294: Dairy vs Non-Dairy Milk: Which Is Better For You, Your Skin + The Planet? (PART 1)

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>>This is a three-part series. Check out part 2 of the interview here and part 3 here!<<

If you’ve ever wondered what’s better for your health – dairy or non-dairy milk – buckle up because this is the first of a three part episode diving into this topic.

Though most people want a simple answer, it’s honestly anything but!

There are pros and cons to both dairy + plant-based milk products which I only started to research in the past year.

What I found was incredibly upsetting + has left me wondering if, as a society, we’re making informed choices based on facts or emotional marketing that obscures the reality of those choices.

And knowing that dairy is also a hot topic within the skin rash community, I’m excited to dive into the research to see what it actually says.

Ultimately I ask that you keep an open-mind about this conversation just as I have. I don’t claim to be an expert nor to have all of the answers.

But I do have a much different perspective now knowing what I know. Everything I’ve shared on Instagram about my journey back to consuming dairy was met with great interest + curiosity.

So I decided to do a deeper dive here to share what I’ve found with you!

Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | Subscribe on Android

>>Check out part 2 of the interview here and part 3 here!<<

In this episode:

  • My decade-long journey of eliminating to reintroducing dairy (yes, I consume dairy)
  • My biases + beliefs about dairy + the plant-based industry (I want to be transparent)
  • The many problems with the plant-based milk movement
  • Seed oils + plant-based milk
  • Nutrient fortification of plant-based milk
  • What’s coming in Parts 2 + 3 of this series


Changes to agriculture (especially involving animals) are coming mostly focused on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the warming of the planet. Partly pushed by governments, regulations + laws, it will also come from a shift in consumer buying patterns.

You’ve got to be incredibly careful about emotional manipulation around food + diet. Fear is a powerful motivator as is wanting to feel like you’re “doing the right thing”.


An assortment of different dairy products

294: Dairy vs Non-Dairy Milk: Which Is Better For You, Your Skin + The Planet? (FULL TRANSCRIPT)

Welcome back to episode #294 of the Healthy Skin Show!

Today’s episode is what will be at least a 3-part series on dairy which is highly controversial in the health + wellness world.

I’m often asked if dairy is bad for skin problems + other health issues.

And if you’d asked me this question about 4 or 5 years ago, my answer at that time would have been – yes, dairy is inflammatory so you should avoid it.

But with time + my own relationship shifting with dairy, I’ve come to realize that the answer isn’t so cut + dry.

So it felt time to start sharing some of the information I’ve been exposed to in a way that will help you make a more informed choice without necessarily falling prey to fear or being swayed by “feel good” emotions of buying products to “do the right thing” or reinforce the idea of “being a good person”.

I don’t like that the conversations around this are so black + white because they aren’t. And I’m highly suspicious of articles that lack context and feel very much like a persuasive sales page.

So if you’re as curious as I have been about dairy AND plant-based dairy – and whether the claims made around them are as clear cut, you’re in for a treat.

Especially since the pressures to reduce or remove dairy come from multiple fronts beyond just the wellness world.


Milk and other dairy products

Dairy: A Complicated Relationship

It’s so demonized that some countries are hoping to reduce dairy farms as a means to reduce greenhouse gases.

In fact, an article in Reuters from May 3, 2023 (3 weeks ago from this episode's release) called “EU okays $1.61 billion for Dutch government to buy out farmers, reduce nitrogen” demonstrates how governments may end up compensating farmers who will willingly close down their farms all in the pursuit of hitting targets to slow climate change.

Whether we realize it or not, changes to agriculture are coming mostly focused on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the warming of the planet.

Part of this change will be pushed by governments, regulations + laws.

And it’s also driven by consumer buying patterns (“vote with your dollar”). If buying trends shift, that can (and likely will) impact this process.

So we have to keep in mind that we are also inundated with marketing messages across media + social media platforms that range from emotional cries to “do good for the planet and the animals” or claims that dairy is inflammatory and “bad for you”.

This is all before we dive into the question of whether animal dairy is a trigger for health or skin problems! It’s commonly demonized for conditions such as eczema, psoriasis + acne.

With all of this, I’m regularly asked if dairy is bad for various skin + health problems to which I typically reply – “it depends.”

Because the truth is rarely black + white, nor does it often fit neatly into a 5-word slogan meant to make you feel good about how you’re eating.

As I started to rethink my own relationship with dairy in mid-2022, sharing about my journey to start consuming dairy again was met with surprise + curiosity as well as anger and disappointment from my community on Instagram.

So I’m excited to have you join me on this dive into the question of dairy vs non-dairy milk – it’s definitely an eye-opener!


