Let's continue on with our tour of the conventional grocery store, and how to do the best we can with what's available to us...
This is a tough one. The dairy at our local grocery store has unfortunately been dealt with rather poorly. First off, it has been pasteurized:
diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys
vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens
and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants,
growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and
Not to mention, also being homogenized, which breaks up fat globules and may be a major contributing factor to heart disease and high cholesterol, in addition to the fact that it adds unnecessary processing to what is otherwise a whole, natural food.
So, what types of dairy are worth purchasing as we seek out a whole foods diet?
Ideally, raw milk is one of the ultimate "health foods" out there (along with other dairy products made from it- raw cheeses, cultured dairy such as kefir, yogurt and buttermilk, and beautiful yellow butter). I am all about creamy, unadulterated raw milk, straight from the farm. To find out if there are any sources of this liquid gold near you, you can check for it's availability by location.
What if raw milk isn't available to me?
If your only shopping options are conventional grocery stores (or even health food stores, depending where you live), chances are good that buying raw milk just isn't an option. Here are my suggestions for some of the healthier compromises:
Don't drink conventional milk
Now this is a difficult statement for many people. There are many foods that I would still encourage people to consume, whether they can get organic or the best quality or not. Unfortunately, milk is not one of them. If you cannot find unpasteurized milk (even if it's organic), I would suggest removing it from your diet in it's standard form (ie. straight from the jug).
What about alternatives? I know of only two alternatives that I feel good about. Soy milk is definitely NOT one of them (read this to find out why). Rice milk is also not such a great option, because it doesn't offer anything more than rice and water mixed together (and most of us eat plenty of grains as it is).
Almond or other nut milks (hazlenut, brazilnut, etc.) are one decent option. They offer some good protein, fat (yes, we need good fats!) and calcium, along with other nutrients contained in nuts. The only problem is that commercial nut milks are not made correctly. Nuts should be soaked or sprouted before being consumed, or they are much more difficult to digest, and contain phytates which inhibit mineral absorption. Making your own nut milks is a good possibility, as I have done and had good results with.
Another option I had not heard of until recently is Coconut Milk Tonic. Though I haven't tried this, it seems to be a great alternative, and has much to offer nutritionally.
Focus on cultured dairy
If milk is out of the question, then make room for more cultured dairy in your diet. This would include yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, and even sour cream. The reason these products are more acceptable is that they have added bacteria cultures, which promote good digestion and a healthy intestinal tract, and are not associated with the same problems as drinking regular cow's milk.
Back in the days before I found raw milk, we ate a good variety of cheeses and sour cream, had plenty of yogurt in smoothies and for snacks, and I used buttermilk to replace milk in my cooking (sometimes yogurt makes a good substitute as well, if you water it down a bit).
Since the cost of my raw milk is rather insane, I still buy organic pasteurized milk (when it goes on clearance due to it's expiry date) and use that to make all of my yogurt and kefir (because culturing the milk adds back in many of the benefits that the pasteurization removed). I can even stock up on it and make huge batches (both keep well in the fridge) or freeze the milk to have on hand for later.
When buying cheeses...
I tend to avoid standard cream cheese, as it's rather fake and not a very close cousin to the real, traditional cream cheese. I do buy cottage cheese sometimes. I never, ever (and recommend that you don't ever, ever!) buy processed cheese slices or spread, any Velveeta or Cheese Whiz or anything like that. They are, quite simply, very processed and no longer offer the nutrition of regular cheese (but they do offer a host of other things your body doesn't need or want!).
Say no thanks to margarine
Along with it's hydrogenated fats and trans fats, margarine is made up of rancid vegetable oils, as well as soy protein and other additives and coloring that are completely unnatural. There is nothing redeeming about margarine.
Butter, though it has been made out to be a villain, is full of healthful nutrients (Vitamins A, D and E), plus anti-oxidants, good cholesterol, beneficial fatty acids, iodine (for healthy thyroid glands), and more. If you're not convinced yet that butter is, in fact, not the enemy but rather a healthful food to be embraced, read this article, Why Butter is Better. Another good read is Kimi's post on butter and good sources of the best butter.
What if you can't get organic
Naturally, organic is ideal and many grocery stores are jumping on that bandwagon these days. Dairy that is not organic most likely contains hormones and/or antibiotics that have been given to the cows who often get sick, have infections and are expected to produce much higher quantities of milk than they can naturally produce. In addition, it does not contain the same spectrum of nutrients due to the inferior diets of conventionally raised cows (who receive very little, if any, pasture time where they are able to eat fresh, green grass).
If yours store doesn't carry organic dairy you can still enjoy these products, knowing that the items I have mentioned above are a reasonable compromise. Personally, I would encourage you to limit your dairy somewhat if you are not buying organic, and find other ways to get more of your protein, calcium, good fats, etc. Nuts and seeds (especially almonds and sesame seeds), dark leafy greens (including cruciferous greens like broccoli), and free-range eggs (no calcium, but great protein and fats) are excellent ways to boost your diet without dairy. (Edit: I should have added Cod Liver Oil to this list, for it's amazing Vit A and D content, as well as essential fatty acids!)
This series will take a short hiatus while I'm on vacation, and will pick up in a few weeks as I continue to work my way through the conventional grocery store... I'll be tackling meat and poultry and eggs, the bakery, and those pesky inner aisles, so stay tuned!