Today we are We are doing a partnership with the Kansas Soybean Commission, Kansas Farm Bureau, and Kansas Pork Association. As part of the #FarmFoodTour where they work to open the barn doors and connect those that raise your food to those that consume it.

FYI, I created a video that follows along this blog post, so if you’re a fan of YouTube, check it out!

I was given lots of flexibility in picking an area of focus related to farming and I chose dairy because there’s quite a bit of fear and misinformation about dairy, especially on social media. I tend to talk about nutrition misinformation in my videos…it’s kinda what I do…so I wanted to bring that onto this blog.

I like to help people not be afraid of food, and to have empowered eating practices that support physical, mental, social, and emotional wellbeing.

So that’s what we’re doing today!

Before we begin, I have 2 points:

#1 Even though I am a dietitian, I’m likely not your dietitian. Please consult your doctor before changing your diet. If you’d like to work with an RD, and you have access to a doctor, you may be able to ask them for a referral to an RD, and in some cases, it may be covered with insurance. This blog post is meant for educational purposes. I will be leaving my references throughout.

#2 Dairy is controversial. That’s ok! We need to be ok with having tough conversations and do it in an adult manner without strong emotions. If you have further questions on something I didn’t hit on, please let me know and I’ll do my best to address it.

With that out of the way, let’s go ahead and dive in!

I was able to talk with a dairy farmer from a small, family-owned dairy farm, who is also an RD! I was able to interview Heidi Wells, MS, RD, LD, from her husband’s family’s dairy, Wells M-M Dairy. In addition to being part of the farm, she is a school district food service director and has a background in sports nutrition, previously working with some college and universities.

This farm has been in her husband’s family for over 100 years, and has over 180 cows in the milking herd, and 300+ total cows overall (they raise the babies).

M-M Dairy is part of a dairy cooperative where their Grade A Holstein milk goes to multiple places, mostly going to fluid milk or ice cream. Yum!

Now, before we move forward, I wanted to share a little about what the science says about dairy, since the foundation of my channel is to provide evidence-based information and addressing diet/nutrition-related fear mongering.

I went through PubMed when preparing for this blog and video.

PubMed is a free search engine accessing primarily the MEDLINE database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics. The United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health maintain the database.

I searched “dairy inflammation” and looked through the first 500 articles, looking through articles specifically talking about dairy and inflammation in humans.

Here are some of the ones that stood out to me:

Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Inflammatory Biomarkers: An Updated Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials

Sixteen studies (15 articles) included in this systematic review reported on healthy individuals and subjects who were overweight or obese and who had metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes. The consumption of milk or dairy products did not show a proinflammatory effect in healthy subjects or individuals with metabolic abnormalities. The majority of studies documented a significant anti-inflammatory effect in both healthy and metabolically abnormal subjects, although not all the articles were of high quality. 

Dairy products and inflammation: A review of the clinical evidence

We have established the IS as a new tool to conduct a quantitative evaluation of human studies investigating the impact of dairy products on inflammation. Taken together, our review suggests that dairy products, in particular fermented products, have anti-inflammatory properties in humans not suffering from allergy to milk, in particular in subjects with metabolic disorders. As the clinical relevance of inflammatory markers is currently debated among researchers and regulatory authorities, the translation of these findings into dietary guidelines remains to be clarified.

Impact of dairy products on biomarkers of inflammation: a systematic review of randomized controlled nutritional intervention studies in overweight and obese adults

Results: Eight trials that were conducted in overweight or obese adults were included in the review. The only study that had identified change in the inflammatory profile as its primary outcome measure showed that dairy food consumption improved pro- and anti-inflammatory biomarker concentrations compared with the low-dairy control diet. Three of the 7 studies in which inflammation was a secondary or undefined outcome showed improvement in key inflammatory biomarkers, ie, C-reactive protein, IL-6, or TNF-α after dairy product consumption, whereas the other 4 studies showed no effect.

Dairy product consumption has no impact on biomarkers of inflammation among men and women with low-grade systemic inflammation

Conclusion: Consistent with data from previous work, these results suggest that short-term consumption of a combination of low- and high-fat dairy products as part of a healthy diet has no adverse effects on inflammation.

I go more in depth on these studies in my YouTube video, so check that out if you’d like!

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to go out and drink milk if you don’t already. We know that you can get have a healthy, nutrient-dense intake without dairy…

But what I am saying, is that dairy CAN be a very economical way to get in quality protein, get in some fat, and carbs as well as micronutrients that can help overall nutrient status.

