[This post started as a short little post about how dairy gave me a stomach ache, and it turned into something quite a bit longer than that. Get your reading pants on, kids (what??) and EDUCATE YO’ SELF]
I’ve been mostly vegan the past several days, without too much effort as described in this post from last week, and it has felt really great. However, today the girls baked a cake, and since I don’t like chocolate, they baked a little separate one without chocolate for me. I didn’t actually want it, but they were so sweet to make it that I couldn’t turn it down and break their little hearts. So I ate a small piece of cake (and later a bite of one of my cookies from Belgium), and immediately… the intestinal chorus began to sing. I’m sitting here feeling the alarmingly immediate effects of dairy on my body, and I’m reminded once again of that feeling of “liberation” by eating clean, whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods. Food should never make you feel sick. Dairy is not natural for us to eat! And anyone who thinks otherwise, let me explain:
(PS: A lot of this information comes from things I’ve read and watched or learned in school, but I haven’t the slightest clue where or how to cite any of my sources. Take it or leave it, or do some research yourself to be further convinced.)
Why Not Dairy?
When you are born, you drink your mothers milk, which has all of the nutrients you need for the first few months/year of your life, and until you are weaned off of your mothers milk, you do not need anything else. Milk is very nutritionally dense for a little baby. In the same way, a kitten is born and drinks her mothers milk until she is grown and is able to fend for herself and eat the things an adult cat eats. Likewise, an elephant calf is born and drinks its mothers milk, and a baby gorilla does the same, and a baby cow does the same. All mammals drink their mothers milk while growing during those formative infant moments (be it days, weeks, months, years…) and once the baby is old enough, it no longer needs any milk, and the mother no longer needs to produce it. So why as a population have we been convinced that we still need to drink milk (or consume dairy of any kind)? For calcium. Strong bones and teeth. Etc etc, right?
Actually, not so.
First, consider this: If we as humans no longer need to drink our own mothers’ milk, from our own species, why should we have to drink the infant growth juice of a mother from an entirely different species? Why cows milk, and not elephant milk or dog milk or gorilla milk? If anything, gorilla or chimpanzee milk would be most appropriate, considering we share over 98% of our DNA with them. Or, why don’t we just continue to drink our own mothers milk well into adulthood? That would actually be most appropriate, considering our options. But who decided cow milk was what humans need? Likely (most certainly) it was the food industry, trying to find new ways to make money. Inventions like frozen food, non-perishable Twinkies, and milk are all products of industrialized “nutrition”.
Second, consider this: The majority of the human population on this earth is lactose intolerant. So yeah, that means probably you too. If you’re at all like me, you’ve grown up your entire life drinking milk (cereal with milk is and has always been my favorite food), eating cheese, ice cream, butter, etc, then you’ve likely gotten used to the grumble in your tummy or the discomfort or even the diarrhea that comes along with eating dairy. Its likely you’ve never noticed it at all. And if you have, you’ve just attributed it to… who knows… “something I ate” or maybe you haven’t attributed it to anything at all, but to the simple, normal reaction that happens after you eat. Truth is, I lived like this my entire life, literally until about a week or two ago, when I slowly started eating less to no dairy, and today, I’m sitting here, after about 3 or 4 bites of a cake that is made entirely of dairy (milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, and some flour… yes I know eggs are not dairy), and my entire digestive system is NOT happy about it. And I’m starting to see the light.
So, if most of the human population is lactose intolerant, why do we keep consuming lactose? Why do we have so many products, like Lactaid, which make dairy easier to consume? Eating should not require a set of pills to make us function properly. Our body is built to process things naturally, and ideally, we should never need Tums or Pepto Bismol or Lactaid to help us eat. Ever heard of pharmaceutical companies? Yeah…
Another highly compelling fact is this: There is a small population of people living in the desert in Africa who have historically, for thousands and thousands of years, been cattle herders. They live in a place where water and food are scarce, but they have co-evolved with the cattle they herd over time in order to be able to survive together. Since humans are naturally intolerant to lactose, we normally become sick, even if just mildly, upon consuming dairy. In some cases, we can have diarrhea from dairy, which for most of us in a privaledged western world may mean we have to run to the bathroom at an inopportune moment, maybe take some Pepto Bismol, and if its really bad, we may have to lay in bed for a while and drink some gatorade or water to feel better. But if you live in the desert in Africa, with little access to food or water, diarrhea can kill you, since it completely dehydrates you from all liquid and nutrients in your system. So, this unique population of cattle herders has co-evolved with cows, developing a distinct and rare genetic mutation that allows them to properly process lactose without becoming sick and thus dying, since more often than not, they rely exclusively on the milk of these cows to survive. So think about that. In order to process milk, they evolved (over centuries) a genetic mutation to be able to drink milk and not die. Most of us do not have this mutation, and thus, if we were stranded in a desert with only milk to drink, we would all probably die.
