Dairy and the Carnivore Diet

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet

Should you eat dairy on the Carnivore Diet?

It’s a controversial topic.

You may have heard that milk is healthy. It’s a great source of calcium that keeps your bones and teeth strong.

Or you may have heard that it’s unhealthy. And that full fat cream, butter, and cheese make you fat and raise your cholesterol.

With the Carnivore Diet there is even more confusion. Dairy comes from an animal so it’s “approved” (I have it listed as a “Level 1” food in the Carnivore Guide). But at the heart of the Carnivore Diet is eating in a way that is congruent with how humans are designed to eat, and dairy wouldn’t have been in the human diet until the Agricultural Revolution when humans first domesticated animals.

So is it really a “natural” food?

I think it’s important to stop, rewind, and remember what dairy is meant for.

It’s meant to grow a baby mammal into a big mammal.

A calf into a cow. An infant into an adolescent.

In order to do this, it is loaded with energy – fat, protein, and sugars. It is also loaded with vitamins, minerals and growth factors.

And it’s important to note that the milk from other animals is different from human breast milk.

3 Important Dairy Considerations

1. Milk Sugar – Lactose

Lactose intolerance is not a rare genetic mutation. In fact, it’s the opposite. Lactose intolerance is the normal, and those who are lactose tolerant (to some degree), are in the minority.

Lactose is the sugar in milk. And to digest it, we need a special enzyme called lactase.

As babies we have a gene that encodes for the lactase enzyme which breaks down lactose. However, throughout human history the gene that controls lactase production “turns off” between the ages of 2 and 5, corresponding with the weaning of a baby off breast milk. So traditionally we lost the ability to produce lactase, and thus all humans (besides children) were lactose intolerant.

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet - Lactose

That was until about ~7500 years ago.

With the domestication of animals, the easy energy from diary provided a large survival advantage.

Thanks to a genetic mutation, the LP allele, the lactase gene remained “turned on.” So adults with this mutation could retain the ability to make lactase. Because of the selective advantage “lactase persistence” spread throughout Europe. (r)

Yet, today 2 out of 3 people in the world are still lactose intolerant, meaning they still lose the ability to produce lactase. If they consume lactose it goes through their GI tract and can’t get broken down. The lactose reaches the large intestines where bacteria ferment it and release lactic acid and gases. They often then feel bloated and suffer from pains and gases. (r)

There is a spectrum of lactose intolerance. Many people lose the complete ability to make any lactase while others can make enough to digest up to 90% of the lactose they eat.

Why lactose?

Mammals feed their young with milk that is rich in lactose (but not other foods high in sugar like sucrose or fructose). Why lactose?

Breastfeeding and lactose

Lactose is composed of glucose and galactose (2 sugar molecules). Galactose is a prebiotic for bacteria which is thought to play an important role in the infant’s gut promoting early development, especially that of the nervous and immune systems. (r, r)

But this doesn’t mean you should necessarily eat it your whole life. Research shows that feeding a lot of galactose to mice makes them age faster. So perhaps good during growth / early development, and not as beneficial long term. (r)

2. Milk Protein – Casein

Besides the varying ability to digest lactose, milk proteins – casein and whey – can be problematic for many people. And those who have trouble with dairy, if it’s not from the lactose, it’s from the milk proteins.

Casein is a thick and sticky protein that takes digestive enzymes longer to break down. Because of this, it can be thought of as a “slow-release” protein. During my bodybuilding days, I remember I would take casein protein powder at night, for a slow release protein source while I slept.

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet - Casein

Cow milk has a lot more casein than human milk, about 4X times as much. And it’s different too. Cow’s have a form of casein called alpha S1 casein. And it is this form of S1 casein that is the most common cause of milk protein allergies.

Cows stomachs are different from human stomachs. And they have a special enzyme called rennet designed to break up big clumps of casein. We don’t have rennet. And many people have a hard time digesting large amounts of casein.

A1 vs A2 Dairy

There is another variant of casein that is important to know about and that is A1 vs A2 dairy – variants within the beta-casein family.