As long as they don’t have issues with whey, casein, lactose (though that amount can change based on product), and of course, fat digestion – which can vary based on the product.

To encourage people to avoid dairy, when know how many macronutrients and micronutrients are in it, and the overall nourishment we can get from it, at a great price, is a very privileged thing to say in my opinion.

If someone is promoting avoidance of very nutrient-dense items provided with food assistance programs, it’s coming from a place of privilege even if not intended.

I know many people also avoid dairy because they say it’s not natural to 1) drink milk from another mammal, and 2) to drink milk after infancy. And to that, I share one of my favorite tweets about milk.

Getting back to the farm…

One of my questions was about the well-being of the cows. Wells M-M Dairy is a “dry lot”; which means they are open to the weather, so the cows have the option to move around as they please, versus being stuck in a building.

I found a good definition of drylot dairy farms from Dairy Discovery Zone: “Drylot dairy farms are the perfect fit for drier climates. On drylot farms, cows are given access to shade and shelter on a large dry-dirt lot for relaxation. Cows have access to feed and water, with free reign to eat and drink as they please.”

Health management is taken seriously at Wells M-M Dairy with a vet coming out every 2 weeks, checking the whole herd. Yay for preventive health care!

Milking at M-M Dairy is done 2x/day. One at 3am & the other one is at 3pm, and done for 3 hours each time to get through the whole herd. Even though it’s 6 hours of milking, dairy farming (and farming in general) is still a 24/7 job.

One thing that I LOVE and appreciate is that they have a personal animal nutritionist for the cows. The animal nutritionist provides a ration sheet telling them exactly what the cows need, and their nutrition is provided via a mix of cotton seed, silage (Silage is fermented green foliage crops), corn, alfalfa, hay, and distillers (corn dust, high in protein). The cows have free hay and water all day – I like having free access to snacks and water all day, so that sounds fabulous to me.

Let’s move into some of the bigger questions people usually have about dairy…

Many people have concerns about antibiotics in milk.

1: Treating with antibiotics is done only if the cow is sick and it’s absolutely necessary for their health (and life).

2: Once you have antibiotics in the cow’s system, there needs to be a withdrawal process. And during the treatment, the milk needs to be dumped.

Ultimately, having to treat with antibiotics makes the farmer able to sell less milk, so there’s not an incentive in doing that.

Many people have concerns about hormones.

No hormones are added or implanted in cows for milk production.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN over at the Nutrition Diva podcast is a great resource for specific nutrition-related questions. She has a few episode talking directly about milk and hormones. I’m linking them, and wanted to share a few excerpts, but check her podcast out for more information.

How Does Dairy Affect Your Hormone Levels?”

“All milk (whether from cows, goats, humans, or porpoises) naturally contains small amounts of various hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. Because hormones like estrogen are fat-soluble, the level of hormones is higher in whole milk than in skim milk. Organic milk, however, contains about the same amount of hormones as conventionally produced milk.”

Does Dairy Promote Breast Cancer?

“Some worry that the hormones in cow’s milk could cause health problems in humans. People have suggested that estrogen in cow’s milk might promote the growth of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast or ovarian cancer, for example. Others worry that hormones in milk might cause early puberty in children.”

The amount of hormones in milk is tiny compared to what’s already in your body. 

“Guys, your bodies produce about 6,000 times as much estrogen every day as you’d get in a glass of whole milk. Ladies, your bodies are producing 28,000 times that much. Compared to what your own body pumps out, the amount of estrogen you’re exposed to from dairy products is far too little to have any physiological effect. If drinking milk could raise your estrogen levels, we could expect it to be useful in treating symptoms of menopause.”

Again, I’m not telling you that you have to go out and drink milk if you don’t already. But I’m here to give you the information, and help you make an informed and empowered decision without fear.

Lastly, I wanted to address the question of having dairy alternatives (like almond milk, oat milk, etc). They can be really delicious alternatives, but it’s important to just be aware that plant-based milks, while amazing in their own ways, aren’t nutritionally equivalent. That doesn’t make them bad, but just don’t rely on them giving you the same micronutrients, even with vitamin fortification, and bioavailability (absorption and utilization in the body).

As mentioned previously, if you have any questions, I’ll try to respond or guide you to a resource if I don’t know the answer!

Paid Sponsors:

Kansas Soybean Commission- @kssoybean

Kansas Farm Bureau- @kansaslivingmag 

Kansas Pork Association- @kspork