Is Dairy Inflammatory?

Are you confused as to whether you should be eating dairy? Are you wondering if it is inflammatory or not because you’ve heard both? This post will look at the discussion around whether dairy is inflammatory.

is dairy inflammatory?

Dairy – good for you or not? Is dairy inflammatory? Could I be intolerant to dairy?

These are common questions, and to be truthful, they are not easily answered.

And in fact, information on the topic is often contradictory depending where you look.

After researching this post, I did learn that while dairy is fine for some people, others don’t tolerate it as well and can have a sensitivity to it – and sometimes even a dangerous allergy.

There are a lot of good reasons for including dairy in your diet, like the fact that your bones need the calcium that milk provides. Not to mention that full-fat dairy has a lot of good things going for it.

If you are someone who has digestive issues because of dairy foods, problems with your skin that you feel are caused by eating dairy – well, then you’ve no doubt come to your own decision whether dairy works for you. Let’s take a look further and see why dairy is good for some folks and not for others.

WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?

Inflammation is a pretty natural thing. You see, when we are faced with an injury, our body responds to repair. And that response is typically through inflammation. 

It’s a good inflammation, whereby our body reacts with heat and swelling to speed up the repair of tissue, muscle, or whatever is injured. Other signs of acute inflammation for body repair are pain and redness.

Disease-causing inflammation, which is usually chronic, can be harmful. Sometimes the food we eat can cause the condition, and that’s why we should avoid inflammatory foods. Sometimes our diet can cause an inflammatory response, which is what happens, for example, when we eat too much sugar (I quit sugar and you can. too).

Chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune disorders, diabetes, depression, and cancer, among other illnesses. It also has some impact on your longevity. Looking after yourself and eating properly can help with better blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improved mood, and more.

A question I get a lot these days refers to dairy and whether it’s inflammatory. It’s not really a black and white answer, but read on, and we’ll delve into the research.

HOW CAN I AVOID INFLAMMATION?

Diet plays a big part in inflammation, so be smart about what you eat. Eat clean, which means avoiding processed foods. Fill up on whole foods, including fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.

Sleep is important, too. Make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep. Couple that with sufficient daily movement and exercise, and you’ll be all set. Don’t be sedentary – when you exercise, you have more energy, and you feel better in general.

Side view of a hand holding a spoon, which has been dipped into a glass bowl full of Keto Whipped Cream.

WHAT FOODS SHOULD I ELIMINATE TO AVOID INFLAMMATION?

There is a long list of foods to stay away from, so you don’t feel bloated and sluggish due to inflammation. I’ve listed some of them here:

  • Trans fats such as found in packaged foods
  • Processed meat (nitrates are not good)
  • Refined carbs like in processed foods
  • Foods containing aspartame (often called no-sugar)
  • Alcohol
  • Foods with added sugar (often touted as low-fat)

And yes, there is a question out there about whether dairy products cause a problem. Is dairy inflammatory? We’re going to take a look at that now.

DAIRY AND CASEIN

Dairy contains casein, which is one of the foods I mention in my post, 10 Foods That Cause Inflammation

Casein makes up 80% of a dairy product. It can be hard for some people to break casein down in the digestive system, leading to inflammation and issues with digestion. Those who have trouble processing casein may experience bloating and gas.

But, while some people experience inflammatory effects from dairy, others do not. People who are affected by it may choose to cut out dairy (whether just for a short time or indefinitely) in hopes of stopping some of the symptoms related to casein issues. It may be that other components of dairy are causing the problems.

There may be people allergic to the casein in dairy, and that is where the life-threatening issues arise. So, there is a difference between intolerance (I discuss that below) and allergies. Besides the potential danger, those allergic to dairy will experience inflammation when they drink milk or consume any dairy products.

DAIRY AND LACTOSE

Lactose intolerance is not inflammation-related, however. Milk drinkers, for example, who cannot tolerate lactose lack the enzyme that is needed to break it down. Lactose is the natural sugar in milk, and without the enzyme, the sugars are undigested and can cause intestinal discomfort. People who like milk, cheese, and yogurt but are lactose-intolerant buy lactose-free products.

Overhead view of two mason jars filled with Peppermint Milkshake, a dairy item.

