This delectable dessert has been the crème de la crème of my life’s experiences, priming me for a love of whole foods, artisan creations and a career in nutrition.

It started with a cow fixation at age 7 while visiting a farm. Ages 8-14 took me through building a mechanical cow that mooed, blinked its eyes and swished its tail, touring the Ben & Jerry’s factory, a research paper on the barn architecture, and my high school woodshop iteration of Elsie the Borden Cow.

At 22 I was “diagnosed” with lactose intolerance. Giving up dairy was my first real effort at improving my health with body awareness. My gastrointestinal tract, brain and immune and respiratory systems were so happy!

Still, I miss dairy ice cream. It epitomizes the good times of childhood. On our family’s backcountry dude ranch, we hand-churned fresh cream with wild huckleberries. In adulthood, ice cream still transports us from life complications to youth and simpler times.

But times have changed. Dairy now elicits images of mega-industry, inhumane treatment of cows, environmental contamination and intentional misrepresentation of public health knowledge.

Dairy is a big nutrition topic, a crucial environmental issue and a gigantic economic industry. Idaho is the second biggest dairy-producing state, recently drawing in the largest yogurt producer to build its headquarters in southern Idaho. To get there, the highway passes through endless acres of black and white cows, and exactly no organic dairies or sustainable, pasture-raised dairy farms. Hence, it’s difficult to obtain high-quality products.

Moms often ask me whether dairy is “good” for us and for our children. That depends on two things: the body and the dairy.

First, the body’s response to dairy results from a combination of genetics and gut function. Upwards of 70 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant—they do not produce lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose (sugars in dairy). Our gut is affected daily by chemicals, metals, bacteria, parasites, medication, supplements, stress, inflammation and nutrient imbalances. Then our gastrointestinal organs weaken, challenging the body’s ability to break down and absorb food or to rid the body of preservatives, food coloring and environmental toxins frequently present in dairy—and especially prevalent in ice cream.

Second, the quality of the dairy itself differs with its origin and processing. Sadly, dairy cows are downright unhealthy—upwards of 90 percent of cows live on a diet of genetically modified, pro-inflammatory and toxic corn, soy and cottonseed. Synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticide and herbicide exposure, plus toxic chemicals contaminate the milk. Once harvested, milk is modified: fats removed, sugars added.

The adverse impact of dairy on human health is vast and well documented in scientific research. Briefly, conventional dairy is chock-full of harmful contaminants that disrupt hormone function, contribute to early-onset puberty and development, alter menstruation, encourage skin, respiratory and gut disorders, correlate with endocrine-related diseases and lead to infertility.

Do my kids still eat ice cream? Yes! Ideally, we locate an artisan shop that cares deeply about quality-crafted ice cream—I am over the moon! Conversely, when we’re on vacation or visiting relatives, I simply avoid looking at ingredients. Instead, I snap photos of my kids’ big smiles and messy faces. Ultimately, food experiences are about joy.

Jamie Truppi, MSN, is an integrative nutritionist focusing on functional foods and family wellness.

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