It cracks me up the, the horror on people’s faces when they hear I don’t give my kids cows milk. It has become the socially acceptable thing to do– without knowing exactly why. The Dairy Board issues “health claims” which really don’t have a strong basis. Once again it’s all marketing. Literally. I remember when I would not start weaning my 1 year old from my milk (read here the ingredients in human milk) to pasteurized cow’s milk I had a well-meaning friend warn me several times that he may be at high risk for rickets.
I’ll start by saying that I understand dairy is a complex topic. Am I opposed to all dairy? Not necessarily…not raw, from pasture raised cows (the enzymes break down the casein and it is more easily digested and handled by the gut), the milk fat is not removed, it is nutrient dense, and it is not homogenized…but good luck finding real milk. I am still learning about raw dairy, and haven’t tried it yet. If you can find it and have access to it, you can learn more about raw dairy here: This is an awesome resource.
My focus on this post is pasteurized dairy from confined grain, corn and soy fed cows, and why I do not buy into the hype or give it to my kids.
I remember when I was a child (in the 1980’s) we had several dairy farms right around the corner from our house. The cows were out grazing all day long– you could smell the cow manure but it was almost a pleasant smell of summertime in the country. One of the Farmers had an ice-cream shop and general store. We would walk there and get some fresh local grass-fed ice-cream. One of the Farms was on a hill…I remember playing in the field with my friends and getting chased by a cow down that hill and running all the way home. We use to walk around the corner of our street to a dead end street to “pet the cows” and feed them “cow flowers” out in the big pasture. It’s sad that all those farms in my hometown are gone now and that pasture is now filled with houses.
It’s funny how on many milk cartons you see pictures of cows out grazing in pastures. Last year my son’s preschool class went to visit the local dairy “farm” that supplies much of the milk to the local convenience stores here in Upstate NY. The cows were all standing in stalls in their feces. They were all 100% grain-fed (along with corn and soy) and the stench was awful. Nothing like the sweet grassy manure smell growing up. I won’t get into to many more details. I don’t want to start getting too idealistic and lose readers that way. However, my point is that the model of farming has changed drastically over the years, and this affects the final product. I’m sure much of it has to do with politics and government subsidies. Even the milk sold in glass jars locally here at the farmer’s market is from grain-fed cows, pasteurized, and homogenized. It’s just sold in fancy glasses…and they charge more for it.
Most of the milk we consume and believe is making us strong comes from confined grain-fed cows. These cows are not eating their natural diet of grass, at all…and therefore missing out on the high levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid– a potent cancer fighter) and there is an omega 6 to omega 3 imbalance. High omega 6 consumption and low omega-3 is a leading cause of inflammation in the body.
According to Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple,
“Cows raised on pasture produce milk fat with an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1. Yes, equal amounts. A balance. Grain-fed cows, on the other hand, produce a ratio tilted heavily toward omega 6.”
If you are regularly consuming cows milk each day…that is a very high omega 6 consumption!
Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/grass-fed-butter/#ixzz2NdymmxKv
When cows milk is pasteurized all the beneficial gut bacteria, probiotics and live enzymes are killed off. The good saturated fats are usually removed (because of the “low fat” and “fat free” craze so it is stripped of its nutrients). Then we add “vitamins” to it and tell the public we must consume it for strong bones! However, does the public know that the calcium in cow milk is not all bioavailable? What that means is that the body does not easily absorb and assimilate it like it does the calcium from other sources. There are certain minerals (co-factors) needed for calcium to be absorbed. Therefore the “however many” milligrams of calcium it says you are ingesting, you really are not.
The casein in cows milk is a foreign protein and can be very hard on the gut. The body then tries to reject it. This can lead to many different inflammatory and immune responses including skin conditions like eczema, asthma, allergies, and autoimmune issues. The body wants to reject these proteins and this creates an immune system response.
So what about CALCIUM?
THIS ARTICLE from Whole 9 explains calcium thoroughly (way better than I could try to take on):
“Our first mistake is thinking that bone health is all about calcium, the second is believing our intake of calcium is all that matters. If this was true, then how do you reconcile this?
The United States has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world,
despite having one of the highest calcium intakes.
It makes no sense… unless there’s more to the story than how much calcium we’re taking in. It’s also about how much we’re able to absorb, and retain. And factors like our dietary habits, our lifestyle, and the aging process all contribute to calcium absorption and retention.