Modern “Western” cow breeds have a mutation with beta-casein (where the 67th amino acid is histidine instead of proline) and they are called A1 cows. The “old” breeds, including buffalo, sheep, and goats, are A2. And most bovine contains a blend of A1 and A2 in different amounts.

A2 Milk

Some studies have linked adverse health effects with A1 dairy. It’s thought that this is due to the digestion of A1 which produces a potentially damaging peptide called beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) which can affect receptors in the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Further, there’s a good amount of anecdotal evidence from people who can’t consume A1 dairy but do just fine with A2. (r, r, r)

3. Milk Protein – Whey

Whey is way easier to digest than casein.

But a problem with whey proteins in milk is that it causes insulin to rise similar to that of sugar. And it can destabilize blood glucose (hypoglycemia) and hormone levels that lead to cravings as well as mood swings and fatigue.

Whey also signals our body’s Growth Hormone (GH) to rise. Together with casein which signals IGF-1, you get a combination of hormone production that mimics what we see in puberty, fueling large amounts of growth.  

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet - Whey Protein

This may be seen as a beneficial response for a bodybuilder, but perhaps not such a good thing to be stimulating on a regular basis throughout life…or for the general population that isn’t working out on a regular basis.

For people with body composition goals as a top priority, I do think that the strategic use of whey protein can help build muscle (for the right person, at the right time – i.e. well-trained, insulin sensitive, as a means of dietary progression, post workout, etc.) as well as help prevent muscle loss during a fat loss, caloric restricted period (when going from lean to super lean).

But I think this is the “exception” not the “rule,” and has to be weighed against the potential downfalls of stimulating anabolic growth factors as well as it’s overall effectiveness versus eating that protein as whole food meat. Overall, for the vast majority of people with body composition goals, replacing meat with whey protein powder is suboptimal.

If you are going to use whey though I’d recommend looking for a low-temperature-processed, grass-fed whey.

Addiction, Acne, and Absorption:

Besides the digestion of milk sugars and the potential adverse impact of milk proteins, dairy can be addictive, cause acne, and iron deficiency.

  • Milk peptides have natural opioid properties which can make dairy seem addictive and sedating. Ever had that feeling that you can’t stop with one piece of cheese?
  • A growth factor called betacellulin can lead to acne through overproduction of sebum – the natural skin oils.
  • Pediatricians advise parents not to feed their baby cow’s milk for the 1st year because of the risk of developing an iron deficiency. The milk could interference with iron absorption and/or damage to GI tract.

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet:
“But don’t I need the calcium?”

Calcium has its necessary place in the human diet. And an all meat diet without dairy seems to be quite low in calcium. In addition, people worry that a high meat diet increases acidity in the blood, thus making calcium even more important to balance the pH and prevent calcium and other alkaline compounds from being leached from the bones.

However, I don’t think dairy or supplemental calcium is necessary on a meat-based diet. Because with a high protein diet we see more efficient gut absorption of calcium. In fact, I would worry if someone was supplementing calcium on a meat-based diet as it could lead to hypercalciuria and renal stones. In addition, plant food antinutrients like phytic acid and oxalates interfere with calcium absorption.

Regarding bone health, consider Americans.

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet - Calcium and Bone Health
Calcium, Meat Acidity, and Bone Health (r)

Americans eat more dairy than almost any other country and have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis.

There is a lack of evidence that dairy or calcium supplements strengthen bones or protect from osteoporosis.

In fact, vitamin D seems more critical. Sufficient protein seems more critical. And preventing sarcopenia (i.e. building / maintaining muscle) seems far more critical. (r, r, r)

Dairy Processing: Raw vs Pasteurized

So we’ve discussed some things to be cautious of if/when consuming dairy, and how not all dairy is the same. Another important consideration is how that dairy is processed.

Raw Milk

Raw milk comes straight from the cow without any processing.

Similar to the antidotal evidence of A2 vs A1 milk, raw milk is often associated with improved digestion for those who are lactose intolerant. And it’s not uncommon for these people to be able to consume some dairy symptom free. This is a result of the bacteria in raw milk creating the lactase.

