“Dairy is nature’s perfect food–but only if you’re a calf.”
~ Dr. Mark Hyman
I stopped drinking cow’s milk almost ten years ago.
I can’t remember why exactly I decided to except that I was desperate to alleviate the many health-related ailments I’d developed by my late teens.
What I do remember is that after eliminating dairy from my diet I felt better – physically and mentally – than I ever had in my life. My digestive system started working properly; my skin cleared; I could concentrate like never before; I felt less depressed; I had more energy; I stopped getting carsick and plane-sick. The list goes on. Since then, I’ve continued avoiding dairy with the belief that it must be bad for us.
Before I’d discovered the ill effects of dairy, a British woman once told me (rather passionately) that humans shouldn’t drink cow’s milk. She pointed out that human babies drink human milk for the first few years of their lives; calves drink cow’s milk until they can fend for themselves; but adult humans do not drink human milk, and adult cows do not drink cow’s milk. So why, she asked, do adult humans drink cow’s milk? Further, why are humans the only animals that not only drink milk in adulthood but another animal’s milk altogether?
I remember being angry with this woman at the suggestion that we shouldn’t drink milk. I had grown up in Texas eating lots of dairy – macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, buttermilk biscuits, Blue Bell ice cream. Not eating dairy seemed anti-America, anti-family, anti-everything familiar to me.
And no wonder. My whole life, I had learned about the food pyramid, which featured dairy as a significant component; I had seen television commercials promoting milk as a staple of health.
The American Dairy Industry funded both, successfully propagating the cow’s milk-is-healthy myth that is still alive today.
“Milk builds strong bones,” is one of the most popular misconceptions the American Dairy Industry led us to believe. The truth is exactly the opposite. As Dr. Walter Willet, the Nutrition chairman of Harvard School of Public Health, explains:
Interestingly, many long-term studies have now examined milk consumption in relation to risk of fractures. With remarkable consistency, these studies do not show reduction in fractures with high dairy product consumption. The hype about milk is basically an effective marketing campaign by the American Dairy industry. [Scientific American, Jan. 2003.]
In fact, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asked the USDA to look into the claims of the milk advertisements, and they came to some of the following conclusions:
• There’s no evidence that dairy is good for your bones or prevents osteoporosis — in fact, the animal protein it contains may cause bone loss.
• Dairy may be linked to prostate cancer.
• Dairy is full of saturated fat and is linked to heart disease.
• Dairy causes digestive problems for the 75% of the world’s population (75% of the world’s population does not have the proper enzyme to digest milk.)
• Dairy aggravates irritable bowel syndrome.
Dairy can lead to even more health problems, including:
acne, allergies, anemia, arthritis, colic, cramps, diabetes, diarrhea, ear infections, heart disease, gastrointestinal bleeding, sinusitis, skin rashes, increased frequency of colds and flu, osteoporosis, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and possibly even lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
As an alternative, many people are now eating raw milk, since it eliminates some of dairy’s health risks (pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and the effects of homogenization and pasteurization.) But according to Mark Hyman, M.D., most of dairy’s health risks remain in raw milk also.
The truth is, we can get as much calcium as we need from grains and vegetables. So if dairy has this many health-risks, (and I haven’t even mentioned the ill-treatment of dairy cows), why does it continue to be a huge part of our diet?
I, for one, thought that I would never be able to give up milk products. I loved them too much. But now that I have, I honestly don’t miss them. For me, the benefit of feeling good, physically and mentally, outweighs the temporary pleasure of eating dairy. (As one of the thirty-seven practices of a bodhisattva goes: “Sense pleasures and desirable things are like salt water. The more one tastes them, the more one’s thirst increases.”) And this is coming from a once-long-time doughnut addict and cheeseburger connoisseur. Embarrassing, but true.
All of this said, the point of this article isn’t to support a black-and-white point of view about the wrongs of dairy consumption. For the small percentage of people who can tolerate dairy, eating organic products from responsible sources is best.
In fact, I recently started eating (organic) butter again after learning from a Mark Bittman video that butter is mostly fat, containing trace amounts of lactose (.1% to be specific.) As far as I can tell, butter has no ill effects on me. So I have continued to eat it on occasion, despite my opposition to dairy consumption in general.
For more information about the ills of dairy, I recommend reading Mark Hyman’s extensive article from The Huffington Post titled, “Dairy: 6 Reasons You Should Avoid It at All Costs or Why Following the USDA Food Pyramid Guidelines is Bad for Your Health.” At the end of his article, Hyman suggests going dairy-free for two weeks. If you haven’t already, try it, and see if you notice a difference.
Mark Hyman, M.D., discussing the health risks of dairy:
Excerpts from his excellent Huffintgon Post article:
The Truth about Dairy
According to Dr. Willett, who has done many studies and reviewed the research on this topic, there are many reasons to pass up milk, including:
1. Milk doesn’t reduce fractures. Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy products has never been shown to reduce fracture risk. In fact, according to the Nurses’ Health Study dairy may increase risk of fractures by 50 percent!
2. Less dairy, better bones. Countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption (like those in Africa and Asia) have the lowest rates of osteoporosis.
3. Calcium isn’t as bone-protective as we thought. Studies of calcium supplementation have shown no benefit in reducing fracture risk. Vitamin D appears to be much more important than calcium in preventing fractures.
4. Calcium may raise cancer risk. Research shows that higher intakes of both calcium and dairy products may increase a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 30 to 50 percent. Plus, dairy consumption increases the body’s level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) — a known cancer promoter.
5. Calcium has benefits that dairy doesn’t. Calcium supplements, but not dairy products, may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
6. Not everyone can stomach dairy. About 75 percent of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest milk and other dairy products — a problem called lactose intolerance.
So here is my advice for dealing with dairy.
6 Tips for Dealing with Dairy
• Take your Cow for a Walk. It will do you much more good than drinking milk.
• Don’t rely on dairy for healthy bones. If you want healthy bones, get plenty of exercise and supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
• Get your calcium from food. These include dark green leafy vegetables, sesame tahini, sea vegetables, and sardines or salmon with the bones.
• Try giving up all dairy. That means eliminate milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream for two weeks and see if you feel better. You should notice improvements with your sinuses, post-nasal drip, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, energy, and weight. Then start eating dairy again and see how you feel. If you feel worse, you should try to give it up for life.
• If you can tolerate dairy, use only raw, organic dairy products. I suggest focusing on fermented products like unsweetened yogurt and kefir, occasionally.
• If you have to feed your child formula from milk, don’t worry. The milk in infant formula is hydrolyzed or broken down and easier to digest (although it can still cause allergies). Once your child is a year old, switch him or her to real food and almond milk.