Dairy – Is it a problem for inflammation?

Dairy – it’s the thing that people look at first in their own lives (before working with a practitioner) to see if they have a sensitivity to it. Almost every single one of my clients has already tried some form of dairy free or dairy reduction upon coming on board with me. I am guessing you have been told by a practitioner to try your child at dairy free, and alternative products. Why is this such a “thing?”

What happens to dairy from the animal to you?

Briefly – today we have very processed dairy. It’s HARD to find raw dairy and even then it’s not completely raw. The milk has been pasteurized or “cleaned.” 

Unless you are getting your own dairy from your own animals from the source, or you have found a farmer willing to give you theirs that way (without pasteurization) – you are getting something processed. Even at the farmer’s market. Of course there are different levels of processing, so let’s start there.

Pasteurizing is what removes certain microbes from the milk. This was started to keep the germs from the farm or animals (mainly the farmer’s hands after touching and processing the animal) out of the milk. However, there are benefits to raw milk and it is possible to have clean raw milk. However, almost all products out there are pasteurized. Even at the market. They are selling “raw milk” products, but be assured if they are on the market and you aren’t getting them right at the farm, they have passed through some level of pasteurizing. Right here we have lost a lot of nutritional value, and benefits of positive microbes in the products.

Next up is homogenizing – this is done for store purchased products and is something that is likely NOT being done for farmer’s market products, however, it is worth asking the person selling to you to be sure. This is altering the texture and color to make it more pleasing. It also removes the healthy awesome layer of cream that comes with natural milk. The dairy industry calls this a safety measure as well as for taste.  Again – just one more level of processed and removing healthy components before it reaches you.

This is important especially with PFAPA and PFS. These kids are especially sensitive to processing agents, grains and more. The more processed the nature of their food the more likely you are to contributing to their inflammatory load. Is dairy alone, or the removal, enough to stop the episodes -no. It’s not the only thing but it is a contributing factor to inflammatory load. See tips below for reduction.

Now I want to refer you to my post on quality of food and food labelling so you can understand more about how to read ingredients on products. Pre-shredded cheese is not real cheese. Anything not from a block is likely full of chemicals, processing agents and very little dairy even. The only way to know and to look is to read the ingredients and only have the milk itself and enzymes. This is SUPER important for PFAPA and PFS. All of these additional things in these dairy products creates MORE load.

What about lactose?

This is a separate piece. All dairy has this. It’s the natural sugar component of the dairy. Some people (many) do not possess the enzymes needed to break this down. This causes a lot of digestive disturbance. And many people who love dairy will take enzymes to break this down to enjoy it. 

BUT this isn’t the main problem that MOST people have with dairy, and this can change with time for some people as well and it may SEEM like lactose issues, but in reality isn’t the enzyme at all. And for PFAPA and PFS, this is LIKELY NOT the issue. It can be a part of it – no doubt, but the real issue is the next part below.

So what is the issue?


Dairy is inflammatory. The processing agents and just the product itself is inflammatory in nature. This is a problem for some people more than others. If you have a pre-existing issue with inflammation – whether it is autoimmune, auto inflammatory or just high levels of inflammation in general dairy is likely NOT your friend and never will be.

Can you still have some dairy and control inflammation?

Yes (in most but not all cases). This is a personal bio-individual thing. I can tolerate a low level of dairy, as can my son (and we both have inflammatory conditions). However, this means it’s a sprinkle of cheese or a dash of milk in baking. That’s it. There is NO milk drinking (and you shouldn’t be doing that anyway- check out this post). 

If you have cholesterol issues, limited dairy is your best option. It’s not the fat or cholesterol in it – it’s the inflammatory nature that you need to keep in mind. If you are choosing whole fat, and as close to raw or raw products, you are choosing the best quality for yourself, and the limitations are just to keep inflammation low.

So that brings us to are dairy “alternatives” better for you?

Any product you are buying is processed – that includes “safer” non dairy items. The best way to handle dairy is just eliminate it or to make it a very small part of your day (as shown above with a sprinkle here and just a little in baking). There is no point in looking for a product to replace a product. Whole foods are the best way to live regardless and using less processed foods is the way to go.

What about benefits of eating dairy?

Dairy does contain calcium, and a few fats that can be beneficial to your daily routine. However, with the right balance of vegetables in your day (and the right choices of those) you can find great calcium sources beyond dairy. It’s not the end all be all for sources of calcium. If dairy is tolerable in a small amount – choosing a whole fat yogurt with natural probiotics is the best bang for your buck. If you can get a raw milk yogurt – even better. You will get some good calcium, with probiotics and healthy fats. But remember, just because you aren’t eating dairy doesn’t mean you cannot get the calcium you need from other nutrient-rich whole food sources. 

What are some whole food alternatives then?

Coconut milk (canned and ONLY coconut milk in it – no gums, no fillers) – this is a great baking alternative if you cannot use ANY dairy. It’s about the only thing that I recommend in replacing the liquid milk part for cooking or blending. This is great for smoothies as well.

You can even make coconut milk ice cream, and you can make whipped cream from coconut milk.

If you cannot tolerate butter – ghee is butter with the dairy removed. If you don’t like the taste, you will need to stick with olive oil, natural fats like from bacon (in a pan to cook), or if baking coconut oil.

You may also find recipes for nut-based alternatives for “fake” cheese or a sour cream like base… if you are making yourself from a whole food, have at it. However, I would be sure to closely look at any product you are picking up at the store because likely you will run into the same problem you had with the dairy – PROCESSING (which equals – inflammation!). RARELY is there just the ingredient you are thinking is in there. All kinds of fillers, gums, and processing agents are in product alternatives to give you the same look, feel, texture and shelf life as the original item.

What is the recommendation for PFAPA and PFS and dairy?

I recommend limited dairy (or no dairy) for every client. I like to start with limited dairy as the option, as long as I am not seeing any signs of lactose intolerance or more severe inflammatory responses from dairy on intake. If there is a history of issues with dairy, then it is not something we try. At least not for awhile. The number one dairy product I try to keep for my clients (if possible) is yogurt. The benefits are listed above – but that great healthy fat in a raw milk yogurt, combined with probiotics are a real benefit along with calcium. The only other option I would really suggest is a small amount of cheese to a dish per day to add some flavor. However, this might not be tolerable for all children (digestively or inflammatory wise). So this is very individual. There are some cases where dairy (other than butter) is just not an option on multiple levels. Remember, digestive upset indicates a problem food and inflammation. We want a nice healthy gut, silent and undetectable, which creates positive immunity.

If you are doing more dairy than what I talk about here, and your child is still cycling with episodes, start by reducing or eliminating but remember, THIS IS NOT THE ONE THING that ends it all. You need to work toward an entirely Whole foods diet, no packaged and processed items and low inflammatory natural foods. (Grab my book to learn more about what that means).

The bottom line here is that inflammation is what is killing America. We want to have as few or limited inflammatory foods and items in our life. Knowing this, limiting dairy to a small amount is helpful in this pursuit. In small amounts you can get some calcium, and keep your levels in check.

Tried reduced dairy? Tried dairy elimination? Still having problems?
Grab the book – start there. If that doesn’t work – let’s do a consult. Nutrition changes everything.