A variety of different milk and dairy products

Where I’m Coming From On The Dairy vs Plant-based Milk Debate

Before I dive into this topic too deeply, I want to share what could be my perceived biases about dairy right up front so you can factor that in as you listen.

  • I absolutely love animals. I currently have 3 cats and would love to have chickens + ducks (but they aren’t allowed where I live).
  • I am a true omnivore. I eat meat + plant foods.
  • I am an avid gardener. I have three raised bed gardens, 5 fruit trees (apple, 2 different types of pears, apricot + fig), a concord grape vine + tons of herbs around my yard.
  • I do not use any chemicals on my plants.
  • I compost everything that I can in my unit + use it to enrich my garden beds.
  • I try my best on using rainwater in my gardens + am actively working on a plan to make that more sustainable.
  • I support farmers who devote their lives to producing food especially when they follow a more regenerative manner of farming.
  • I do not have any IgE food allergies.
  • I do believe in the concept of eating as varied of a diet as possible, but…
  • I do not believe in telling people what the “right way” to eat is. My motto is truly “you do you.” Only you can decide that for yourself based on a variety of factors to support your best health.
  • I believe that consuming whole foods are a better alternative to processed foods. At the same time, I also am a realist and understand the challenges that people face including access, cost, time available to cook, skills (though they can always be learned), allergies, etc.).
  • And YES, at the time of this episode’s release, I consume dairy including ice cream, cheese, butter, ghee + milk (though currently goat milk).
  • I was dairy-free for almost a decade (to varying degrees) after being influenced by plant-based documentaries + experts as well as having gone through the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate based on T. Colin Campbell’s book “The China Study” back in my early 30s.

With all this said, I also believe the following…

  • You should be allowed to decide what’s best for you to eat based on your personal health information (ie. IgE allergies, health conditions, genetics) + facts rather than emotions (which can be easily manipulated).
  • You’ve got to be incredibly careful about emotional manipulation around food + diet. Fear is an incredibly powerful motivator as is wanting to feel like you’re “doing the right thing”. This is how so many in my community have ended up extremely confused about whether specific foods are a trigger or just flat-out bad for their skin.
  • The narrative that plant-based food alternatives are the way to save the planet should 100% be questioned. Asking questions is a good thing in my book + encourages us all to be a bit more thoughtful + intentional rather than just blindly agreeing to something that turns out to not be what you thought it was in the first place.
  • Becoming even a bit more self-sufficient would probably help (even just growing a few of your favorite herbs in a pot in a window).

And one last really important point that I think you should know upfront –

I’m not going to tell you what you should do – whether to consume animal dairy or plant-based dairy.

Nor will I judge you for whatever you decide to do.

The choice of what’s best for you is entirely up to you.

Though it’s certainly easier for me to just tell you what to do, I think that that expectation of these more complex topics is how we’ve ended up so confused about what to eat.

I recognize that some listeners here have serious IgE allergies which also must be factored into your personal equation as this is where having choices is really great!

The purpose of this conversation is to offer you the information that’s taken me + my team months to research + collect. I do not claim that I’m an expert on this topic and I’m sure we’re probably missing things, but we’ve done our best.

I believe that if you’re listening to this episode AND to the Healthy Skin Show, you’re an intelligent human being capable of making your own choices. And that’s why I want to do my best to offer you information with the hope that you’ll sit with it all + choose what’s best for you.


Different kinds of vegan milk

Why I Went Dairy-Free

Now that that’s out of the way, I imagine you’d want to know how I ended up being dairy-free for so many years. I grew up like most kids from the 1980s drinking cow’s milk (my mom was partial to 2%).

After leaving college in 2002, I wanted to start working out more consistently and started replacing dairy with soy milk + soy-based protein shakes because every health expert claimed at the time that these processed SOY alternatives were really good for you.

By 2007, my health was really struggling. I had a ton of digestive issues, intense brain fog, fatigue so bad that I’d sleep through my alarm + had started gaining weight despite my best efforts to keep it off.

I was connected with a nutritionist who suggested IgG food sensitivity testing that indicated a moderate sensitivity to dairy + gluten as well as a high sensitivity to eggs. So in January 2008, I eliminated all three from my diet.

The following year, I began taking holistic-minded nutrition classes + was encouraged to watch various documentaries about food that I realize now (in hindsight) were very biased + emotionally manipulative.

I don’t think any person watching animals be slaughtered + mistreated would gladly cheer on business practices that can appear + feel incredibly cruel + profit-driven.

And at the time, the choice presented was basically to stop buying/consuming dairy and meat as farmers were generally all lumped together into what is sometimes called the “animal industrial complex”.

