So, what’s the deal with dairy on the Paleo plan?

My Edited Eating newspaper column, in which I explore aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, weightloss and getting fit and healthy, appears in the Sunday edition of Weekend Argus. This one explores why it might be a good idea to limit your dairy intake…

I don’t know about you, but I tend to do the most intense research when I’m trying to dispel something. In this case, I was desperately trying to dispel the fact that if I were to follow Paleo to the letter, I would have to totally cut cheese from my diet.

Goat’s milk cheese was okay, right? Surely goat’s milk is not … technically dairy?

Let me break your heart, cheese lovers. Dairy products are defined as any products produced from or containing the milk of mammals. This includes cattle, goats, sheep, camels and buffalo.

Our tolerance to different kinds of dairy, however, depends on the amount of lactose in the product, and our bodies’ ability to produce enough lactase to digest it.

Which brings me to the crux of this column, the last in a series of columns which unpack why grains, legumes, sugars and dairy are not part of the Paleo plan.

As was the case with sugar and legumes, much of the research agrees that “it depends”.

While Paleo is based broadly on what our Paleolithic ancestors consumed – and they didn’t consume dairy products – that is not reason enough to simply exclude it from one’s diet. What is a good enough reason, though, is that many people are unable to properly digest the sugars (lactose) and proteins (casein and whey) contained in dairy products.

“Another point to make is that we are not supposed to drink the milk from other animals,” writes “We are the only mammals who do it. This often translates to intolerance or an allergic reaction to one of milk’s proteins, casein.”

In addition to this, our pancreas only produces lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose, up until the age of two years old.

When it comes to weight loss – and let’s be honest, many of us make major dietary changes because we want to lose weight – dairy is growth promoting, so consuming it can hamper our effects to shed the extra kilos.

Dairy is linked to digestive issues for many people

Dairy has been closely linked to digestive and inflammatory issues for many people, with nutrition and wellness writer Megan Patiry citing stats that indicate that as many as 75% of human beings have trouble digesting dairy. There is fierce debate around this, however, with arguing that only 2 to 3% of young children have “true milk allergies” – which many of them outgrow.

So, with all the conflicting information out there, the best way to determine if you should be consuming dairy or not, is to test your body. Eliminate dairy – in all forms – for 30 to 60 days and slowly reintroduce dairy products to see how your body responds. If you feel fine – and be honest with yourself – consume and enjoy, but if you feel a bout of indigestion or any form of discomfort, it’s probably best you eliminate dairy from your diet or consume only in small amounts.

And if you really can’t face a life without dairy, opt for fermented dairy products like yoghurt and kefir, which can be beneficial to your gut health, or hard cheeses. Because these products have usually been fermented for long periods of time, most of the sugars (lactose) will have been used up during the fermentation process.

But. Like most mass produced foods, dairy products can contain some really bad stuff, so where your budget permits, opt for high quality, organic full fat products. Cows that are grass fed and not raised on a diet of growth hormone and antibiotics are going to produce much higher quality, nutritious milk – and meat.

And in case you thought I’d forgotten about butter, which many Paleo followers eat a great deal of, it’s okay because it’s almost all fat, with very little to no lactose content.

As an aside: Someone told me there’s a place in Cape Town that sells coconut milk cheese, but I haven’t been able to locate it. If you can help out this cheese-deprived Paleo person, please drop me a line.


Chantel Erfort

I'm a yoga teacher and health advocate who runs and enjoys the outdoors. Having previously lived a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, nothing makes me happier than being able to share the benefits of including some movement, mindfulness and healthy eating into one's life.