I’m just saying…
OK, so maybe dairy isn’t exactly normal to drink, but is it actually harmful? Yeah, it is. Much to my sadness and dismay (I love dairy), dairy has high levels of saturated fat (the bad kind of fat) and of bad cholesterol, similar to a piece of red meat.
“Red meat and full-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, butter) are among the main sources of saturated fat in our diets.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”
“Trans fats are also naturally found in beef fat and dairy fat, in small amounts.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”
“… Because vegetable fat was not related to risk of breast cancer, these findings suggest that red meat and high-fat dairy products may contain other factors, such as hormones, that increase risk of breast cancer.” – Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”
“It’s worth noting that milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are very credible links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and the most dangerous form of prostate cancer.” – Dr. Barnard, quoted in this New York Times article by Mark Bittman
Animals and Planet
Another important factor to consider is the effect of dairy production on the environment and on the well-being of the animals being exploited. I think we all like to imagine that all the milk we drink comes from happy cows (from California) who roam around with wide green pastures much like this,
but sadly, this is a reality for very few, if any cows at all. Most of the time, a real dairy farm looks more like this:
I’ve actually been to a dairy farm, when I was wwoofing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Ireland a few months ago, I was taken by my host to the local dairy farm that provided the milk for some of Irelands most popular dairy products. Ireland and the United States are very different in their production of dairy, but I presume they shared some similarities. Since milk comes from a cow who has recently given birth, naturally that milk should go to the calf, but instead, they are separated immediately (imagine the stress on the mother to have her baby taken from her!) and she is hooked up to an uncomfortable machine which pumps her milk out for hours every day. I actually got to milk a cow with one of those machines, and trust me, the cows did not enjoy it. Though the farm looked like that last photo, the cows in Ireland did get to spend part of their time in a lovely green pasture. But remember, this is Ireland, where leprechauns exist and magic is everywhere. America is not so quaint. Most american dairy and beef cows are fed corn, which their stomachs are not built to digest (they’re meant to eat grass), so when they become sick, they are pumped with antibiotics. More than half of the antibiotics sold in America go to food-animals, not humans. So the happy cow thing is just a big lie so that you can sleep at night and buy milk in the morning… milk from stressed mothers whose children have been taken from them, mothers who are fed unnatural things (imagine if you were fed wood or rocks instead of actual food you could digest?) and pumped with chemicals and antibiotics, living in a metal warehouse filled with feces and all sorts of nasty things… Honestly, just ew. If we are what we eat, and if cows are what they eat, and if we eat cows, then we are what cows eat, and if you knew what it looked (or smelled) like inside a dairy farm, I promise you’d never touch a piece of cheese again. Promise.
Also, that whole thing about cows farting is actually true. The methane gas released from the billions of cows in industrialized farms contributes to more greenhouse gases than all of the gases released from all transportation methods, combined. Global warming is serious business, and a huge part of it comes from cows that are farting from eating corn, much in the same way we’re farting from eating dairy.
“The nearly half a million factory farms in the U.S. produce 130 times more waste than the human population. Cattle produce nearly one billion tons of organic waste each year. The waste from livestock, chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides are a primary source of water pollution in this country. Wastes from dairies, feedlots, and chicken and hog farms enter waterways, damaging aquatic ecosystems and making the water unfit for consumption. Cattle also contribute significantly to global warming because they emit methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, three of the four gases responsible for trapping solar heat.” – Born Free USA, “The Destructive Dairy Industry”
So… if cutting back on dairy for your own health isn’t compelling enough, do it for the earth, man! After all… our body is our one and only vessel, and our planet is too. Once its gone, its gone for good.
