Ayurveda 101: 5 Ways to Eat Dairy (Without Tummy Trouble)

The key to true mind-body balance? Understanding your body’s natural needs—how to eat, cook, cleanse, and heal—through each season. In our new online course Ayurveda 101, Larissa Hall Carlson, former dean of Kripalu’s School of Ayurveda, and John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and best-selling author, demystify yoga’s elemental sister science. Sign up now!

Did you cut dairy out of your diet, because you found it hard to digest or because eliminating it simply made you feel better or less congested? While these are perfectly good reasons to change your diet—and people who are truly lactose intolerant should avoid certain forms of dairy—in many cases, the real problem is that your overall digestion is weak, says John Douillard, co-leader of Yoga Journal’s new online course, Ayurveda 101, and the author of bestseller Eat Wheat: A Scientific and Clinically-Proven Approach to Safely Bringing Wheat and Dairy Back Into Your Diet (Morgan James Publishing, January 10, 2017). Plus, needlessly eliminating all forms of dairy from your diet may cause you to miss out on a host of health benefits, he adds.

“Dairy is sort of a perfect food,” Douillard says. “In addition to being a good source of calcium, it has healthy short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid, essential fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, lots of protein and minerals, as well as probiotics, aka good bacteria.” Plus, studies have shown that consuming dairy may have a protective effect against conditions such as stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, hypertension, excessive body weight, and obesity, he notes.

If you feel uncomfortable after consuming milk or cheese, the true culprit might not be dairy itself, but HOW you’re eating dairy, Douillard argues. Below, he offers 5 tips for eating dairy to help you reduce digestive discomfort and improve your health.

1. Eat dairy seasonally.

Winter is a really important time to eat fermented foods, including dairy products like yogurt and cheese, because they have good bacteria to feed the gastrointestinal tract and boost immunity, Douillard says. Cheese and yogurts were made to help preserve dairy through the winter months, and this culturing of milk made it much easier to digest as well, he explains. Cheese, kefir, yogurt, and cultured buttermilk are natural probiotics that support healthy and diverse strands of microbes in the gut. Research has also shown that a higher intake of yogurt is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

2. Eat vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized dairy.

Pasteurization is a process that heats milk in order to kill food-borne bacteria, microbes, and pathogens. While this process saved lives when dairy farms were less sanitary, today it’s used to extend the shelf life of milk and increase profit margins, Douillard claims. “By killing the bad bugs, the good bugs are also killed, along with the enzymes needed to break down the hard-to-digest proteins and fats and deliver the vitamin and minerals,” he writes in Eat Wheat. Vat-pasteurization, on the other hand, kills the bad bacteria while preserving many of the enzymes and good bacteria, because the heat is relatively low, Douillard explains. “So many of my patients drink vat-pasteurized milk and have no digestive problems,” he says. Homogenization is a form of milk processing that prevents milk from separating and extends its shelf life, but research shows that it changes the way milk proteins and fats are digested. While this is a controversial issue, according to Ayurveda, highly processed milk is less digestible than vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk products that can be found at natural foods markets.

3. Eat raw cheese.

Raw cheese is now legal in the U.S. if it ages for at least three months before it’s sold. During those three months, the non-pasteurized cheese molecules will gobble up all the milk sugar as their main source of fuel, rendering the cheese mostly devoid of any lactose, Douillard explains in Eat Wheat. “Rarely did traditional cultures drink whole milk. The cream was churned into butter or ghee, and the skim was cultured into cheese. In these forms, the health benefits of dairy are maximized,” he says.

4. Eat plain yogurt.

Plain yogurt is super healthy, but avoid the added sugars in commercial yogurt, Douillard warns. “You can acquire a taste for sour yogurt just like coffee,” he says. For a sweeter taste, add a little bit of fresh, real, organic maple syrup, or your own fruit, he suggests.

5. Eat dairy at midday.

Enjoy dairy at midday, when your digestive fire is stronger, as opposed to in the evening, when it’s weaker, Douillard recommends.

Eager to learn more? Go to EatWheatBook.com. Register now for Ayurveda 101 with Kripalu’s Larissa Hall Carlson and John Douillard.