DAIRY AND SATURATED FAT

Saturated fats are definitely culprits when it comes to inflammation and resulting diseases like heart disease and health conditions like high cholesterol. Full-fat dairy products contain fat, and this does put them on the list of inflammatory foods. However, in a 2017 compilation review of 52 studies, a conclusion was reached that along with the nutritional fats, there are other components to dairy that are highly beneficial. Those include vitamin D, protein, and calcium.

This doesn’t give you the green light, though, to load up on full-fat dairy. Yes, it is good for you, but like everything, moderation is essential. 

DAIRY AND SENSITIVITY

It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg scenario: Does dairy cause inflammation, or does inflammation bring on a dairy sensitivity?

Chronic low-level inflammation is thought to make people hypersensitive to foods that wouldn’t normally set off any bells and warnings. But, dairy is one of the foods that, when consumed, may initiate symptoms of hypersensitivity. Bloating, stomach pain, digestive issues and a general feeling of being unwell are some of the signs.

See a doctor and discuss an elimination diet, where dairy products are removed from the list of foods you eat. The body is given time to get back to normal, and then dairy is slowly reintroduced. One by one, dairy foods are tried to see if there are red flags after eating them. 

Because food has so much influence on inflammation, trying an elimination diet is a good move.

If you have to take a break from dairy, there are plenty of great alternatives out there:

  • Substitute nutritional yeast in place of parmesan and vegan cheese instead of regular cheese
  • Replace dairy milk with an alternative like coconut, almond, cashew, or soy milk
  • In place of butter, try coconut butter
  • Try almond or coconut yogurt instead of dairy yogurt
  • Rather than whey protein powder, use plant-based protein powder

Overhead view of a hand holding a bowl of plain full-fat Greek Yogurt.

YOGURT IS ANTI-INFLAMMATORY

We have to remember, when we talk about dairy, we’re referring to an array of foods, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. If you think about it, even milk varies. From skim to whole-fat, there are varying levels of fat that can be tied to inflammation.

But, it is known that yogurt is huge when it comes to anti-inflammatory properties in dairy. The probiotics in the yogurt are thought to be the power behind it, but more studies need to be done. How do probiotics benefit us?

  • Probiotics reduce the harmful illness-causing bacteria 
  • Probiotics build up good bacteria after illness
  • Probiotics maintain a healthy balance between the good and the bad

Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have superpowers that fight inflammation and build your health in general:

  • Improve blood pressure
  • Reduce bloating and gas
  • Speed up intestinal infections when treated
  • Aid in the reduction of symptoms of various inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Beneficial bacterias reduce inflammatory biomarkers like C-reactive protein

Another good takeaway point from probiotics in yogurt is that regular consumption of yogurt reduces inflammation because of the benefits to the lining of the stomach. Fewer toxins and chemicals can pass into the gut, reducing inflammatory triggers.

IS DAIRY INFLAMMATORY?

The general consensus is that dairy is not inflammatory, but can be if you have problems with digesting casein, intolerance to lactose, an allergy, or a sensitivity. 

Plus it is thought that pre-existing inflammation can bring on adverse reactions to dairy. The best things you can do are to eat clean, get plenty of sleep, and avoid known inflammatory foods (try my anti-inflammatory diet). Take care of yourself through exercise and other de-stressing activities.

Most likely, when you feel healthy and in control of your diet, dairy will not be an issue at all. 

This post contains affiliate links to products I use regularly and highly recommend.

Lacey Baier

Hey y’all, I’m Lacey Baier and I’m so glad you’re here! I’m a healthy lifestyle influencer and the creator of this clean-eating blog and YouTube channel, A Sweet Pea Chef. My recipes have been published on Food Network, Good Morning America, FoxNews, Tastemade, Fitness Magazine, and much more. I live in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four kiddos. Let’s get started!

One thought on “Is Dairy Inflammatory?

  1. Thanks for the info about inflammation and dairy. I have used dairy products and milk for years without any problems. I recently started a protein shake regimen using milk and yogurt. I have two protein shakes a day. I have felt some discomfort from using it lately but don’t believe its too serious. I started the regimen using regular whey protein but have since switch to a whey protein isolate. The isolate makes me feel more lively and energetic though It seems switching to the isolate is causing some intestinal discomfort. After reading your article I have decided to keep switching usage until I eliminate the discomfort.

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