[Also I should point out that I highlighted America, but each country has its own industrialized food system and I encourage those of you reading this in other countries to take a look into your countries practices. Its likely that they’re not all that different from those of the grand ol’ U-S-A.]
Ok all of that is sad about the animals and the planet but you’re probably not going to do anything about it because most of us don’t but you’re still thinking about health because a sliver of you is curious about not dying or maybe just not being sick one day, and likely you’ve been wondering this whole time about the “real” question… CALCIUM!
Calcium is needed for strong bones, right? And we get calcium from where? Milk? Research shows that osteoporosis (loss of bone density, bones becoming porous, weaker bones, breaking your hip when you’re old, etc) is most prevalent in the countries with the highest consumption of dairy, like United States, United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden. And that’s not a random coincidence. To quote from the Livestrong website:
“Most know that milk is high in calcium. It may seem counterintuitive that the calcium in dairy can contribute to osteoporosis, which is characterized by a loss of calcium from bones. However, excessive calcium suppresses the activation of vitamin D, argues Walter Willet, M.D. Activated or supercharged D contributes to a wide array of health benefits. According to Campbell, persistently low levels of this activated vitamin create an “inviting environment” for different cancers, autoimmune diseases and osteoporosis. Of note, animal protein also suppresses the production of supercharged D.”
So… Then where else can I get calcium and protein?
If you don’t know where else you could possibly get calcium and protein if not from dairy, there are many natural foods, from the earth, that have as much if not more calcium than dairy, like broccoli, kale, spinach, sesame seeds, nuts, soy, and so much more. Similarly, most of those, plus quinoa, lentils, beans, and other legumes have as much protein as any piece of lean meat. By eating a regular, well-rounded plant-based diet, you can get all the nutrients you need (protein, calcium, etc) without harming your body in the long run. Dairy is not the answer. We’ve just been told it is, and we’ve never questioned it. But becoming informed and educated about what you put into your body, your one and only vessel, is one of the most important things you can do to prolong your life and the quality of your life along the way.
[My] Dairy Detox:
I have always loved dairy. Like I said, cereal with milk has been one of the biggest staples of my diet for most of my life, so I am no stranger to being a part of the dairy myth. I love milk, I love the taste of a sweet glass of 1% milk, I love cold milk and cereal when I’m hungry in the middle of the night, and I often used to say that cereal and milk was “my coffee” (since I don’t like coffee) in the mornings. I am obsessed equally with yogurt, especially greek yogurt, and getting rid of yogurt from my diet has been surprisingly more difficult than milk. I stopped drinking milk a while ago, not all at once, but as I slowly realized there were more options for breakfast than just cereal and milk. I began to enjoy oatmeal or greek yogurt or eggs instead on some mornings, and slowly, without meaning to, I found myself more satisfied by those than by an airy, sugary cereal, so cereal, but more importantly milk, began to take a back seat to my new breakfast discoveries. There are plenty of non-dairy milks, like almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, etc though I’ve only tried almond milk, and I usually only use it in smoothies because I haven’t quite gotten used to the taste on its own (its best to buy unsweetened but the flavor is also stronger), but I’m working on it. Maybe if I’m ever really craving cereal, I’ll give it a shot. But for now, I don’t miss milk or cereal enough to drink almond milk straight, though that could change as I continue to expand my taste buds.
Yogurt is one of my favorite snacks, particularly and nearly exclusively greek yogurt (except here in France where my host family only buys regular or flavored yogurts), so I’m learning to find ways to replace it, most recently by my discovery of soy yogurt. It tastes great, and has the same consistency as any regular yogurt, and honestly you wouldn’t know the difference after eating it a few times. When soy yogurt becomes your new normal, you wont feel deprived in any way. I am learning to expand from my limited understanding of what yogurt is, in order to discover new, more interesting ways of enjoying the foods I’ve always loved.
Cheese is another food to consider. I don’t really eat a lot of cheese so this isn’t particularly difficult for me to cut out, but I know I’m probably alone in that. Though I must say, avoiding cheese in France is about as difficult as avoiding water. But I’ve done surprisingly well lately, just by saying “Non, merci.” (No, thank you). And I hear there are plenty of vegan cheeses that taste the same, melt the same, look the same, but they don’t kill you in the same way. Nice! When I get back to California, I’m excited to try these out. I know eating pizza (another one of my favorite things) is going to be a challenge, but perhaps a cheese-less pizza isn’t so bad, right? More room for the sauce, which, lets be honest, is the best part anyway.
