Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Nutrition Debate #108: “You’re Eating Too Much Dairy”

This link from Janet (JEY100), a helpful member on a popular Active Low-Carber Forum  led me to a popular new blogger named Kris Gunnars and his blog Authority Nutrition. The link was to his "Top 15 Reasons You Are Not Losing Weight on a Low-Carb Diet." Reason #7 was “You’re Eating Too Much Dairy.” This is what Kris said (emphasis mine):

“Another low-carb food that can cause problems for some people is dairy.

Some dairy products, despite being low in carbs, are still pretty high in protein.

Protein, like carbs, can raise insulin levels, which drives energy into storage.

The amino acid composition in dairy protein makes it very potent at spiking insulin. In fact, dairy proteins can spike insulin as much as white bread (7, 8).

Even though you may seem to tolerate dairy products just fine, eating them often and spiking insulin can be detrimental to the metabolic adaptation that needs to take place in order to reap the full benefits of low-carb diets.

In this case, avoid milk, cut back on the cheese, yogurt and cream. Butter is fine as it is very low in protein and lactose and therefore won’t spike insulin.

Bottom Line: The amino acid composition in dairy proteins makes them spike insulin fairly effectively. Try eliminating all dairy except butter.”

The low-carber forum blogger also provided a link to Mark Sisson’s Mark's Daily Apple with his "17 Reasons You're Not Losing Weight" of which #17 is “You’re Eating Too Much Dairy.” His text is provided below (again, emphasis added by me):

“Some people just react poorly to dairy. We see this time and time again listed in the forums; dairy just seems to cause major stalls in fat loss for a good number of folks. There are a couple speculative reasons for this. One, folks coming from a strict paleo background may not be acclimated to the more relaxed Primal stance on dairy. Reintroducing any food into the diet after a period of restriction can have unintended consequences on body composition. Two, dairy is insulinogenic, which is why it’s a popular post-workout refueling tool for athletes. Does a non-strength training PBer need to drink a few glasses of milk every day? Probably (definitely) not.”

What caught my interest in both of these posts, obviously, was the reference to insulin secretion with respect to protein and dairy protein in particular. My interest was further piqued when I read Kris’s “very potent” hyperlink above, which as it turns out is to Mark’s elucidation of his “tip.” That excellent post by Mark, “Dairy and Its Effect on Insulin Secretion (and What It Means for Your Waistline),” is too long to copy here, so I’ll just provide an excerpt (all my emphasis):

“Cream and butter are not particularly insulinogenic, while milk of all kinds, yogurt, cottage cheese, and anything with casein or whey, including powders and cottage cheese, elicits a significant insulin response. In one study (PDF), milk was even more insulinogenic than white bread, but less so than whey protein with added lactose and cheese with added lactose. Another study (PDF) found that full-fat fermented milk products and regular full-fat milk were about as insulinogenic as white bread.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? Finally, footnote #7 in Kris Gunnar’s post takes you to this study by scientists from the highly respected universities in Malmo and Lund, Sweden and Copenhagen Denmark. Again, the underlining is mine.

Glycemia and insulinemia in healthy subjects after lactose-equivalent meals of milk and other food proteins: the role of plasma amino acids and incretins1,2,3

Background: Milk products deviate from other carbohydrate-containing foods in that they produce high insulin responses, despite their low GI. The insulinotropic mechanism of milk has not been elucidated.

Objective: The objective was to evaluate the effect of common dietary sources of animal or vegetable proteins on concentrations of postprandial blood glucose, insulin, amino acids, and incretin hormones [glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) and glucagon-like peptide 1] in healthy subjects.

Design: Twelve healthy volunteers were served test meals consisting of reconstituted milk, cheese, whey, cod, and wheat gluten with equivalent amounts of lactose. An equicarbohydrate load of white-wheat bread was used as a reference meal.

