Why We Gave Up the Cow

Imagine, if you will, a pack of wolves chasing down a cow. They lay in wait in the bushes, stalking their prey. They set up their pack so as to gain the best advantage. They bolt after her, the chase begins. They bring her down and, instead of breaking her neck or ripping her jugular, they pin her down… take turns sucking on her udders? As completely absurd as this is, humans readily acknowledge that they’re the only animals that drink another animal’s milk.  But most of our kind love milk, butter, yogurt, cheese and a variety of goods from another animal’s breastmilk.  Our personal belief is that not only is it unnatural, but that the full scope of health affects of non newborns drinking milk are not always doing a body good.

In the interest of giving you full background, rejecting dairy is what led us to the Paleo Diet and not the other way around. With our first two boys, Stacy noticed that consuming dairy resulted in our babies having very bad gas or colic (another name for “intestinal distress that makes your baby cry for hours” p.s. it’s  not normal and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you “it’ll go away in time”). Once Stacy stopped eating and drinking all dairy products while nursing our older boys, colic disappeared. So, on the eve of having our third baby, Stacy was researching dairy free recipes and discovered Paleo.  We thought, “neither of us have a problems with grains – but, all this stuff makes sense, let’s give it a try.”  Little did we know how much grains were also a huge problem in our lives.

But, the Paleo/Primal/Archevore community are all (mostly) on the same page about grains.  The debate heats up in the Paleo community over dairy products (recent Ancestral Health Symposium Tweets indicate the debate rages on).   But the logic for us is pretty simple: if we take our cues about nutrition from how our bodies react, the fact that cow’s milk is one of the most problematic ingested foods for breastfed babies tells us to steer clear. There’s probably some staggering statistic about how quickly the soy and cow protein allergies are growing (as we increase our consumption) if you don’t take our word for it. Plus, for us personally we also noticed every single person in this house having a reaction to dairy on their skin, from acne, eczema and baby acne – all disappear without dairy in our diet.

Cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat milk, all of it is made for the babies of that species. Those species, if you’ve noticed, are all ruminant animals. They’re lives consist of eating grass and other plants (although modern cultivation methods will actually include a lot of grain eating as well). Your primate life has nothing in common with those animals, other than needing their ability to break down that plant material into soluable vitamins and minerals through our carnivorous consumption. It only stands to reason that the milk they’d feed their babies would be specifically evolved for the gut of a future ruminant newborns and not compatible with your natural diet and gut.

Are you a newborn cow?  No, so my layman’s theory: there are bovine proteins in your yogurt that are indigestible. There are sugars in there that have the potential to devastate you and are already doing so to our population. Lactose is a sugar, after all. Dairy triggers your brain into an opiate like response, just like human newborn milk triggers such feelings for our babies to soothe them, comfort them and make them fat and healthy as quickly as possible.

The other aspect to consider is that milk is for babies. You will never see a fully grown wild animal suckling. It does not happen. Once a certain level of maturity is attained, animals wean. You yourself have an instinct that causes you to be repulsed by adults and even older children nursing. Remember watching Game of Thrones? Consider, perhaps, that it’s maybe a biological drive to prevent the injestion of breastmilk because it becomes a health hazard to continue to drink it as an adult?

Milk is a food designed by evolution to transform tiny babies into big creatures that can walk and run from their predators. Logical – it’s sugary, caloric and fatty. This is probably not news to you.  But, you know what else promotes growth? Growth hormones. Breastmilk has natural growth hormones which stimulates growth in a newborn. Commercial dairy has an even more concentrated volume of growth hormones, with the addition of rBGH (many negative associated health consequences). What then, might happen if a non-newborn is consuming breastmilk, from another species?  How about child and adult obesity.  You know what else loves growth hormones and sugar? Cancer cells. Cancer loves milk.

For all the concerns we have with milk in this house, we’re hard pressed to find reasons why we should consume it.  Some people insist milk is needed in order to get calcium. However, calcium is heavily represented in many other foods that we eat in our home – such as greens, nuts and fish. For our family, who hasn’t had any dairy or “calcium fortified” foods in over a year, our calcium levels and our blood tests baffle doctors. We’re able to absorb the dense nutrients from natural sources better when our body isn’t fighting with foods unnatural to our biology.

