Does anyone else find dairy to be a controversial and confusing food group these days?
Some health organizations promote dairy as a vital component of a well-balanced diet, while other experts claim it’s detrimental to your health.
Who is correct?
Well lucky for you, we’re going to avoid the general controversy and focus this topic of discussion just on your efforts to conceive.
According to the MyPlate guidelines by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a healthy diet should be composed of all five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and DAIRY.
Just as a quick review, dairy products are any food made from the milk of animals. Dairy products most commonly come from the milk of cows, so we’ll focus our attention on cow-based dairy products for the purposes of this post.
As you know, dairy products come in many different forms:
Milk – the base form of dairy products that are taken from lactating animals. Nature designed it to provide a source of fat, protein, and sugar to nourish growing offspring.
Cream – a thick, textured form of milk created through the separation of fat from the milk, which results in the creation of butterfat. The different varieties of cream are defined by their fat to butterfat ratio.
Butter – the separation of fat from butterfat is continued from the cream production process to make butter. Additives such as salt are mixed in with the separation to add flavor and longevity.
Cheese – a solid form of dairy that is created by coagulating the casein protein in milk. The process is typically sped up by acidifying the milk and then adding an enzyme to the casein protein.
Yogurt – the result of fermenting either milk or cream which leads to the thickening of the final product and the slightly tangy taste. Additives such as sugar, flavorings, fruit, and preservatives are often mixed in.
According to the USDA, the amount of dairy you need to eat depends on your age. The amount each person needs can vary between 2 – 3 cups each day.
Regardless of the form or amount consumed, the USDA also recommends that food choices from the dairy group should retain their calcium content and be low-fat or fat-free.
But do these recommendations support your efforts to conceive…?
First and foremost, you should avoid low-fat or no-fat dairy products when trying to conceive.
Based on research from the Harvard School of Public Health, low-fat dairy is associated with an increased risk of ovulatory infertility.
In fact, they found that women who ate two or more servings of low-fat dairy foods per day had an 85% higher risk of ovulatory infertility than women who ate less than one serving per week.
Many hypothesize this to be related to the type of hormones left behind after the process of skimming dairy. Estrogen and progesterone bind to fat molecules and are subsequently removed when producing low-fat dairy. This leaves behind a predominance of androgenic hormones (e.g., testosterone), which can disrupt ovulation if left unchecked.
It’s important to note that the Harvard study only found this association in women with ovulatory infertility. The researchers did not evaluate the effect that low-fat dairy had on women with diminished ovarian reserve, recurrent pregnancy loss, PCOS, or any other infertility related diagnosis.
You’re likely to come across social media posts and other articles suggesting that you should ditch dairy products altogether.
Unfortunately, to our knowledge, studies have NOT been performed comparing women who consume fat-containing dairy to those who abstain from dairy altogether.
Yet despite the lack of research at this time, there are some compelling reasons to drop dairy in all forms while trying to conceive:
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly find their way into dairy products during the process of production and storage.
The casein protein in dairy may be pro-inflammatory and activating to the immune system in sensitive individuals.
We still have a lot to learn about dairy in all its forms when it comes to your efforts to conceive, but for those wanting to eliminate it altogether, there are plenty of other options available.
Some of you might not be ready to toss out all forms of dairy… and based upon the current scientific literature that’s probably okay as long as you stick with the full-fat kind in moderation.
However, if you’re ready to toss out dairy altogether, then fear not – there are several great substitutes to choose from.
Milk Substitutes: give almond milk (Dr. Haas favorite) or coconut milk (Dr. Eskew favorite) a try next time you’re at the store. Quick tip – reach for milk substitutes in the refrigerated section to help limit other additives and preservatives.
Butter Substitutes: oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats are a great pro-fertility substitution for butter. Extra virgin olive oil, algae oil, or avocado oil are just a few you can try.
Cream Substitutes: coconut milk is a great substitute for cream, just be sure to be on the lookout for a container that’s BPA free to minimize your exposure to this common endocrine-disruptor.
And if you need a little extra guidance for going dairy-free, then check out the inspiration over at GoDairyFree.org.
Now before we wrap things up, we know some of you are wondering…
“How will I get enough calcium if I cut dairy from my diet?”
Rest assured that if you are eating according to the principles of a pro-fertility diet (nuts, leafy green vegetables, and fish), then you will get the recommended 1,000 – 1,200 mg/day.
“How will I get enough protein if I cut dairy from my diet?”
There are plenty of other protein options that have been shown to boost your chances of getting pregnant – plant-based proteins to be precise! So fear not when it comes to getting enough protein.
“How will I get enough fat if I cut dairy from my diet?”
When it comes to pro-fertility fats, you’re better off eating foods rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (salmon, flax seeds, etc.) as well as monounsaturated fats (almonds, olive oil, etc).
Ultimately, we know that the topic of dairy can be controversial when it comes to the decision of whether or not to keep it in your diet.
However, when we look at the scientific literature, certain forms of dairy (low-fat/no-fat) might actually work against your efforts to conceive.
We encourage you to make a few simple dairy substitutions to optimize your full fertility potential.
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