Results: A correlation was found between postprandial insulin responses and early increments in plasma amino acids; the strongest correlations were seen for leucine, valine, lysine, and isoleucine. A correlation was also obtained between responses of insulin and GIP concentrations. Reconstituted milk powder and whey had substantially lower postprandial glucose areas under the curve (AUCs) than did the bread reference (−62% and −57%, respectively). Whey meal was accompanied by higher AUCs for insulin (90%) and GIP (54%).

Conclusions: It can be concluded that food proteins differ in their capacity to stimulate insulin release, possibly by differently affecting the early release of incretin hormones and insulinotropic amino acids. Milk proteins have insulinotropic properties; the whey fraction contains the predominating insulin secretagogue.”
Okay, this is getting a little thick, but you get the point, I hope. If not, go back and read this link by Mark Sisson, seriously. If you are wondering why you are not losing weight on a low-carb diet, milk protein could be the reason – particularly, but not exclusively the whey protein fraction. Butter (ideally from grass fed cows) and heavy cream, may be excepted, but here’s the takeaway: “…milk of all kinds, yogurt, cottage cheese, and anything with casein or whey, including powders and cottage cheese, elicits a significant insulin response. And elevated insulin drives fat storage. That insight sure resonated with me.


  1. I usually only eat 3 things a day: full fat Greek yogurt, a piece of meat, and a big salad. All under 1200 calories. Have been doing this for 2 years and have gained 15 pounds. Fifteen frustrating, heart-breaking pounds. Thanks for the information. I'll try something different.

    1. Wow! I'll say It must be frustrating indeed. I am having trouble breaking past 238 pounds at the moment myself. I've been there for 4 weeks now. But maybe this week...

      I've given up H&H and/or full cream with my coffee. I add 1 tps of Ancient Organics ghee. It's not the same, but the taste of carmelized butter from this brand of ghee (as a result of 'rendering' out the protein, I think), is 'different' and pretty good.

      I also eat butter, but am using coconut oil to cook onions and mushrooms and brown meat. I also use MCT oil. And the only cheese I eat now is aged cheese (minimum 6 months). I got this idea from Kurt Harris. I think his Archevore Diet is just about perfect. I like his approach and thinking too. Too bad he has disappeared from the face of the earth.

      This protein thing was a revelation to me too. I think I need to go back and reread my own column to more fully appreciate its implications.

      I think it's probably a good idea to give up the yoghurt.

    2. The animal products that you are eating is what is packing on the pounds. It is that plain and simple. If you eat fish once a week, you will get all of the vitamin B-12 that you need. Eat "whole" foods such as minimally or non processed vegetables, fruits, and grains and I assure you that the fullness in your face and the excess weight that you carry throughout will drop to an acceptable level.

    3. Ah ha! The truth revealed: a vegan, lacking the courage to have a name. And who makes ad hominum personal attacks, and is angry. Did I mention, who also has an axe to grind?

  2. Kris Gunnar is a young medical student with a passion for nutrition. He has virtually no back ground in clinical research. He has no patients that he has worked with, or years spent researching issues researching problems related to disease and nutrition.
    He has nothing more then an axe to grind in relation to a personal issue.

    1. A young medical stucend with a passion for nutrition? What a novel, and refreshing and hopeful combination! Would that there were more like him. I applaud him for speaking out, and most of all, for his message.

  3. I have read some of Kris' s articles, I see he has researched quite a bit on a'low carb' diet. As a nutrition professional, I would strongly encourage people to read all articles and distill what may be relevant to them. I do not advise anyone anything without conducting a background consultation and each individual will receive recommendations that are unique to them. In all Kris' s articles I have not seen a mention to exercise. Any health professional would know, if energy intake is greater than expenditure you gain weight. If expenditure is greater you can manage

  4. .. your weight or reduce weight.
    I would suggest eating a balanced diet and engaging in 45 minutes of moderate activity a day.

