Shavuot begins at sunset on May 19th this year, and, as always, it will mark a celebration full of dairy-rich delicacies. While each bite of blintz or cheesecake is sure to be tasty, it’s also important to remember that overindulging in dairy products — or choosing the wrong type of dairy — can cause a host of health issues.
Now, I’m not telling you to give up your favorite treats — I’m simply telling you to be mindful and to be mindful as you’re making your plates this Shavuot season, and every other time of year. Here are the top reasons why:
Dairy can cause digestive troubles
Lactose intolerance refers to an impaired ability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It’s estimated that around 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy, and lactose intolerance is especially common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek and Italian descent.
If you’re lactose intolerant, consuming dairy products can result in some really unpleasant symptoms including bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and headaches. And even if you don’t have an allergy or intolerance, it’s the lactose that often makes conventional dairy products generally difficult to digest.
Low-fat dairy can lead to weight gain (and other issues)
If you’ve been prepping your Shavuot meals with low-fat dairy options in the hopes that you’ll avoid gaining a few extra pounds, I have some news: Low-fat dairy may actually cause you to gain weight.
Mainstream dietary recommendations still encourage low-fat dairy even though recent research supports the consumption of dairy in its more natural, full-fat state. For example, a 2016 study published in Circulation looked at over 3,300 subjects and found that people with higher levels of dairy fatty acids in their bloodstream had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people who ate less full-fat dairy.
Meanwhile, another 2016 study published in The American Journal of Nutrition analyzed the habits of more than 18,000 women and discovered that the women who consumed more full-fat dairy were 8 percent less likely to be overweight or obese compared to the low-fat dairy group. Not only can full-fat dairy leave you feeling more satisfied and fuller longer, it also helps to balance dairy’s natural sugar content. It makes sense, then, that dairy — like many other natural foods — are best consumed in their original, whole form.
Conventional dairy causes major concerns
From hormones to overprocessing, there are multiple reasons why conventional dairy is not a healthy choice. The health of the animal and the processing methods of a milk can categorize dairy as either one of the healthier foods in the world or one of the worst. For starters, if you’re eating milk, yogurt, butter and cheese that comes from conventionally raised cows (i.e. your dairy products aren’t designated as “organic” and from cows that were “grass-fed”) that are regularly given antibiotics, you are actually consuming those same antibiotics, and your dairy intake may actually be a contributing factor to widespread antibiotic resistance.
In addition, the majority of cows used to produce conventional dairy products (as well as conventional meat) are grain-fed, which results in dairy (and meat) that is less nutrient-rich and healthy for the consumer. A few years back, scientists published a study showing that milk from organic, grass-fed cows contains much higher levels of brain- and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, along with lower levels of inflammatory fats typically found in milk from grain-fed, conventionally raised cows.
If you’re going to consume dairy, grass-fed, organic dairy is definitely a healthier choice than conventional.
Not Going Raw
When your ancestors had milk or cheese, it was nothing like the products typically found on grocery store shelves. In all likelihood, they consumed raw dairy from grass-fed cows that was unpasteurized and non-homogenized. As a result, so it was naturally rich in probiotics, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that actually help with the digestion of dairy.
Raw milk consumption may even reduce asthma and allergy occurrence, according to research. In fact, a large study of school-aged children found that children who drank raw milk were less likely to develop allergies as well as asthma. Raw milk is also one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence. It’s an especially great way to obtain calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are three minerals both children and adults are commonly deficient in these days.
Unfortunately, conventional dairy products are so heavily processed that they lose many of the healthy components naturally found in dairy — components which actually make dairy easier to digest and more tolerable for many people.
It can be hard to find, but when it comes to buying dairy, my first choice is fermented dairy from organic, grass-fed goats or sheep. If you opt for cow’s milk dairy products, always look for ones that are organic and grass-fed. Or, if you’re interested in following a dairy-free diet but still enjoying some of your favorite foods, plant-based dairy alternatives like coconut milk or almond milk can serve as great substitutes.