Dairy: friend or foe?

Today, we get to explore dairy. Highly controversial topic!

Myself, I’m conflicted on the matter.

More specifically: I’m emotionally conflicted about dairy.

This is because I love the taste of dairy, and all kinds: whipping cream on berries, cotija on tacos, Salt and Straw ice cream, Humboldt Fog on a cracker.

Sour cream on anything.

And yet, I know dairy doesn’t work for me.

It doesn’t work for a lot of other people out there.

Do I love this fact?

No.

Did it take me some time (years!) to make peace and say goodbye — except for occasional indulgences — to my beloved dairy?

Yes.

But it needed to be done.

And I’m a lot better for it.

Here’s something interesting — a naturopath once shared with me that cow’s milk is one of the most common food sensitivities she sees among her patients. She also sees a fair amount of gluten sensitivity — and egg whites — but cow’s milk was #1.

Higher than gluten.

And the dreaded peanut.

America’s food — milk — was #1.

Here’s the thing — though some people can tolerate it just fine, you never really know until you eliminate it from your diet for awhile — ideally, 4 weeks.

After the elimination phase, you could re-introduce dairy, and see how you feel. Here’s how you’ll know if you’re sensitive to dairy — after re-introducing it, you could experience:

  • Skin issues (acne, eczema, itchy skin)
  • Digestive upset
  • Bloating
  • Weight gain
  • Worsening of hormonal symptoms (PMS, perimenopause, menopause)
  • Weak immune system (i.e., getting colds often)
  • Worsening of asthma
  • Congestion, phlegm, throat clearing, etc.

 

Dairy’s Dark Side

Dairy is one of the most revered foods in the Western world, and the National Dairy Council spends $140 million each year to keep it that way.

It’s promoted as being as wholesome as a mother’s milk — and an important tool for fighting osteoporosis — but there’s a growing body of research that states otherwise.

Consider the following fact: the U.S. is among the countries worldwide consuming the most dairy. And yet, we also have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis (Source: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine).

So clearly, over-consuming dairy isn’t helping us fight the war on osteoporosis.

Bottom line: whether you’re talking about milk, cheese, kefir — even the highly touted Greek yogurt — dairy can have a negative impact on everything from our skin to the way we our bodies assimilate nutrients.

Here’s why: many people are sensitive to lactose (milk sugar) or casein (milk protein) and simply can’t handle it. For lack of a better description, dairy can gum up the system.

But even if you’re not lactose- or casein-sensitive, there’s another huge reason you might consider avoiding dairy.

This has to do with the way most commercial dairy is produced.

What You Need to Know About Factory Farmed Dairy

Dairy is naturally full of hormones — after all, it’s intended to help babies grow.

On top of that, factory farm cows are treated with additional hormones such as Rgbh, which is used to keep them lactating so they can produce more milk.

Factory farm dairy cows are also treated with antibiotics to deal with the mastitis they develop from constantly being milked. By the way, if you’re a mom and developed mastitis while breast-feeding, can you imagine having it all the time? Those poor cows!

Finally, factory farm cows are treated with additional antibiotics because their stomachs can’t digest grains (they were born to eat grass). Plus, in most cases, these cows are eating genetically modified feed.

These toxins can then find their way into the finished product you buy at the store.

This is all important information to bear in mind when making your purchases.

As writer Michael Pollan says, “you are what you eat eats.”

Dairy has come under the microscope in recent years, and there’s a growing body of research linking it to:

  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Weight gain or the inability to lose weight
  • Insulin resistance, which can lead to pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes
  • Increased risk for prostate and breast cancer
  • Inability to absorb nutrients such as antioxidants
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • and, ironically, accelerated calcium excretion from the bones

So this is why my recipes omit dairy.

When working with clients, I find that omitting dairy can assist with weight loss and the reduction of abdominal bloating. Clients with acne or breakouts often notice their skin clears up as well. In addition, omitting dairy can help women balance hormonal issues such as PMS, perimenopausal, and menopausal issues.

Promoting Healthy Bones Without Dairy

Once we get past wondering how we’re going to live without dairy — or with limited access to it — most people start to worry about osteoporosis and fractures.

Here are some important strategies for promoting healthy bones:

First, Reduce Calcium Loss — New research is highlighting the importance of holding onto the calcium that you already have in your bones, instead of trying to supplement through dairy or other foods. Foods and practices that cause calcium to be excreted through our urine include: caffeine, high sodium and smoking.

Then, Limit Protein — A diet high in animal protein — which, by the way is very popular in our culture thanks to Atkins and Paleo diets — has also been shown to cause more calcium to be lost through our urine. Another important reason to limit your mealtime protein portions — 4-6 ounces max.

Exercise — This is one of the most accessible and easiest ways you can maintain healthy bones.

Exposure to Sunlight — Getting 15 minutes of exposure to natural sunlight can be enough to turn on our bodies’ Vitamin D factory. Alas, those of us living outside of the tropics can supplement with Vitamin D3 (check with your doctor on the appropriate dose).

What are Good Alternative Sources of Calcium?

While you work on minimizing calcium loss, you can also be sure to include calcium-rich foods in your diet.

These include:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli Rabe
  • Kale
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard Greens
  • Tofu
  • Arugula
  • Mustard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Sun Dried Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Wild salmon
  • Sardines
  • Brazil nuts
  • Walnuts
  • Sesame Seeds

Guess what? Many of the detox recipes already incorporate these ingredients!

If you’re in a rut and are eating the same thing over and over again, now’s a great time to try something new from this list.

And then if you’re still worried about calcium, you could also drink a calcium-fortified nut milk. Many are fortified with Vitamin D as well.

Get Creative with Spices and Sauces

If you rely on dairy for flavor and richness — as many people do — you need to replace it with something else, or your palate will be disappointed and bored with your food.

Here are the top 3 ways I add lush, satisfying and dairy-free flavors to my meals:

1. Nut-based sauces and dressings — The Tahini Dip/Dressing, cashew cream, Chipotle Cheese Sauce, and any of the salad dressings in the Camp Kale recipe packets. Also… hummus!

2. Savory toppings — I often add a sprinkle of toasted nuts or seeds for extra flavor. Toasted coconut works well, too.

3. Fresh herbs/pesto — Nothing pumps up the volume like fresh herbs. I often add chopped cilantro, parsley or basil to a dish right before serving. Or, if you have a lot of herbs on hand, you can blend with some olive oil, walnuts, and lemon juice for a quickie pesto.

 

Lastly, there are some really excellent dairy-free alternatives out there for milk, cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, and other dairy foods. Every time I go to the grocery store, it seems like there are even more new products available. That said, I’d recommend using dairy-free cheeses and other products only occasionally. After all, most of these products fall in the “processed food” category, and they can still contain artificial or “natural” (also artificial) flavors, stabilizers, and preservatives. To make the most informed choice, just check the label to make sure you recognize all of the ingredients.

Some of my favorites for occasional use include:

  • Daiya cheese
  • Kite Hill “cream cheese”
  • Miyoko’s Kitchen cheeses
  • Coconut Bliss dairy-free ice cream
  • Earth Balance (organic) buttery spread

 

I hope this post helps you figure out what role you want dairy to play in your life.

Wishing you healthy habits + happiness… xoxox Monica

 

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