Another important element to consider in the dairy category is… BUTTER. Good lord. I understand why we like it, but I don’t understand why it’s even legal. It is so, SO bad for you! Eating butter is just asking for a heart attack. It’s basically all “bad fats” and cholesterol. And so many of us don’t know what we would do if we cant cook/bake with butter, but trust me, there are so many options! If you love spreading butter on bread like I do, um, basically, just don’t. Sorry. Find something else. Natural fruit preserves, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, almond butter, avocados… there are plenty of things that can be put on bread, and butter should not be one of them. As for cooking, you can use olive oil, sesame seed oil, coconut oil… pretty much most natural oils are better. I used to not know how to cook certain things without butter, like eggs for example, but I started using olive oil instead and I don’t miss butter one bit. As for baking (one of my favorite things to do), I hear apple sauce makes a great substitute, as well as avocados (yum) or greek yogurt (yeah I know its dairy, but its a start…) and plenty of other things. Just takes a little research. I’m eager to test some of these substitutions out next time I decide to bake myself a treat.
Who doesn’t love ice cream? Actually… I don’t. I enjoy it from time to time, but I rarely crave it and whenever I do, all I actually want is a bite or two. Often it is too rich and I get bored quickly. But I know some people die for ice cream, so I suppose I’ll address it here. Ice cream is basically just really cold fat and sugar. If you’re looking for something cold, sweet, and flavorful, you could make yourself a smoothie, or eat an all-natural frozen fruit pop thing (I hate those, but if thats your style, go wild), or a natural frozen yogurt (yes, also dairy but better in general if you just can’t let go), or best of all, just a piece of frozen fruit. That is something I can get sexy on. Frozen strawberries? Mixed with a little balsamic vinegar and some mint leaves? You wouldn’t believe how delicious that is. And if you really want something ice cream-y, you can try soy ice cream. I’ve never tried it but I bet if its anything like soy yogurt, its probably really good.
I realize leaving the dairy world is not easy, and if you read my last post, you’ll know my deep frustration with blog posts and magazines that “give you all the answers” and make it look easy. I know its not. I wasn’t born vegan, and even now, I’ve only really been mostly vegan for about 10 days. I’ve spent the past 25 years of my life eating meat, dairy, eggs, and a plethora of processed foods, sugars, and other nonsense (Um… Lean Cuisine anyone? Don’t judge me, I was in college). I’m not perfect (AS YOU KNOW if you’ve read any of my posts. Good lord I’m so far from where I want to be, and you all know it) and I struggle so much with any change I try to make in my life. But one thing that I suppose I can learn about my relationship with dairy (and thus apply it to all my other desired changes) is that things really happen very, very slowly. This slow process of lessening dairy in my life has been something I have been doing (without even meaning to) over several years. And even still, I do consume cheese and yogurt and butter and ice cream, but I’m trying to consume them less. And eventually, who knows how long it will take, I’d like to be free from them all together. Its a slow process and I realize its not easy at all. Sometimes all you want is a cheesy pizza or some ice cream or cereal with milk. But I’ve started to see that you can still have all of these things, but in new ways. Eating right does not have to mean deprivation! It just means being smarter and more aware of what you are putting in your body.
The saying really is true… You are what you eat.
To learn more, I recommend these videos or any of the links at the bottom.
Harvard School of Public Health, “The Nutrition Source”
The New York Times, “Got Milk? You Don’t Need It”
Huffington Post Healthy Living, “Dairy: 6 Reasons Why You Should Avoid it at All Costs[…]”
Born Free USA, “The Destructive Dairy Industry”
ABC News, “Sixty Percent of Adults Can’t Digest Milk”
Livestrong, “Milk Consumption & Osteoporosis”
Food Matters, “The Truth About Calcium and Osteoporosis”
US News, “5 Non-Dairy Foods With Calcium”
Yahoo Voices, “5 Foods With More Calcium Than Milk”
Livestrong, “Healthy Heart Substitute For Butter”
Fitsugar, “Healthy Baking: Surprising Butter Substitutes”
Yahoo Voices, “5 Dairy-Free Cheese Substitutes”
3 Fat Chicks, “7 Healthy Ice Cream Substitutes”
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment