Dairy products are controversial nowadays. They are cherished by the health organizations that dairy products are good for bone health.. But other experts disagree and think that dairy is harmful and should be avoided. One common argument against dairy products is that it is “unnatural” to consume them.
This makes sense… humans are the only species that consumes milk in adulthood and certainly the only species that consumes the milk from another animal. Of course, the biological purpose of cow’s milk is to feed a rapidly growing calf. Humans aren’t calves… and adults usually don’t need to grow.
You’re gonna learn a lot about dairy in a minute, but here are a few of the main reasons I removed it from my diet. Dairy is high in saturated fat (which can lead to stroke and heart attacks), it’s highly inflammatory (the root cause of many chronic diseases), and the growth hormones in dairy (ex. IGF1) can stimulate malignant cell growth and proliferation (because I have cancer, that’s a big NO thanks!). I know from personal experience, and from thousands of emails, Facebook comments, and tweets, that saying adieu to dairy can totally transform your health. So even if you’re not keen on ditching your milkshakes and brie today, I invite you to learn a little more about this bovine beverage. Even lessening the amount of dairy you consume can make a difference in how you feel.
How dairy impacts your health
A cow drinks cow’s milk when it’s a baby. A bunny drinks bunny’s milk when it’s a baby. Beyond a certain age, even they know that it’s freaky to suckle. And do you ever see them switch and swap? The only time milk is essential for good health is when we are babies, being breastfed by human mothers. Human breast milk is nature’s perfect formula for human babies. It’s rich in good fats like DHA for brain development, but it’s relatively low in protein. Cow’s milk contains more than three times as much protein as breast milk. That’s because baby cows need a lot more protein. They grow to between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. Is that your desired weight? If so, hello reality TV!
While the protein in human milk is designed for human bodies, much of the protein in cow’s milk is difficult for humans to digest. In addition, the over-consumption of this protein can lead to serious health conditions. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, found that the protein that consistently creates and promotes cancer is casein, which makes up about 87 percent of the protein in cow’s milk. According to Dr. Campbell, a diet that contains more than 10 percent protein (that’s about 50 grams of protein if you’re consuming 2,000 calories per day) can lead to the little “c.” Guess what? Americans eat way more than that (an average of 17 percent total protein, of which 12 to 13 percent is animal-based!).
Forget spooky, life-threatening diseases, let’s talk about simpler pickles. Ever pass a kidney stone? If you have, then you know that it’s incredibly painful—sorta feels like shooting an elephant through your pee hole! How about Crohn’s disease, a veritable inflammation blow-out sale? Both of these not-so-happy afflictions have been linked to dairy consumption. Allergies, eczema, asthma, arthritis, inflammation, and zits can all be linked to dairy. What about skim milk or nonfat milk? They’re just as bad. For me, cheese was the hardest thing to give up, but once I did, my weird rashes and forehead bumps disappeared. I also started to breathe easier—a pretty important change for a gal with cancer in her lungs. Perhaps this is too much information, but my poop changed, too. It came out regularly!
How about tummy pain, gas and bloating? Well, there may be a good reason for your belly’s aching. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, around 75 percent of the world’s adults can’t digest milk (they’re lactose-intolerant). Among some populations, such as Native Americans and Asians, the figure is over 90 percent. Beyond childhood, most people stop producing the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest lactose (the sugar in milk). Yeah, your body thinks you should wean, too. I’ve never met someone who didn’t feel better once they removed dairy from their diet. Sorry folks, but all good things come to an end.
Beyond Pasteurized Cow’s Milk
After reading your comments on this blog, I realized that a lot of my readers are curious (and passionate) about raw cow’s milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk. I checked in with my resident RD, Jennifer Reilly, to get the scoop on the other animal-based milk options on the block. Here’s what she had to say:
Raw Cow’s Milk: Many foodies and natural health advocates have been singing the praises of raw cow’s milk compared to pasteurized cow’s milk for some time. They claim that raw milk has more digestive enzymes (including lactase which breaks down the milk sugar lactose), more probiotics, more immune-boosters, and a richer supply of vitamins and minerals, which are otherwise killed during the heating process of pasteurization. Very little scientific research has been done to confirm or dispute these claims, although there are plenty of raw milk advocates who are positive that their allergies diminished, asthma improved, and lactose intolerance disappeared once they switched to raw cow’s milk.
Raw cow’s milk may be a step up from pasteurized cow’s milk as the raw version is often from cows only fed organic grass and not treated with antibiotics or artificial hormones. But, keep in mind that without pasteurization, raw cow’s milk is still rich in inflammatory and allergy-potential casein (milk protein), contains potentially cancer-causing Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) (and its consumption also causes an additional production of IGF-1 in the human body), natural hormones, and without pasteurization, raw cow’s milk contains human pathogens which are of particular concern to food scientists, including Salmonella, E. Coli, and Listeria (see abstract here). These pathogens are especially risky for folks with compromised immune systems.
Goat & Sheep Milk: People are also turning toward milk from goats and sheep as alternatives to cow’s milk, and here’s why. Both goat and sheep milks have less lactose, so digestion is easier for humans compared to cow’s milk. Goat milk is closest in structure to human milk and is slightly alkaline, whereas cow’s milk is slightly acidic. Both sheep and goat milk contain a greater percentage of medium-chain fatty acids compared to cow’s milk which makes them naturally homogenized and easier to digest aside from the lower lactose content. To me, goat and sheep milk seem like a better option. But remember, you’re still getting casein and growth factors which may have a negative effect on human health. So if you’re consuming any kind of dairy, choose the best sources and do so in moderation.
Thanks, Jen! Now, onto one of the biggest questions about living dairy-free…
But, where will I get calcium?
This is probably the most frequently asked question when talking about going dairy-free. Good news! Nature’s best calcium sources are dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, mustard greens, and turnip greens. The calcium in these foods is absorbed at double the rate of dairy calcium. About 30 percent of dairy calcium is absorbed whereas about 60 percent of calcium from dark leafy greens is absorbed. Other rich plant sources of calcium include beans, almonds, figs, and fortified nondairy milks such as unsweetened almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and rice milk.
When it comes to bone health, calcium isn’t the only factor. Overall diet and activity levels determine bone health and even calcium needs. Countries with the highest calcium intake have the most osteoporosis, so there’s obviously more to the bone-health story than calcium alone.
Here’s another helpful factoid, vitamin D—which is necessary for calcium absorption and is best obtained from 20 minutes of sunshine 3 times a week during summer months and fortified, nondairy foods or supplements during winter months—is now being considered the most important nutrient in bone health. Bottom line: A diet rich in plant foods easily meets calcium needs. Check out this handy infographic for even more info on your calcium needs and plant-based sources.
Dairy Free Alternatives Going dairy-free doesn’t mean deprivation, it just means trying new things! Nowadays there are so many options that are just as good as the “real” deal. To learn about my favorite store-bought dairy alternatives, take a peek at my pantry and fridge. But when you get down to it, the real magic happens in the kitchen. Did you know that you can make your own moo-less cheeses, creams, milks and spreads at home? Plant-based, whole food recipes are easy and way healthier than the store bought stuff.
Remember that most store bought alternatives are processed, so eat them in moderation or just use them as transition foods till your palate shifts. Also, when choosing these products, look for carrageenan-free, check out this comprehensive list.)
I hope this helps and as always, you don’t have to change everything at once. Slow and steady wins the race. But if you’re dealing with any inflammatory issues, this one recommendation may be the best place to start!