Dairy has been a much debated topic for Ketogenic diet owing to its popularity and large variety of milk products available in the market. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the potential benefits or risks associated with the consumption of milk and other dairy products. Additionally, we’ll explore the suitability of various products made from dairy in Keto – which to avoid and which to eat.
The Debate on Milk
Besides, it’s suitability for Keto, dairy products, especially milk, have been debated for long. While, many dieters speak highly of the benefits offered by dairy products (full-fat), many skeptics and dietitian’s advise otherwise.
The argument is based on the logic that technically milk from other animals (mostly cow, buffalo, goat and sheep) wasn’t part of our original natural diet. It was only meant to help in the growth of the baby for that particular species. Our bodies lacked the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down the lactose found in cattle milk. However, it has been found that early in the evolution of our species, people in some cultures did manage to develop the enzyme through genetic mutation. Before that, people would only consume milk in the form of cheese after fermenting it so that the lactose was consumed by bacteria leaving behind the fat and protein.
To this date, many people continue to remain “lactose intolerant” i.e., they lack the evolutionary jump to produce lactase. Thus, their bodies remain unsuitable for dairy products. The debate however remains on the impact of dairy on our overall health, especially weight gain.
Some studies (1, 2) do claim that consumption of dairy may increase the risk of prostate cancer or cardiovascular diseases in adults, but their findings have been found to be largely conflicting with other studies that prove otherwise. In fact, many other studies (3, 4) have found that consumption of dairy might actually reduce the risk of colon, breast, bladder, stomach and other forms of cancer.
Given milk’s condensed nutrient-content, easy availability and versatility in the form of different products that can be made from it, it is difficult to not include milk or dairy products in our regular diet. However, many people complain that consuming dairy leads to weight gain. But research has proven otherwise.
In fact, it has been found that milk and dairy products (from full-fat milk) actually helps in weight loss and improves overall health. Thus, it can be inferred that the complaints of weight gain are more cases of over-consumption rather than actual causes.
Eventually, the debate boils down to personal preferences. If your body adjusts well to milk and dairy products, go for it. There’s no denying that milk is the best source for calcium and many other important nutrients in the body. (From a Keto perspective, we will discuss below on which products to focus and which to avoid)
If your body doesn’t accept milk or dairy products well, then you might lack the enzymes required to properly break down dairy and thus it is better to avoid it.
Composition of Milk
The suitability of milk and dairy products in Keto and its impact on our health primarily boils down to its composition. Milk (and dairy products) are primarily made up of four components:
- Water: Milk, in liquid form, is primarily made up of water. In solid dairy products all or most of the water is eliminated to leave the rest of the components.
- Protein: Milk contains protein in two forms, Casein (80%) and Whey (20%). Both forms contain all essential amino acids required to the body. The Casein is the solid part, thus harder to digest, and Whey is the liquid part, much easier to digest. While making cheese or yogurt, the Whey portion is removed leaving behind coagulated chunks of cheese and yogurt.
- Fat: Milk has wide variety of fatty acids, most of which are saturated (70%). The remaining 30% of fat in dairy consists of Mono-unsaturated fats (25%) and Poly-saturated fats (5%), including some harmless naturally occurring trans fats. This natural trans fat is completely different from the industrial trans fat used in processed foods, which are extremely harmful.Read more about the right sources of fat in Keto here.
- Lactose (or milk sugar): The primary concern in Keto, Lactose is a disaccharide composed of two simple sugars glucose and galactose. The enzymes in our intestine break down the lactose so that it can be absorbed in the bloodstream.
Eventually, the suitability of various milk forms and other dairy products boils down to its composition. The higher the fat content and lower the lactose (or sugar) content, the more suitable is the product for Keto.
Suitability of Different Dairy Products for Keto
1. Whole or Raw Milk:
Both whole and raw milk have a typical fat composition of 3-4% with around 7-10 grams of fat and protein per cup of serving. However, they are both also rich in lactose and pack around 11-12 grams of carbs per serving. Thus, they make for poor choice for Keto. The compositions differ slightly in goat or sheep milk from cow or buffalo milk but the percentage remains in the same ball-park.
2. Low-fat or Slim Milk:
Milk varieties with further reduced fat-content make the product even more unsuitable for Keto. These varieties contain 0-2% of fat content, which is much below the desired content. As fat content goes down, sugar content goes further up.