I played around with plant-based meat alternatives, even trialed 2 weeks doing a balanced vegan diet (which didn’t make me feel good), and consumed more coursework and read books that reinforced just how bad animal products including dairy were.


Cup of tea and small pitcher of milk

Why I Started Reintroducing Dairy

It wasn’t until I started my master's in Human Nutrition program in 2014 that I was introduced to different methods of farming through book assignments such as Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan + issues with our food system like Safe Food by Marion Nestle that I started to rethink my beliefs.

I began reintroducing things like goat cheese and ghee here + there, but in terms of drinking any sort of milk, I still stuck with plant-based alternatives.

By 2021, I’d pretty much decided that cashew milk + oat milk had the best consistency + flavor so that’s mostly what I purchased.

In the summer 2022, I purchased a small + expensive $20 jar of “cashew milk concentrate” containing only 1 ingredient (cashews) that you could blend up with water in the blender to help cut back on all the tetrapak cartons that aren’t recyclable.

I felt like I was making all of the right choices that I could! It was such an easy simple solution that also addressed my admittedly poor follow-through to make cashew milk with the bag of organic cashews in my freezer (still to this day).

It dawned on me after making this easy cashew milk a few times that I’d bought an inflated jar of cashew butter marketed as “cashew milk concentrate” promoted by a wellness influencer on Instagram.

And then one day I got curious as to how “good for the planet” cashew milk + cashew products were.

Let’s just say that I was horrified by what I learned wondering how exactly cashew products could be called “good for the planet” considering how much harm they inflict on workers (more on that soon).

Then I learned that some plant-based products are associated with animal abuse due to how they are produced.

There are issues of workers not being paid anywhere near a fair wage.

The fossil fuels associated with transportation of these plant-based alternatives – some of which come from VERY far away.

And then I looked at water use (from the water tables) as well as glyphosate exposure.

Then I started to consider the nutrient density of these plant-based alternatives compared to animal dairy (inspired by really smart colleagues who’ve also have gone through their own journeys as well).

That’s why I decided to give goat milk a try since it tends to be better tolerated than cow. I fortunately don’t have any food allergies so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

Though I was scared from years of conditioning that it would make me sick, I was completely fine.

I’ve also have tried local grass-fed heavy cream (from cow’s milk) + also seem to tolerate that okay which is nice because I can go visit the farms if I want + return the glass bottles it’s sold in to be reused (just like in the old days).

Needless to say, I’m at a point where I’m deeply questioning what the phrase “good for the planet” means when used by plant-based companies to claim superiority over their animal-based product competitors.

What exactly does “good for the planet” even mean?

What metrics are we using to apply it?

I certainly don’t want to see the destruction of the environment as I (and probably you) deeply value clean water, clean air + all of the beauty and grandeur that is Mother Nature.

But the deeper you dig, it becomes increasingly perplexing especially around the question of workers. Does “good for the planet” not include the welfare + wellbeing of the workers involved?

Does it not matter that many (though not all) “good for the planet” plant-based products may be sprayed full of glyphosate (which harms workers, the bees + the ecosystem around it)?

This, my friends, are just a few of the questions I’ve been grappling with + it’s my goal in this series to help answer them as best as I can with the knowledge available at this point in time.


Coconut milk

Plant-Based Milk + Seed Oils – A Bad Combo?

Like you, I’d much prefer a simple, straightforward answer to whether dairy or plant-based milk is better.

Earlier in 2022, many wellness creators started talking about how seed oils + oat milk were actually bad for you.

I’ve seen countless videos on Instagram + TikTok that have millions of views pointing out what they describe as “toxic” or “inflammatory” ingredients in nutrition labels or the high glycemic response triggered by oat milk.

Despite pushing back at the oat milk industry with all of this negative attention, it’s continued to grow + is estimated to be worth $7.8 BILLION by 2030.

Now if you know me, I’m not a fan of fearmongering + many of these creators know exactly what to do to generate viral content. And this strategy often includes making videos loaded with fear-triggering language and sometimes lacking concrete facts.

Even people who generally eat pretty well have gotten to a point where they become terrified of ever coming in contact with a seed oil as if even the tiniest of exposures is the worst thing in the world.

That’s hard for me as a clinical nutritionist to see play out in real life.

These creators don’t end up dealing with the fear they seed.

My fellow nutrition professionals + I do. We’re the ones who are faced with having to essentially walk clients “off of the ledge” because they start thinking that everything they eat is poison.

And this is complicated within the community of those dealing with chronic skin issues as they’re further bombarded with elimination diets (sometimes specifically for a particular skin condition) that also reinforces a similar narrative.

So the question of the seed oil found in many plant-based milks is an interesting one and really hits at the core of the concept “eat real food”.