Most raw milk comes from grass fed cows (whereas most milk in the US comes from CAFOs). Because it is not processed the natural bacteria aren’t killed and can thus aid in the digestion of the lactose.

Moreover, other probiotic bacteria and antimicrobial enzymes aren’t destroyed. And an interesting finding is that children who drink raw milk are half as likely to develop allergies. (r, r)

Besides retaining beneficial bacteria and enzymes, raw milk retains more nutrition than processed milk. It has more omega 3 fatty acids, more CLA, more vitamins, and more minerals. Pasteurization, while killing off bacteria, also decreases minerals like manganese, copper and iron, and reduces vitamins like B2 and B12. (r, r)

NOTE: since I've spent the last several years researching food sustainability, it's worth mentioning that drinking raw milk  has the added benefit of supporting local farmers which support the environment. More on food sustainability coming soon...

But won’t I get sick?

Because raw milk comes “pre-packaged” with anti-microbial properties, the risk of contamination is mitigated. For example, in a study where pathogens were added to raw milk, they saw the numbers of pathogens decline and disappear over time. (r)

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet: Raw Milk

Raw milk is consumed in many countries.

One reason the US (FDA/USDA) is against raw milk is because it can’t be mass produced safely. The big players (Dairy Farmers of America, Dean Foods, Foremost, and Land O’Lakes) have successfully lobbied for pasteurization laws that enable mass production. This also has the effect of mitigating the threat of local farmers selling directly to their communities, a practice which has been outlawed in some states and has significant restrictions in others.

If you compare the consumption of raw dairy from sanitary and healthy local grass fed cows to other foods, you’ll see it isn’t a high risk food at all. For example, listeria, a bacteria often connected to raw milk, is a 10X greater risk in deli meats and hot dogs. (r, r, r)

But not all raw milk is the same. The source is critical.

If you are wanting to purchase and consume raw dairy here are some things worth considering:

  • How are the cows fed?
    • Are they grass fed on sufficient pasture (ideally 1 or 2 cows per acre)?
  • Is the milk tested?
    • This can be expensive so not all small dairy farmers will do this.
  • How is it stored and transported?
    • Milk should be chilled as soon as possible, including during transport and storage.

In some US states raw milk can be bought in grocery stores, in others you can buy directly from the farm, but in others it can be a real challenge.

But like I mentioned, not all raw milk is the same.

If not properly taken care of (the cows and the milk) it can be contaminated. It’s why pasteurization exists. The source is critical.


Pasteurization heats raw milk to kill bacterial contamination. There is high temp short time (HTST) pasteurization which keeps milk fresh for 2-3 weeks. And there is “UHT” Ultra High Temperature pasteurization which enables a longer shelf life.

The history of pasteurization is telling.

The practice didn’t start until the industrial revolution. A time when there was a high demand for milk, but no way to transport it from rural farms to cities (there was no refrigeration at the time).

To solve this problem they started “industrial dairy farms.” A shed for cattle would be attached to a factory. In this hostile environment, the cows were fed almost exclusively leftover grains.

Industrial Dairy Farm

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this unnatural, unsanitary habitat and nutrient poor diet resulted in the cattle getting sick. And the milk they produced reflected the poor state of their health. It was bad.

This bad milk was fed to infants as a substitute for breastmilk so mothers could return to work. Infant mortality skyrocketed.

Hence the birth of pasteurization. Kill all the microbes with heat.

Once implemented infectious disease and infant mortality fell. In short order pasteurization became standard practice.

While pasteurization does help with high levels of bacterial contamination it also kills off probiotics, denatures protein, and turns lactose into beta-lactose which causes blood sugar to spike.

With the mass production of milk, unsanitary CAFO practices, and desirable long shelf lives, pasteurization is necessary for safety. And it has become so well accepted, even expected, that consuming raw dairy is considered dangerous.

Like so many aspects of health (like diet, sleep and even sun exposure) we’ve lost sight of the origin of the problems and try to cover them up with supplements, pills, and Band-Aid procedures.