3. Condensed Milk:
Made by heating the milk to evaporate all the water content, Condensed (or evaporated) Milk simply accentuates the sugar component in milk. Yes, it increases the fat and protein component as well but at 25-30 grams of carb per serving, it is extremely difficult to accommodate it your tight daily carb limit.
Typically made with low-fat milk and partially fermented by bacteria cultures, buttermilk is high on lactose (and sugar) content. Thus, making it extremely unsuitable or Keto.
Semi-solid or Creams
5. Powdered Milk:
There are several varieties of powdered milk available in the market in which raw milk is dehydrated to leave behind the non-water components or milk solids. These are then converted into a powdered form. Usually, many companies even increase the sugar composition to boost its taste. As you can imagine, since the sugar component remains high, the product is unsuitable for Keto.
However, there are new products in the market, such as the one created by LC Foods, in which along with the water content, the lactose content is also removed leaving behind just the fat and protein components. To consume one can just add hot water to the mix and consume it as regular milk. With considerably low sugar content, such lactose-eliminated products are superbly suitable for Keto.
Verdict: Unsuitable (Dehydrated Milk Powder) / Suitable (Lactose-eliminated Milk Powder)
6. Cream (Heavy):
Prepared by removing the skimming the settled butterfat from expressed milk, Cream is the richest part of milk and comprises of almost 35% fat. In one serving it delivers about 86 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein while only adding 7 grams of carbs. This makes it an excellent choice for Keto.
However, portion control is recommended with Cream as it is loaded in calories.
7. Cream (Light or Half-and-half):
The cream prepared above is often diluted in fat content by either adding water (for light cream) or milk (for half-and-half). In either case, the fat content of the product reduces and sugar content goes up slightly.
However, it still doesn’t go beyond satisfactory levels. Which means that they are still suitable for Keto but only in moderation.
8. Sour Cream:
Sour cream is typically made by fermenting (heavy) cream. After fermentation, the lactose levels are further reduced by the action of microorganisms which feed on the lactose to produce lactic acid. This brings the overall nutrient content to 45 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein, and less than 10 grams of carbs. Thus, making it an extremely suitable choice for Keto.
9. Yogurt or Curd:
Similar to sour cream, Yogurt or curd, is made by fermenting whole milk. The fermentation brings down the lactose content considerably and thickens the milk. The tangy taste in yogurt is the lactic acid created by bacteria and other micro-organisms. Typically a serving comprises 8-10 grams of fat, 20-25 grams of protein and less than grams of carbs. Thus, making it suitable for Keto.
However, nowadays, flavored (rather sugared) or low-fat versions of yogurts are also available in the market, which are unsuitable.
Verdict: Suitable (if made from whole milk) / Unsuitable (flavored or those made from low-fat milk)
Another fermented product, cheese is extremely popular on Keto as both soft and hard varieties are suitable to consume. It is usually prepared by allowing the protein to coagulate and then treated with bacteria to raise its acidity level. Different cheeses involve the treatment of a different micro-organism, which gives the different varieties its varied tastes. The fermented product is then pressed to eliminate water and converted into molds.
Cheeses typically have very less carb content (<1 grams per serving) and are extremely suitable for Keto. Again, only go for cheese made from full-fat milk.
Cream is churned and the water drained (natural buttermilk) to leave behind butter. The limited amount of lactose that was remaining in the cream is completely drained off to leave behind almost pure fat (98% fat)!
12. Ghee (or Clarified Butter):
Butter is heated to remove any milk solids remaining leaving behind Ghee. Ghee is, if not more, an even better source of fat. It’s macros are similar to butter’s and thus is also extremely suitable for Keto.
As we found, dealing with dairy can be tricky business in Keto. But, if we consider the composition and preparation method the choice becomes easy.
As a rule of thumb, it can be conferred that cream or solid versions of dairy products are suitable for Keto, while regular liquid milk is not. However, if you love to drink milk on a regular basis and can’t do away it, try these amazing substitutes.
Avoid (Unsuitable for KETO)
- Whole milk or raw milk
- Low-fat or skimmed milk
- Condensed milk
- Dehydrated milk powder (with sugar)
- Flavored Yogurts (with added sugar)
Eat More (Suitable for KETO)
- Cream (Heavy and Light)
- Sour Cream
- Yogurt or Curd