Milk + Dairy :: The Inside Scoop

Blog contributor, Christine Dionese is back today, talking dairy again {we both talked dairy a few months ago}: allergies, kids, the inside scoop, and which kinds are the sources for you! Keep reading below to hear her take...


When I first started my practice many moons ago, food allergies, especially cow dairy was gaining a lot of attention in mainstream media. Despite all of the excellent compounding research and years that have past since then, there still exists a lot of confusion in conventional medical models, especially where children’s health is concerned. This can be frustrating for parents who are trying to discover if their child is experiencing health concerns that could be related to a cow dairy allergy or lactose intolerance.

For many parents trying to understand this topic, it can be difficult to separate personal cultural beliefs from scientific evidence either because of what we’ve been raised to believe or what we’ve come to know through social norms. While I’ve helped many patients young and old discover cow dairy intolerances and allergies or remove dairy from their diet for personal or ethical concerns, cow dairy can be a healthy part of your diet if you get the “right stuff.”  

The benefits from organic cow dairy become most significant when combined with a whole-food diet where a multitude of other foods make the diet complete such as nut and seed milks, fruits and leafy green vegetables- many of the foods still missing from the modern American diet. If you’re going to make cow dairy, especially milk, part of your family’s diet, try to set aside any preconceived notions you may have to consider the health implications for your family. Let’s explore these. 

Things to consider first 

  • Cow dairy intolerance and/or allergy is one of the most prevalent children’s health concerns in the US today. It is related to health concerns such as upper respiratory infections, digestive concerns, skin conditions, reproductive issues, learning and behavioral concerns.
  • If you get your dairy from cow dairy from non-organic, non-free range raised cows, now that:
    • pesticides exist on grass and feed conventional cows consume
    • there is a greater propensity for disease in non-grazing animals living in close quarters
    • likely use of antibiotics
    • likely use of hormones

You may be thinking, “but my dairy farm doesn’t use hormones or antibiotics.” Okay, that’s great news, but are they organic? Are they a small farm that feeds their animals GMO-free food? Do their animals freely graze? If you answered no to these questions then your health is still at risk from the dairy your family is consuming.

A few misconceptions worth laying to rest:


  • About labeling. While your dairy may be labeled “not treated with *rBST/hormones/antibiotics” that in no way makes the product organic. It could be organic, but unless otherwise noted, there is a 99.9 % chance it is not. Some small farmers can’t afford the organic stamp. Chances are if they’re that small, you may know them, they may be your neighbors- you can ask them the questions I raised above to discover their practices.
  • About milk fat. Myth: Fat-free milk is healthy. NO, it’s not. This misconception could not be further from simple food science. While you personally may experience a health concern related to fat conversion, milk containing fat is the healthiest form of cow dairy if you’re consuming it for the sake of gaining nutritional value. Here’s why:
      • many people consume milk for vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. Without fat you cannot absorb D. This means that if you’re drinking fat free milk you are not absorbing D or an appreciable amount of calcium. Vitamin D is responsible for pulling calcium into bones, so no fat, equals no D and barely any calcium.
    • due to the acidic nature of milk and its proteins, the calcium from it is already difficult to absorb making plant-based sources of calcium most ideal for absorption.
    • these are:
      • chia seed…………..67 mg per tsp
      • broccoli…………….80 mg per serving
      • kale………………...179 mg per serving
      • the fat from organic cow dairy contains omega-3 fatty acids whereas fat free milk contains zero.
      • the omega-3 fatty acid profile in full fat organic dairy compared to those fats found in conventional milk was recently found in a 2013 study published in PLOS One to contain a significantly higher, health-promoting amount (1). Researchers at The University of Washington released these findings after sampling approximately 400 organic and conventional milk samples from across the United States.

When selecting cow dairy: 

  • go organic every time, no exceptions
  • select from small, local farms
  • unless you have a known, well understood health concern where your body cannot convert fats, choose full-fat.

Get Your Child Tested If They Experience These Health Concerns

If you or your child experiences frequent upper respiratory infections, colds, asthma, breathing difficulties, frequent runny noses in the absence of a cold, itchy eyes, constant blinking and eye rubbing, dark undereye circles, ear infections, copious ear exudate, eczema, psoriasis, unexplained rashes, itchiness, non-specific dermatological concerns and learning or behavioral concerns, have your child tested for cow dairy intolerance and allergy by an integrative specialist who has experience with complete and comprehensive testing methods (RAST testing is inconclusive).   

While they should be, many conventional pediatricians are still not updated with complete diagnostic testing. Never settle for “oh they’ll grow out of it” if you suspect an allergy or sensitivity- that is not an acceptable response to a serious health concern that could be prevented by investigating further. In general, integrative practitioners, whether MDs, NDs, DOs or L.Acs generally understand how to administer complete immunological testing, interpret results, observe potential ongoing concerns and administer appropriate treatment or lifestyle advice for your child’s specific concerns.

If you suspect a dairy allergy, have gluten tested as well with these tests (more sensitive immune and genetic markers exist, but this is a good place to start). If your body has an issue with gluten, it can damage the fingerlike projections called villi that line the small intestine. These villi produce lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting lactose, the sugar contained in milk. In most cases, once gluten is eliminated the villi are able to thrive and return to producing lactase. Going the extra step to have gluten tested may reveal that’s it’s gluten and not dairy that your child actually has an issue with.

Let’s Talk About Cheese 

I’ll end on a happy note- cheese! Here’s the scoop- if you eat American cheese, chances are you’re consuming cheese that’s been made with milk protein concentrates. MPCs generally come from yak and water buffalo from far away places like China, India and the Ukraine. MPCs are the result of an ultra-filtered process that strips away lactose and leaves behind protein. And, don’t be surprised that it’s not really regulated by the FDA (fails to appear on their “safe” list). So, what’s a cheese lover to do?

Eat raw European cheeses from grass fed cows, sheep, goat and yak. Why? Grass fed cows produce milk rich in A2 beta casein and low in A1 beta casein. Raw sheep, goat and yak milk only contains A2 beta casein. Generally, cheese aged less than 60 days isn’t allowed for sale in US groceries so you’ll have to get these from artisanal cheese shops or farmer’s markets. Those usually include softer cheeses like feta, blue and goat cheese. If you can’t find these cheeses, go for cheeses that may not be raw, but come from grass-fed cows that have not been treated with antibiotics and hormones.