I very much understand if particular IgE allergies require you to make a different choice that is plant-based (ie. casein allergy).

But if we’re really so concerned about eating “good for you” + “good for the planet” foods, wouldn’t they ultimately be in their most simple forms?

How are the inclusion of highly processed oils in the products inherently good for anyone’s health?

Another common additive called titanium dioxide has been used for years in many brands to make their plant milk look more white like cow’s milk. Now California is looking to ban it in 2023 due “to damage to our DNA and harm to the immune system”.

There are added flavors, stabilizers, gums, sweeteners and other ingredients like added protein that increases nutrient value or help to create a certain mouth feel or extend shelf-life.

At the end of the day, I can’t honestly tell you that commercially produced plant-based milks + dairy products are anywhere close to being “real food,” as I’d define real food as a plant or animal food in its purest form.

It may not be practical to always eat real food (and I certainly don’t), but there was something to trying to eat foods that were as least processed as possible.

Now it’s changed to the slogans of “good for the planet” + “good for you”.

I promise that I’m not going to make some dramatic video on how poisonous seed oils are as frankly that majorly contributes to the rise in orthorhexia.

And I’m not going to say that I’ll never consume anything with seed oil (as I think that’s frankly pretty hard especially if you’re traveling), but being aware of them allows you to make conscious, strategic choices of what to potentially change and shift in your diet.

So unless you’re making a plant-based milk at home with water and a handful of whole food ingredients, it’s laughable to describe plant-based dairy as anything other than inherently processed (for most products on the market anyway).


Oat milk

Plant-Based Milks + Fortification

Another sign of processed foods that I learned in my integrative master’s program was food fortification.

You’ve probably seen Orange Juice with added Calcium or cereals with added iron and some B vitamins.

The World Health Organization defines food fortification as “the practice of deliberately increasing the content of one or more micronutrients (i.e., vitamins and minerals) in a food or condiment to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.

Fortification is sometimes used as a marketing tactic – as I might describe adding calcium to OJ as an attempt to make you feel better about your bone health while drinking a big glass.

Or food products are fortified because the food is so processed that the nutrients were lost, so the company added them back in + now advertises that to you as a a good thing to cover for how processed the product is.

Fortification can be helpful for at risk populations to get extra nutrients in through their diet so I don’t think it’s 100% bad.

But it should also be noted that fortification may not work as well as is generally assumed. That’s the case of folic acid fortification in research showing no significant decrease in issues like neural tube defects impacting a baby born from a mother with folate deficiency.

Regardless it’s generally a sign of a processed food product especially if the list of ingredients is more than 2 or 3.

To be fair, cow’s milk dairy is often fortified with vitamin D (at least in the US).

And when you look at many ingredient decks from plant-based milk, it’s no longer surprising (but almost expected) to see added protein, B vitamins (especially B12 since it’s a serious struggle to get sufficient B12 on a plant-based diet without supplementation), Vitamin D, and other nutrients.

So I do think that we should consider the level of fortification in plant-based dairy as another sign as how potentially nutritionally devoid these types of alternatives are.

I’d guess that companies that produce more costly plant milks without nutrients added may be because they know their consumer base is probably also taking supplements in addition to whatever they derive from their diet.

With all this said, I do hope that you keep an open mind about everything I’ve shared so far because we have a lot more to dive into!

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed especially when you may have been exposed to years of information and experiences that run counter to questioning all of this.

But at this point in time, I feel like it’s better to ask questions so we can all make the most informed decisions possible that work best for each one of us.

I’m excited to have this conversation + it’s actually pretty crazy how much more I’m going to share with you!

In Part 2, I’m going to do a deep dive into different types of plant-based and animal milks so you can understand different factors about them that might impact whether you use them moving forward.

My criteria for each will consist of looking at various aspects including farming methods, water consumption, pesticide exposure, harm to workers as well as harm to animals + insects, sustainability, nutrition, worker pay and more.

The goal is to help you decide what’s really best rather than being emotionally swayed by a company’s creative marketing efforts that may not be entirely accurate.

And then in Part 3, we’ll dive into what the research says on various chronic skin conditions + dairy. I think this is a very interesting and worthwhile conversation since so many believe that dairy is inherently inflammatory + bad for skin issues.

If you’ve got any questions or thoughts to share about this, leave a comment below so I can address them. I’d honestly love to know what you’d love for me to cover in this upcoming series.

And then let’s connect over on Instagram @jenniferfugo!

Thank you so much for tuning in and I look forward to diving deeper into the dairy topic with you in the next episode!

Changes to agriculture (especially involving animals) are coming mostly focused on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the warming of the planet. Partly pushed by governments, regulations + laws, it will also come from a shift in consumer buying patterns.

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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