- The phytates in foods like whole grains and legumes form complexes with the calcium and other minerals in the plant. This renders the calcium virtually impossible to absorb, and limits its bioavailability (the amount that can be effectively absorbed and used by the body).
- Whole grains may also promote a loss of vitamin D, a critical element of bone health. Low vitamin D3 levels (from diet and a lack of daily exposure to sunshine) inhibits calcium absorption.
- Stress affects HCL production in the stomach (and impacts normal digestion), which can have a negative effect on calcium absorption.
- Age also negatively impacts calcium absorption – on average, adults absorb about 20% less calcium than children.
- On the other hand, adequate protein in the diet increases calcium absorption and stimulates the production of hormones that promote new bone formation. This effect is more than sufficient to counter the increased urinary excretion of calcium observed upon increased protein consumption.
Finally, one additional note: vitamin D3 and K are both fat soluble – meaning they require some fat to be absorbed in the bloodstream. So a low fat diet (like the kind we’ve all been advised to eat for the last 20 years) may impair your body’s ability to absorb these two vitamins, which can also diminish bone health.”
Read more: http://whole9life.com/2012/02/what-about-calcium/
In THIS ARTICLE by Diane Sanfilippo (nutritionist, author, and blogger at Balanced Bites) Diane explains:
“We can see in a day’s worth if USDA meals that the RDA is slightly exceeded at 123%, while the Paleo diet (PD) comes a lot closer than parents might assume at 90%. Now, I wasn’t specifically searching for calcium-rich foods when I calculated this day, but you can see how a child can easily come close to the RDA for calcium without a DROP of dairy in his or her daily diet. That said, even at 90% of the RDA, the amount of calcium that’ll be absorbed by the child’s body is likely going to be much higher since the cofactors for calcium absorption are higher across the board in the PD day. Vitamin and mineral cofactors required for calcium absorption include Vitamin D (56% in Paleo vs 12% in USDA) and Magnesium (103% in Paleo vs 87% in USDA). So, by allowing a child to eat a diet that is not only fairly high in calcium from non-dairy sources but also providing balanced nutrition to allow for the absorption of calcium, it’s clear that the need for dairy in the diet as a calcium source is overstated and inaccurate.  Furthermore, studies show that the phytic acid in grains (specifically whole wheat products in one study) reduces the absorption of dietary calcium from milk products, which would likely then leave the USDA diet at a much lower level of bio-available calcium than the PD. ”
Do I think conventional dairy affects everyone? Probably not everyone. Do I think we should consume it? Most definitely not.
So what do my kids drink? They happily drink water, occasionally homemade juice (I’ll get into conventional orange juice and fruit juices in subsequent posts), and almond milk. You know what? I am really not concerned about their mineral intake. They eat tons of fresh produce and they run and play! My kids occasionally have dairy at school functions, when we visit family, and we do occasionally get local soft serve ice-cream in the summer (and then pay the price afterward). I also buy Kerrygold 100% grass-fed cheddar and butter. So we are not completely dairy-free. However, I do my best to limit their consumption as I truly believe conventional dairy can do more harm than good, and I believe is not necessary for them to have in their diet as we have been led to believe.
There is a nice little farm where I get my Raw Milk in Greenfield Center. I would be more than happy to share 🙂
Yes Sara-send me a message in my primal bliss in-box and we can get in touch with each other!
Hi. I would be very interested in learning your take on 100% fruit juices from stores! I’m very new to paleo, and they seem like a decent thing to give my tot and hubby to drink besides water.
yes…there are a few reasons why I don’t buy them. I will be doing a post on it, but fruit juice is mainly just fructose (sugar). It takes 6-8 apples to make one cup, and the pectin and fiber is discarded (the skin and flesh are where most nutrients are). So you are essentially drinking sugar, sometimes with “added” vitamin C but eating a whole fruit is much much healthier.
Just wondering if you have any thoughts on organic whole milk from (local) grass fed cows. My research shows it’s usually pasteurised at a higher temp because the cows are not given antibiotics so I realize the nutrients lost in this process however I can’t find raw milk and my son and husband enjoy dairy and I’m trying to find a decent compromise. I guess I’m wondering if it has negative effects or is more of a neutral beverage since it is full fat and as ‘natural’ a state as I can find it in.
If it is from 100% grass fed cows and full fat that is a huge step in the right direction. The things to consider are casein and gut health-not knowing the full effect it has on them. It would have to be a personal decision for you.
