Dairy products such as milk and cheese can be a nutritious addition to a well rounded diet. However, milk and some dairy products can be tricky on a ketogenic diet due to their carbohydrate content. Dairy contains fat soluble vitamins A and D, water soluble vitamin B12 as well as riboflavin, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. According to the USDA, while dairy product consumption (cheese, yogurt) has increased, overall milk consumption has steadily decreased since the 1970’s due to milk's link to certain health problems relating to insulin resistance and obesity. The rise in use of alternative milk products such as almond milk, soy milk, flax milk and others creates a unique scenario for the consumer. Gone are the days where you need to rely on dairy for calcium and fat soluble vitamins. Many diets now encourage people to limit or exclude dairy entirely to promote what they call healing (I’m looking at you, Whole30), creating a stigma that dairy causes damage to our bodies.
In addition to the expanded market options, dairy products have become a controversial topic in the scientific community. Some studies suggest dairy products have an inflammatory effect on the body, and most anecdotal blogs will support this claim. Additionally, approximately 65% of people lose the ability to digest lactose as they age (NIH), which means more people are experiencing bloating, discomfort, and inflammatory effects of dairy as they age. On the other half of the divide, researchers have identified a negative correlation between dairy consumption and inflammation, meaning that dairy may have an anti-inflammatory effect in some individuals (Bordoni et al 2017).
So, should you include dairy in your ketogenic diet? The answer is, it depends. Fat free dairy products and ice cream should not have a place in your diet due to their often high carbohydrate count. If you don’t regularly experience negative effects after eating dairy products, continuing to include them in your well rounded diet will likely not be a problem. However, if after eating dairy or dairy products you experience discomfort, or changes in your skin's appearance it may be time to make a change. Fortunately, the beneficial components of dairy products can be found in other sources, such as, calcium in spinach or vitamin D in egg yolks. Because research supports both sides of the dairy argument, listen to your body and adjust your dairy intake based on how you feel.