A Note on Homogenization

Homogenization is the process of filtering the milk at a high pressure in order to break apart fat globules into smaller sizes. This prevents cream separation and makes the milk uniform in consistency. Large scale dairy farms can then mix milk from different herds, prolong shelf-life, and filter out fat to create 2%, 1%, and skim milk.

Most dairy products in the US are pasteurized and homogenized.

What to buy?

If you choose to eat dairy (which I think most people are better off limiting / eliminating) then recognize that the source matters.

If milk is produced on a large industrial farm that feeds their cows unnatural diets, antibiotics, and injects them with growth hormone, and then has to ship and store this milk, I think milk processing makes sense and is likely necessary for saftey.

This is a far cry from sourcing milk from a local farmer whose cows are grass fed on a rich pasture. If you can get your dairy directly from the farmer who takes care of his cattle as well as the necessary precautions, raw milk could be a great addition to your diet.

Raw Milk Experiment

Dairy Fat: Butter and Cream

When fat is separated from dairy you get some of our most beloved food products like butter and heavy whipping cream. Because most of the troublesome components of dairy are removed (lactose and milk proteins), most people tend to do just fine with these — with the caveat that these can be easy to overeat.

Benefits of Dairy Fat

Although cholesterol and saturated fat has been demonized for decades, I believe it has been in error. In fact, butter has a host of beneficial fats like CLA, AA, lauric acid, and butyrate. It has the Price Factor (Activator X) which helps the body absorb and use minerals. It has the Wulzen Factor which prevents calcification of joints and arteries. (r, r)

Dairy and the Carnivore Diet: Butter

Full-fat dairy is a great sources of Vitamin K2 which has been shown to help prevent calcium from settling in arteries. It works synergistically with Vitamin D to direct calcium, which you want going to the bones and teeth, not settling in the coronary artery.

Fermented Dairy: Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink (cow, goat, or sheep’s milk) that is like a liquid yogurt. It’s made by adding kefir grains to milk. But these grains are not cereal grains, rather they are colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. These microbes ferment the sugar turning it into kefir (the strained liquid), thus it is low in lactose.

Many people do just great with kefir and it has some beneficial properties like being a natural probiotic and it is a good source of calcium and vitamin K2.  

It’s important to note that it often contains ethanol a byproduct of fermentation. The concentration varies by production methods, but modern production tends to use shorter fermentation times and thus typically has much lower ethanol concentrations.

Many cheeses are also fermented like the hard cheeses – cheddar and parmesan. While other cheeses, fresh cheeses like mozzarella and cottage cheese, are not.

The take home message here is: Fermentation tends to improve the digestion of dairy, decrease lactose concentration, and can be a good source of nutrition and priobiotics.

Conclusions – Dairy and the Carnivore Diet

Humans are designed to eat human breast milk as infants. Throughout history we were weaned off this which corresponded with the loss of the ability to digest lactose.

During the Agricultural Revolution, we first domesticated animals and began to incorporate dairy into the adult diet for the first time. It provided a survival advantage giving a consistent source of nutrition. At that time methods were developed to remove as much lactose as possible. Then through a genetic mutation, humans could retain the ability to digest lactose in varying degrees into adulthood.

Cows milk, designed to grow a baby cow into a big cow, isn’t the same as human milk and certain incompatibilities, especially in milk proteins, can cause issues. The growth factors, while potentially beneficial in building muscle and fueling growth, may have adverse consequences on long term health if stimulated day-in-and-day-out.

It’s important to remember that humans are unique among mammals in drinking milk past childhood as well as drinking the milk of other animals.

I think that for those who can tolerate some lactose and are asymptomatic to the milk proteins are fine to incorporate some, limited dairy into the diet. The safest / best options at the top of my list being the full fat, grass fed, raw options from local farmers (i.e. butter, cream, whole milk).

And while I don’t think calcium supplementation is a good idea for most people, dairy provides a great source of calcium with the necessary fat-soluble vitamins to properly direct the calcium to bones and teeth and not soft tissues like arteries.