The problem, from what it seems by people’s immediate response to Paleo as “but I LOVE cheese!”, is that milk has become such a culinary crutch for people that they cannot imagine eating without it. Think of all the things you make (or used to) to which you add cheese. We find that now we’ve made the switch, we find tools like herbs and spices effective and flavorful.  Unfortunately, we encounter countless “Paleo” and “Primal” recipes based on cheese, cream or butter.  It’s our one disappoint when lurking on Chowstalker: realizing the item we’re frothing at the mouth for isn’t compatible with our diet afterall.

Yes, it’s our own theories (we’re parents, not scientiets or nutritionists).  But, as parents that’s what we base it all on – what optimizes our family?  Figure it out, follow through as best we can.  Once we removed dairy from our diets, we were able to link our own discomfort (and skin reactions, HELLO acne) mimiced those of our colicy babies, our guts were just so used to it we didn’t scream for hours on end.  The answer was clear to us; we began a permanent avoidance of dairy products entirely over a year ago. We hope by sharing our reasons it helps you if you’re on the fence or, alternatively, gives you a list of reasons you can readily reject in favor of making a nice cheese plate or enjoying a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

The reality is, of course, that in extreme moderation there’s no lasting consequence to having a slice of stilton once in a while. But it’s important to put milk in the perspective of the Paleo philosophy: what does your body naturally want to eat? What does it easily process? Why is this a food for humans?  We can’t find an answer for non-human breastmilk (i.e. dairy) and that includes (sadly) butter, ghee, cheese, and even raw milk for our family.

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  • I DONT use cow dairy/milk either….gave it up initially for lent and now i feel better without it. i dont run away if someone uses butter, but everything else i stay away from. and trust me, i LOVE cheese lol

    • When we’re eating out we focus on grain-free more than dairy-free, although we’d never order a creamed soup, occassional butter or something doesn’t destroy us the way gluten will.  But yes, if it starts to sneak in we all have skin issues that arise.  Plus, we just can’t make sense of eating another species’ breastmilk…

  • Noah Gray

    Thank you for this great diet advice, person who spells dairy, “diary”, repeatedly.

    • Noah, thanks for pointing us to those 2 misspellings, how embarassing! As parents who blog at o’dark thirty on the laptop missing half the keys after a full day of working and chasing 3 kids, we’re often too exhausted to fully copy edit our blog posts to the level they should be. If you know any pro-bono editors, let us know – otherwise thanks for the heads up and rest assured we’ve now fixed ’em. 
      I sincerely hope one would consider all of the ideas and concepts in the posts, moreso than dismissing our evaluation of dairy because the a and i were transposed twice. 

      Hope to see you around more, so we can attempt to redeem ourselves.  Sadly, I can probably guarantee you there’s a few your and you’re and their and there errors as well. I always shake my fist in the air yelling curses when I find them on old posts.

  • In the past I have not been a fan of dairy for the same reasons you point out, but since discovering raw grass fed dairy I am impressed and believe this food can be beneficial to many people regardless of the Paleo mantra- if a caveman didn’t eat it, I shouldn’t. Raw dairy from a responsible grass based farm is a product unlike any commercial milk product or byproduct. 

    Here’s the caveat:
    I ferment most all the raw dairy my family consumes- Home made yoghurt, kefir, cheese, cultured butter and the like. I would hope you might investigate raw fermented dairy products. This is a powerful food, good for the gut, the body (especially an active muscle building body) and the mind. That’s my quick 2 cents. Also, ferment everything! But hey, that’s just me. – Doctor Fermento

    Before I sign off- anyone who is anti-dairy yet consumes some commercial butter or cheese needs to have there head checked or get up to speed- A gallon of milk might produce about a pint of cream (barely), that pint of cream might yield a 1/2 pint of butter- that’s one cup. You haven’t exactly condensed the gallon of milk but nearly (with al the potential growth hormones, pesticides, herbicides and god knows what else) into one cup of semi-solid fluid. So beware of commercial butter. And with cheese, forget it, it is condensed, it is ALL in there.

    And to say you can’t conceive of eating another species breast-milk? Come on, they’re not breasts. There be a major distinction here. They are animals after all and serve to fuel us. If you go too far down this path- Perhaps Raw Vegan is in your future? 

