Is cheese Paleo? This is a common question many people ask when they are first learning about the Paleo diet. Let’s set the record straight here and remove any confusion on the matter.
By definition, the 3 things that the Paleo diet excludes are all grains (like wheat, barley, rye, corn, etc.), legumes (beans, peanuts, etc.), and dairy (whether cow, sheep, goat, etc.) What is likely the cause of confusion over dairy is that an offshoot of the Paleo movement called Primal is more lenient than strict Paleo and allows for dairy in individuals who tolerate it well. Also, cheese is delicious and often one of the most painful things to give up when going Paleo!
The term Primal was coined by Mark Sisson and in his Primal Blueprint he does give more wiggle room with things like gluten-free grains such as rice as well as high-quality dairy for folks who don’t have any negative side effects from consuming such foods, and as long as they do not make up the bulk of the diet. He advocates an 80/20 approach: adhering to strict Paleo 80% of the time and allowing indulgences like high quality cheese in the other 20% (as long as they don’t cause negative effects).
If you’re following Primal and choosing to include cheese, it is recommended to source the highest quality possible. This means from a local dairy farmer who raises his cows on pasture. Raw (unpasteurized) grass-fed dairy and cheeses are preferred as long as they come from a source you trust (ask to visit the farm to see for yourself. This can be a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon!)
After raw grass-fed cheese, the next best thing is pasteurized grass-fed cheese. These cheeses are becoming more widely available at health food stores and chains like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Earth Fare. It is recommended to avoid cheeses from conventional dairies.
Paleo “Cheese” Recipes
If you are avoiding dairy while following Paleo or Primal, you can still enjoy the effect with non-dairy replacements like nut milks (tigernut milk is my favorite – you can make it from raw tigernuts, buy them here or here) and homemade “cheese”. While non-dairy cheeses may not satisfy the connoisseur, some of them are pretty dang delicious and great if you’re having a craving. Here are a couple of recipes to try:
Savory Dairy-Free Cream Cheese by The Curious Coconut
Dairy-Free Cheddar Cheese by And I Love It Too
Dairy-Free Nacho Cheese by Health Starts In The Kitchen
Dairy-Free Parmesan Cheese by Jane’s Healthy Kitchen
Garlic Chive Zucchini Cheese by Real Food With Dana
Do you include dairy or cheese in your diet? Do you regularly use any non-dairy replacements? Tell me in the comments!