Thanks for your thoughts! I generally feel like I’m picking the lesser of two evils when faced with food compromises…
Heya I’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.
I completely agree with your post on dairy consumption. Other than butter, my kids rarely have dairy. When my daughter gets it occasionally at school (drinking the milk they provide) she will act out later at home and have meltdowns. The allergy tests say she isn’t allergic, but I think there must be some sort of intolerance considering how she acts after she has it. My boys aren’t affected by it as strongly, but I still limit their intake and they don’t complain. I wish I could get my extended family to agree with me on the subject. I just don’t think cows milk is that good for you. Especially after the way it’s processed.
I am curious if you feel this way for babies (under 2). What do you recommend? We have researched other milk alternatives (coconut, hemp, almond) and they all have their issues. Seems like we cant win!
I breastfed both my boys until they were a little over 2. If that is not an option…research goats milk. It is the closest to human milk in terms of proteins and digestion. You could also offer a variety of nutrient dense foods like liver, avocado, sweet potatoes, bone broth…etc. My kids are 4 and 7 and currently just drink water.
Hi. I am glad to have found this post. I too never planned to give my son milk and planned to nurse him till he was two. He is currently 15 months and has weaned himself off breastmilk except in the night. If he weans himself completely before age two, do you suggest goats milk or should I drop milk altogether?
Excellent post. Thanks
That is up to you…I don’t think it’s necessary if he is eating a nutrient dense diet. However, goats milk can be tolerated easier by many. You could try and see how he does with it!
Excellent article. I usually don’t expect much from most anti-dairy articles but you hit many of the main issues concerning conventional milk. I would als urge you to investigate the importance of sphingolipids found in mother’s milk and raw cow’s milk but lacking in pasteurized types. Thanks for the info and I’ll be sure to share!
I believe what you write and have not given my kids (4&6) dairy, with the exception of homemade yoghurt from organic milk.
But I’m panicking as I’ve just discovered that my eldest has about 5 symptoms of rickets!
If not giving kids milk, how do I ensure they get enough calcium.
I supplement with fish oil and vitD/K2, but not consistently. My kids also get good sun exposure in the summer.
He can get calcium from broccoli, leafy greens, and seseme seeds. I don’t believe lack of cows milk would cause rickets, as the calcium in cows milk lacks the cofactors (such as magnesium, vit D, etc) needed to properly digest. I would also consistently use fermented cod liver oil (green pastures brand cinnamon tingle is palatable for kids).
I came across this article while doing research on giving milk to kids. My daughter is 10 months old and my husband and I are embracing the paleo diet (more so him than me, it’s taking me a little while ha-ha) he’s a type 1 so the diet has helped w/ his blood sugar immensely and he’s ANTI milk for our daugther. I just want ot make sure I do the right thing for her when it’s time so she’s strong and healthy. At what age did you start giving your kids almond milk? And do you make it yourself? Any advice is so appreciated!
Honestly the calcium in milk is not all bioavailable, because co-factors are not present that are needed. She can get calcium from leafy greens and broccoli. If you really want to give almond milk, I would either make your own or buy unsweetened (I buy unsweetened). I would not give it until she is at least a year old though.
Hello. You keep discussing the calcium, but there are other reasons why Pediatricians recommend whole milk for babies and children, namely the protein and fat. I do not agree with your responses in regards to babies. My pediatrician just advised that you are NOT to give a baby almond’s milk until 2 years of age at a minimum. Whole milk is recommended from 1 year old to 2 years old because the babies need the whole fat for brain development. Growing babies also need the healthy calories and the protein. What do you suggest would replace the whole fats and protein as a substitute for whole cow’s milk? And please do not say coconut or almond or soy milk which have little to no protein, fat, or calories.
Crystal, After 1 year if they are not nursing, nutrient dense whole foods would replace nutrient dense breastmilk. Fat and calories ideally would come from unprocessed, nutrient dense, whole foods. Goats milk proteins are closest to human milk in structure. Cows milk proteins are larger in structure and can pass through the gut. Pediatricians are NOT trained in nutrition. I do not take their advice on nutrition or parenting. They are not on a pedestal or the authority on nutrition. They are trained medically. I understand fat is needed for brain development. I am a lactation educator/counselor, and have a Master’s Degree. I am also studying nutritional therapy. I am well aware of what infants need in terms of development, as that is my area of focus and specialty. Cows milk does not need to be that source. It is a highly processed hormone laden product. I do not suggest coconut or almond milk for fat and calories. Where do you take that I suggest that? I suggest filtered water for hydration! Breastmilk is best from 1-2 years, or raw goats milk as a second choice. Goats milk proteins are smaller and more similar in structure to human milk proteins. They do not pass through the gut and cause inflammation as cows milk proteins can. I suggest grass-fed ghee (clarified butter), meats from pasture raised animals and wild fish, egg yolks from pasture raised eggs, avocado (mashed if need be), grass-fed liver, and raw WHOLE milk yogurt. I suggest real food. Sadly, it is hard for most to comprehend that as we are so far removed.