    1. Thanks for commenting. You make some reasonable point about "distill what may be relevant" and "conducting a background consultation," but you are exactly the type of "nutrition professional" that I would advise people to avoid like the plague. And by using the blanket phrase, "Any health professional would know..." you paint a broad-brush that is, sadly, false. Too bad for you, I say. We are in a paradigm shift. You are not only behind the curve. You are swimming against the current, to mix my metaphors. There are many enlightened clinicians and RDs and CDEs out there today, and many more emerging every day, as they see the light. I hope, for your sake, that you do too.

    2. How do you seek or have you seeked information to manage your diabetes?

      One size does not fit all and if you believe all that you read without finding how and where the information has been sourced you may experience adverse effects. With all due respect, when one is diagnosed with a long term chronic condition, after many years of trial and error you will find something that works well for you, this may not be the same for someone else.
      I teach how to make better informed choices to prevent long term chronic conditions. I am curious to know what enlightment these clinicians have seen.

    3. If you read my profile on Blogger, or any other of the 169 posts I have made there, you will learn that I was diagnosed a type 2 in 1986 and, at the suggestion of my internist (who was also a cardiologist), started on Atkins Induction in 2002 to lose weight. I immediately started gettin hypos, so I called him and he titrated me off the oral antiglycemic meds (maxed out on 2 and starting a 3rd class) over the course of a few days (since I kept getting hypos as long as I kept strictly to Atkins Induction. I finally got off the last 5mg of the sulfonylurea when I switched to Bernstein a few years later. Today I just take 500mg once a day.

      Over the course of time I lost 170 lbs, my BP dropped from 130/90 to 110/70 on the same meds, and importantly, my HDL doubled (from 39 aver to 83 aver I think) and my triglycerides dropped by 2/3rd from +/- 150 to 49 aver. I am today a much, much healthier person than I was 11 years ago. I have lots of energy and am never hungry. The secret (as any type 2 who has tried it knows): to gain control of your blood sugar, lose weight and keep it off without hunger, improve your BP and dramatically improve your blood lipids, eat Very Low Carb. Allow your body to burn fat (in mild ketosis) instead of constantly craving sugar.

      I have consulted with RDs and CDEs and none of the ones I have met 'get it.' Like most doctors, they were trained to believe differently, and are unable to change.

      I read peer-reviewed scientific abstracts and full papers every day. I have read, re-read and heavily underlined dozens of books. But the best 'teacher' has been my own n=1 experience. And the lab tests my doctors have taken over the years prove it. I have 35 years of continulous measurements charted from before the time I was diagnosed. When my doctor first started me on Atkins (he had tried it on himself first), he saw me monthly. I now insist on being seen quarterly, even though my doctor thinks it is unnecessary. My diabetes is in remission, SO LONG AS I CONTINUE TO EAT VERY LOW CARB.

  5. Based on the latest food insulin index test data it appears that insulinogenic effects of dairy products, along with other foods, are explained by their carb, protein and fibre content.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Marty, and welcome to The Nutrition Debate. Why not provide a link to my column on Dairy Protein and Insulin on your Facebook page? I'd welcome the cross-fertilization.

  7. This is all quite interesting because I just read the article on Mark's Daily Apple today. After being off dairy for about a year, I began craving Greek yogurt. But I've noticed that my pulse increases after eating it. And this happens every time. I checked my blood glucose levels, though, and got remarkably good readings. My blood sugar never went above 127, even at 1 hour after eating it. One piece of white sourdough gives me a reading of 192 at one hour pp. But I feel shaky after eating the yogurt. And I suspect it's because of the insulin spikes. What to do?

    1. Stop eating the yogurt!!! In my opinion 'Craving' Greek yogurt is not a physiological issue. It is a head trip. Setting aside the insulinogenic aspect of the protein in certain dairy foods, full fat yogurt is still full of lactose. You don't need to drive your pancreas to secrete more insulin, even if it is spread out to lessen peaks. The AUC is still high.

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