Is Dairy Keto? What You Need To Know

Is dairy okay on keto? Paleo purists would say no. Cavemen didn’t consume milk, so you shouldn’t either. 

But hey, our ancestors also didn’t take dietary supplements like vitamin D, but that doesn’t mean you never should. 

If you’re wondering about dairy on the keto diet, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll learn about dairy fat, protein, health benefits, concerns, and keto dairy foods. 

Is Dairy Keto?

To eat a ketogenic diet (keto diet) is to eat high-fat, moderate protein, and very low-carb. By calories, it works out to 60 to 70 percent fat, 20 to 30 percent protein, and under 10 percent carbohydrates. 

Does dairy fit these macros? Well, that depends on the dairy product. 

As you know, the dairy aisle is lined with sugar-infused milk products. Think of all the yogurts, chocolate milks, and flavored creamers arrayed on the shelf. If you’re trying to burn fat on keto, that strawberry yogurt is likely not your friend. 

Even if you avoid added sugar, milk contains significant amounts of a natural milk sugar known as lactose. One cup of whole milk, for instance, contains 12 grams of simple, sugary carbs.

A keto-friendly dairy product must pass two tests:

  1. It doesn’t contain added sugar
  2. It’s low in lactose

Here’s a short list of keto dairy foods: 

  • Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Unsweetened greek yogurt or kefir
  • Most cheeses—mozzarella, cheddar, cottage cheese, gouda, cream cheese, parmesan, etc.

Stick to these options and you won’t derail your keto diet. 

Dairy Fat

stack of pancakes with butter

Heavy cream, butter, and ghee are keto-friendly because they’re high in fat. Much of this fat is saturated fat, which accounts for its thicker texture.

Wait. Doesn’t saturated fat clog your arteries?

While this has been the conventional view, it doesn’t align with recent science. For instance, two massive meta-analyses (following over 650,00 people) found no evidence linking saturated fat consumption with heart disease[*][*]. 

In fact, saturated fats like butter and ghee are ideal cooking oils because saturated fats hold up well to heat. While vegetable oils like soybean oil, oxidize at high temperatures. 

Finally, dairy is also rich in a beneficial form of fat called conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA. Preclinical data suggests that CLA may help with fat loss, along with reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer. 

Dairy Protein

keto pizza

When a cow produces milk, that milk contains sugar, fat, and protein. Filter out the sugar and fat and you’re left with a high-protein compound called milk protein isolate. 

Milk protein isolate contains two types of protein: Casein and whey. Casein accounts for around 80% of the protein, while whey is the other 20%. 

In an analysis published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, both whey and casein compared favorably to other proteins (like soy protein) on measures such as:

  • Digestibility: How well the protein is absorbed through the gut 
  • Protein efficiency: How well the protein stimulates growth 
  • Biological value: How the body uses the protein in various tissues

Whey protein was number one in most of these categories. 

Casein and whey are both complete proteins, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, lysine, histidine, and phenylalanine. There won’t be a quiz folks, don’t worry! 

Amino acids are the building blocks for most tissues in your body. And “essential” just means you have to get them through diet. 

The essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are your “branch chain amino acids” (BCAAs), and are especially important for building and maintaining muscle. 

The bottom line? Dairy is an excellent source of bioavailable protein, making milk protein isolate a good choice for your keto protein shake.  

Beneficial Compounds in Dairy

Dairy is keto because it’s rich in fat and protein. But what about the other, lesser-known, dairy compounds? Check them out, along with their benefits: 

  • Lactoferrin: Bone health and immune health
  • Immunoglobulins (IGG, IGA): Immunity to infection
  • Alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin: Shown to mitigate allergies and help with immunity
  • Lysozyme: An enzyme with antimicrobial properties
  • Cysteine: An amino acid that supports your antioxidant system 

All these compounds can be found in whey protein, whey isolate, or milk protein isolate. 

Who Should Avoid Dairy?

keto baked brie

There are two main reasons to avoid dairy:

  1. If you have a dairy allergy
  2. If you have a dairy intolerance

Dairy allergy sufferers tend to be allergic to the milk proteins casein, alpha-lactalbumin and beta-lactoglobulin. In this population, even trace amounts of dairy can cause a dangerous allergic reaction.  

A second (much larger) group isn’t allergic to dairy, but rather develops digestive symptoms after eating it. This is usually the result of lactose intolerance, a condition which affects about 65% of humanity!

If you’re in this boat, don’t despair. Just look for low or zero sugar dairy like fermented greek yogurt, certain cheeses, butter, and products with milk protein isolate. 

And if you can’t tolerate any dairy (which some people can’t), listen to your body. There are plenty of other food groups to round out your dairy free keto diet.  

Dairy On Keto

Dairy gets criticized because it’s high in saturated fat. And because our cave dwelling forebears didn’t eat it.

But these aren’t evidence-based reasons to avoid dairy. In fact, there’s a lot to like about this nutritious food group.  

Cottage cheese on keto? Go for it. Heavy whipping cream is keto too.

Dairy is a great source of fat, protein, and bonus nutrients on your keto diet. So if you can tolerate dairy, dig in and enjoy!

Author: Brian Stanton

Bio: Brian Stanton is the author of Keto Intermittent Fasting, a certified health coach, and an expert in the keto diet, fasting, and gut health. Follow Brian’s work by visiting his website at

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