Thanks for your help! We’ve decided to go with a little bit of goats milk until she’s old enough to offer the cod liver oil and vitamins at which point she’ll just take water (which she’s been drinking for months now and LOVES). She loves eggs, yogurt, avocados and really great about eating just about anything I put in front of her so I’m confident she’s getting all the nutrients that she needs.
I am a pediatric nurse, and what she stated below is 100% true…physicians are NOT educated in nutrition. I am astounded at some of the nutritional advice they give. My son is 16 months old and only has about 4 oz of milk every few days because it constipates him…and that’s non-homogenized milk from grass-fed cows. He has almond milk at times, but he gets his fat from organic whole milk yogurt, avocado, eggs from pasteured chickens, and nut butters. He eats a very nutrient dense diet and has no health issues and has only been sick once. Milk is NOT necessary.
Is three Abby way you could give me some sort of daily eating schedule for a 1 year old without milk? I’m a first time mom to 8 month old twins and I just don’t want to gives them cow’s milk but every resource I can find tells me to. I’m so nervous about solids anyway… just a little help would be greatly appreciated.
This article is fantastic. Thanks so much for all the information! It’s what I’ve been searching for!
Thank you for an awesome and very informing post. I am 21 years old and I am a new mother. I just began educating myself on food and what’s really in it. Now that I know so much about all the harmful poisons being consumed in our bodies I am changing my diet. I will do everything I can to not give my child GMO’s and all these other processed “foods.” I will not be introducing cow milk to my child either. Thank you again.
I try to avoid dairy as much as possible in my lifestyle. I used to love dairy based products but found I was always feeling sick and my sinuses were awful. Once I cut out dairy from my diet these problems went away.
The mad thing is, as a child I would spend huge swaths of the year with my family in the south of France. The only neighbour they have is a dairy farmer, the cows live in fields and eat grass (with the exception of winter when they bulk up what they eat) I would walk over to the dairy in the morning and pick up fresh milk. I never once felt unwell on that fresh unpasteurised milk. It’s such a shame it’s almost impossible to find good milk anymore.
Great info on here…I am not a strict paleo follower but I try to adhere as best as possible. I still give my daughter the dreaded teething cookie and brown rice pasta. My daughter has been sick constantly since the beginning of this fall and has had a relentless cough. I asked her doc about dairy and taking her off formula for a bit (as it is cow based) and doing almond milk for a bit to see what happens. She coughs badly upon trying to fall asleep, during the night, and in am waking us up several time a night. They say just wait it out, because the coughs take forever to rid, and pooed on the almond milk idea. She will be one in a few weeks so it’s not like she is 2 months. I am going to do it anyways, I bought almond, fortified sprouted brown rice milk and coconut to start trying out. I read somewhere that you shouldn’t depend on any one milk too much. I feed her pretty darn good at home and clean. She can pound broccoli like no tomorrow. I do need to work on that bottle thing though and only offering ‘milk’ at meal times. ‘sigh’. Thank you for this article. Makes me very excited to start this new adventure. I have a quick question…does your son ever want a chip, a cracker…something crunchy? What can i do to replace the inevitable Goldfish?
I also would really appreciate any advice in terms of a sample food schedule. I’ve been giving my (just over 1 year old) son cows milk at the advice of my doctor and everyone surrounding me. I never wanted to give him milk at all but because I’m not confident in my ability to provide a well-balanced diet (mainly because I am unsure of exactly how much of each micro and macro nutrient a one year old should intake) I’ve succumb to the pressure of those around me. I feel bad about it every day. I have also considered giving him full fat milk until he’s 2, at which point I would wean him off milk entirely. I am wondering if the effects of milk are reversible once it has been out of your system for some time. I don’t know what to do, I would just really like to find a way to ensure that I am able to provide enough of everything he needs through whole foods so that I can stop giving him milk as soon as possible. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated.