Dairy. Friend, Foe or Frenemy?
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
I ran across this question today in one of my sessions with a client. I thought it might help you too since it’s a topic that comes up often.
Dairy. There is a ton of confusion surrounding the white stuff and it can be hard to differentiate truth from fad so…..
How much cheese is too much cheese?
The answer is: it depends.
It’s an unsatisfying answer, since it is much easier to demonize or idealize foods than it is to take the nuanced approach that will help us make consistent long term habits with our food choices.
Remember when you were young and someone told you not to do something? What was your first response?? DO IT!!
You might think that you want a specific answer, but in reality anyone who gives you one is just setting up their camp for you to battle against (or fight for). This is exactly how we get fads.
So rather than give you a specific quantity and a thousand reasons, research studies about why I’m right, let’s answer some questions instead.
What if it’s not about dairy at all? What if the question you are really asking is something totally different?
Often when we find ourselves asking how much of something is too much, there is a deeper reason for the question. As in we may suspect that our consumption is less/more than reasonable and we want someone outside ourselves to either confirm that what we are doing is fine or condemn us for our faults.
Unfortunately the real answer is only going to be found within yourself, and you probably already have a hunch. The most qualified expert on you is, in fact, YOU!
So rather than give you a black or white answer ala insta-famous trainers like “cheese is dairy and therefore evil cow fluid meant only for baby cows!!!” or “cheese is the best food evaaaarrrr!!! It’s the perfect food for all mammals!! Eat it all!”, let’s try applying a set of information gathering questions to help you determine how much cheese (or any other food for that matter) is right for you!
First generate a set of reliable data points...
How often are you eating this food?
At every meal?
Once a week?
Somewhere in between?
How much of it are you eating in one sitting? How does this line up with the PN guidelines that will help you reach your personal health and fitness goals? Is this food sending your overall calorie intake off the rails? Is this a food you can’t imagine life without?
Velveeta? Government cheese? Vermont Tillamook cheddar from cows that have featherbeds, first names and lots of hugs?
How do you feel after eating the quantity/type of this food that you are currently eating?
Are all types of this food tolerated the same?
Does brie make you run for the loo and mozzarella is no problem?
Energized and ready for the rest of your life?
Sluggish/Guilty/bloated/grumpy/happy…. Or any of the other 5 dwarves?
Now that we have some useful info we can get down to business and build a plan!
Action or no action, that is the question
Do you actually want to change this behavior?
What are you willing and able to change, modify or reduce in order to make room for this food in your diet?
Once you have worked your way through these questions it is highly likely that you will have the answer to your question how much cheese?
You might also have an answer to why it was bugging you in the first place.
I encourage you to write your answers out. Sometimes putting things on paper can help clarify priorities and values that are there just under the surface and need some attention.
Or maybe you write it all out and feel like burning it when you are done, or like doing a dance. it's up to you, but awareness of what is actually going on is the first step to changing something.
BTW, tracking only on the days that go 'well' or for only a week probably won't give you a clear enough picture to create targeted actions. Track for at least 3-4 weeks-Consistently.
Try repeating this process with other decisions that are not just about food and see what comes up for you!
Anyway, I hope this helps in a ‘give me something to work with’ kind of way. It’s not an black and white answer (surprise!) , but it is a set of tools that will lead you to THE answer for you, for now.
If you are looking for some specific research on dairy please check out this link to a Precision Nutrition article on the subject.