to the lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, pescatarian or pollotarian depending on whether dairy, eggs or both, seafood or poultry meat is allowed. Similarly, why can’t there be a ‘lacto’ Paleo Diet which allows milk and dairy products?
However, the absence of milk or dairy in Paleo Diet is not just because of historical reasons. Many health professionals consider that dairy should not be a part of the Paleo Diet because it is not nutritionally required.
Isn’t milk essential?
It may come as a surprise to many of us to learn that we can fulfil our nutritional needs without milk or dairy products. After all, we have been told that milk contains calcium which is an essential nutrient not to mention carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. If we don’t drink milk, then will we not suffer from loss in bone density because of calcium deficiency? Without milk, will we not be missing out on energy supplying protein?
However, evolutionary evidence indicates otherwise. Humans can have enough calcium and protein if they eat a balanced diet containing the right amounts of leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, meat and seafood. In fact, studies show that for many thousands of years, regions in Asia such as China did not have a dairy industry and yet people were healthy.
According to some estimates, about 65% of the world’s population do not produce lactase, the enzyme required to breakdown the lactose in milk or dairy products. This means that when they consume milk or dairy products, it may cause bloating, gas, stomach discomfort and even indigestion.
So, what should we do with dairy?
It is easy to state that dairy has no place in Paleo Diet. It may not be as easy to decide to give up dairy.
Drinking milk or consuming dairy products may not necessarily be solely because we nutritionally need it but it could also be because we have been conditioned to. The milk industry has definitely done a great job in promoting milk and dairy products so that they have now become a part of our lifestyle.
As with any kind of information that is available, we need to understand its relevance to us as an individual or as a group such as a family. Whether you adopt the Paleo Diet or any other diet, consider carefully your health objectives. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to prevent diseases? Do you want the energy to lead an active life? Do you want to eliminate everything that is harmful from your diet?
Experiment and evaluate for yourself.
Many people, who eat healthy and exercise regularly, do indulge in the occasional glass of wine or bite of cheese. As long as it is in moderation, the benefits may balance out the bad effects. Similarly, if you are adopting the Paleo Diet, you may consider experimenting without milk and dairy products for a trial period of one month and observe how you feel. You may slowly introduce some dairy products such as yoghurt or cheese and see if it makes any difference to your health.
If you feel that you are missing milk, then there are plenty of plant-based alternatives such as soy milk, coconut milk or almond milk. There is also no need to feel deprived of your favourite dessert because you can also get dairy-free and gluten-free ice creams made using coconut milk. As mentioned in the beginning, it is not always necessary to strictly follow a diet, but it may even be beneficial to modify it according to your individual nutritional needs.