Regarding dairy protein supplements, like whey and casein protein powders, most people are better off sticking to eating whole food meat and/or dairy. But in some specific instances for people with body composition goals some whey protein supplementation can provide benefit.

My recommendation: If you want to eat dairy at least go a period of time completely eliminating it, and then try it back in and see how you feel — while recognizing not all dairy is the same:

  • A1 vs A2
  • Raw vs Pasteurized
  • Butter and cream where most of the lactose and milk proteins have been removed vs other dairy products

If you want to know more about how dairy can fit into a meat-based diet, I’d recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

27 Replies to “Dairy and the Carnivore Diet”

  1. I am two weeks into going with the carnivore diet. Lost 10 pounds and not trying. I am 65 years old, 6’1″ and was190 pounds, now 180 and struggling to keep my weight. What can I eat/drink to keep my weight at 180-185?

  2. Hi Kevin, I don’t think you mean grass-finished when speaking about milk, since the term is used to designate the last months’ life of beef cattle, whether “finished” on grass or grain. Dairy cattle will also have their own “twilight” months/years, but I don’t think we apply the term to their milk production.

  3. You mention homogenized milk, but, unless I missed it, don’t discuss the possible negative health effects it may have.

    I have done some amateur research on whether homogenized milk vs non-homogenized milk and have found that for every person who says homogenized milk is fine, there’s one who says it is bad for you.

    I am inclined to support the idea that homogenized milk is bad because on the rare occasions that I drink it, I immediately ‘feel’ it in my bloodstream and my lungs, both of which feel slightly clogged.

    In any event I think a discussion by you on this topic would be helpful to your readers.

  4. I did carnivore back in 2019 but found the huge restrictions from whole macro food groups to be hard. I came from a vegan diet of 8 years and I felt like I was just going from one extreme diet to another. So then I went “all in” and toughened up my gut so to speak. Whereas before I was so sensitive to many foods and couldn’t tolerate dairy, gluten, and many veggies, now I feel like I can pretty much eat anything and am fine thanks to my robust microbiome. I’ve been following Ray Peat lately who is a huge advocate of dairy and emphasizes the importance of keeping your ratios of calcium (dairy) to phosphorus (meat) higher. Of course if one can’t tolerate dairy they can get calcium from a number of other things like stinging nettle infusion for example which contains upwards of 500mg of calcium. I also am questioning our entire history and when the agricultural period really started. I know scientists have well documented “proof”. But I also wonder about all the ancient civilizations that built the pyramids for example. They even have found pyramids in the ocean. And some scientists are speculating that these buildings could be upwards of 30,000 years old and even older. If people were capable of constructing megaliths then I feel like they were definitely capable of raising cattle. Some claim that they even had superior technology than what we have today. Perhaps we’re a species with amnesia. And perhaps we are not as advanced as we once were. So I no longer support the argument that milk has not been in our diet very long so it’s not a “natural” food. That was the same argument I used when I was vegan saying meat wasn’t natural for humans to eat because our first diet as humans consisted of only fruit. I also think as humans that we can adapt and evolve. We don’t have to eat the same exact way we did thousands of years ago. We can eat BETTER. I think cooking food is appropriate. And I think having a variety of foods is important especially for the microbiome. Anyways, just sharing my thoughts. Saw this article through your Saturday 7 that I was catching up on. Thanks for the emails! I enjoy reading them.

  5. I’m highly intolerant to all forms of dairy, unfortunately. Even grassfed Ghee causes stomach upset and severe skin reactions. My brother is more mildly intolerant, while the rest of the family seems to have no problem with it. My current diet is occasionally pasture raised chicken, and fish and majorly beef and lamb. I can’t tolerate many other Carnivore diet foods due to the histamine content. I love the taste of dairy but it doesn’t love me.

  6. What about goat dairy? I’m a big fan of raw, aged goat cheese. It’s good stuff. But I sometimes worry about dairy. Other dairy I don’t handle so well. I try to limit how much dairy I have, mostly a little bit of cheese and butter.

    1. Hey Ben, yes I talk a bit about goats milk in the A1 vs A2 section – many people do just fine with it (others not so much).

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