    I am a huge fan. Please don’t take any of this the wrong way. 


    • Bryan, we absolutely appreciate your insight and participation – no worries about taking things the wrong way.  We whole heartedly agree that the logic of “caveman didn’t do it, so we don’t” is wrong. I love my running water and electricity, let along the billion other things about modern age that caveman didn’t have! 🙂

      I know it was a lengthy post so perhaps we missed the mark in solidifying our point, which is exactly what you say makes us near vegan in our extremism (which is probably fair, we realize it’s drastic).  Humans are animals.  Cows are animals.  Raw fermented or not, any dairy product from a cow is drinking their breastmilk – which no other animals have ever done as far as we can tell before domestication of animals.  I’d rather a baby cow have that milk to become my steak dinner. That is the single driver behind our logic for avoiding it. 

      I’m sure it has health benefits and will fully admit to having my dairy splurges when the mood strikes; however, since it’s a food biologically created to fatten and grow newborn cows it stands to reason that we can’t fully understand the science enough to define whether human adults should be partaking with any regularity (the cancer part scares me) – hence, it’s easier to avoid and not regret whatever negative consequences may surface later than it might be to realize later that I could’ve been eating cheese and missed out.

  • I really do get your point. For me the milk is an excellent delivery device for a host of probiotic and incredible nutrition. Yet, still- I rarely drink even the fermented products. I do cook with raw butter. I just wouldn’t turn my back on this food. I have a feeling strict Paleo’s bubble has already burst and folks will return to a more WAPF (Westin A. Price Foundation) style diet. Cultured foodstuffs versus simply wild. We are a culture after all and even if we’re degrading, we can look to the ancients for guidance. Dairy or no dairy- I won’t to belabor that point any longer. 
    I think you folks are just awesome and your kids look incredible. Keep up the extra work blogging, vlogging, on Twitter and all the rest.  Now go ferment some vegetables! Or Some ginger. Or make some kombucha 🙂

  • N Sumstine

    I am relieved to read this article because in my wanderings today I have found so much dairy/eggs in the Paleo blogs. My family is allergic to cow and goats milk, and eggs. We did test and our results (shown on a graph) show us all the way to the end of the “highest” for eggs and well into that section for dairy. Some of my (now adult) children can tolerate goat milk products but it’s on my bad list along with a list of other things. The testing was just confirmation – call it visual proof for the hesitant.
    I have always tried to be careful what my family ate. We avoided junk food, processed food, processed sugars. I baked with honey and whole grains, served only organic animal products. And yet we have always had one issue or another which required eliminating or limiting certain foods.
    More recently (after years of making home-made whole wheat bread and other ‘healthy baked goods) we have discovered the gluten allergies. 
    I have an auto-immune disorder and my doc got very strict with me: Nothing, Absolutely Nothing from the medium or above allergen lists, and Nothing that gave me any trouble regardless of whether or not it showed as an allergen. This eliminated legumes and grains along with the test proven no-nos. I basically went Paleo without realizing there was a philosophy about it. Within a month I was noticing a difference. By the three month mark I was amazed because I was going into the very worst time of year (late Fall through Winter and Spring really) with very little or no pain. Seriously. I am still tired, I don’t have a lot of endurance and I did have pain after a day of car travel/beach walking, but the day to day crippling pain is gone. If I eat anything accidentally I know it almost immediately – severe discomfort. If I eat chili with beans, same thing. According to the test I’m not allergic to legumes.  I have lived with the pain for so many years that now that it is gone I don’t even wish to experiment with eating dairy, eggs or gluten products. I forgot about my turkey allergy because I was so focused on gluten this last Thanksgiving and I started hurting within an hour and hurt for three days. I am actually afraid to go back to my old ‘healthy’ way of eating.
    Paying attention to our bodies is so important and yet so easy to forget to do in the daily swirl. If we think we are making smart choices we don’t really understand that the drag, the discomfort, the snot or the little headaches are related to the food we are eating. It is amazing what we can discover when we cast aside popular theories, get a little strict with ourselves for a few months and then pay attention to our bodies.

    • Absolutely! Our family finds we just don’t need dairy, nor do we feel good on it. We’ve experimented since going paleo and find that we’re just as happy without it. Thanks for the feedback!

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