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Monday, January 9, 2012

The dairy debate

I have always been cereal's #1 fan. I love all kinds of cereal. In college I lived off of fruity pebbles and Cap'N Crunch. Once health became a concern of mine, I shifted my adoration toward Special K. I have not always had the same affection for milk, but if there was a morning when I woke up and there was no milk, it was common that I would throw a fit and run to the store because without it, no cereal could be had. And that, my friends, is the definition of a travesty.
I am still a lover of cereal, but now I only consume healthy, organic brands such as Puffins or Kashi, adding bananas and blueberries for an extra kick of flavor and nutrients. I also stopped using milk. Oh, the horror! Where will I ever get my calcium from? Not from milk. I switched to Almond Milk about six months ago and I will never go back. When I am in a pinch, I opt for soy milk, but on a daily basis, it is too sweet for me. Almond Milk has been the perfect substitution for me. I discovered its glorious yummy-ness while testing out shake recipes from the Ithaca-based vegetarian restuarant, Moosewood's, cookbook "Cooking For Health." My favorite almond milk is the Trader Joe's brand. The Blue Diamond option is good too, but even their unsweetened one is still a little too sweet for my liking.

I know that for most of the population milk is an important part of their diet (or so they think), and I know that not everyone will agree with my opinions regarding milk and dairy. The theory I am about to present to you may seem very odd and abnormal, but really think about it before you dismiss it completely. When other mammals nurse their young, they provide milk from their own bodies. As humans we have the option to do the same, and some do. However, we are the only mammals who stop drinking the milk of our own people and drink the milk from another animal. I am not suggesting that we bottle breast milk and drink it through old age, but drinking milk from a cow or a goat does not seem natural to me. Once I started thinking about this concept something switched inside me that made me turned off to milk. I should also announce to you that I am a vegetarian, and have been since I was eight years old, so this way of thinking seems normal to me.

Besides my crazy theory, books and research that I have read suggest that businesses and government agencies have a financial investment in the dairy industry, explaining the widespread campaigns for milk and cheese. 'Got Milk' anyone? There is a lot of muddling by different businesses and governmental agencies and organizations to make milk seem necessary for good health and to fight against osteoporosis. People in other countries do not drink as much milk as Americans, and according to the book "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" by Walter Willett countries that consumed less calcium actually had less bone fractures than those who consumed more. The statistics regarding dairy are simply confusing.

This holiday season I consumed two pieces of cheese cake, one on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas. Now, in full disclosure, I have not given up all dairy. I have tried and failed, but continue to keep my overall dairy intake to a minimum. Milk seemed to be easier and more important to me to give up. After eating each slice of cheese cake, my stomach started to feel upset, I became slightly lethargic and overall I just felt not right. What struck me about this was that it was the first time that I had anything largely dairy based since giving up milk. Cheese cake is made with mostly dairy products, including cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, butter and milk. This made me question if I might be lactose intolerant.

According to the Ohio State University Medical Center approximately 30-50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. This may seem like a small amount of people, when the United State's population is over 300 million, but my guess is that a lot of people go undiagnosed because we are taught from a very young age, in the cafeteria's of our schools, that "Milk does a body good."
By cutting out most of my dairy intake I have noticed how my body reacts when I have a small amount, and although this is a self-diagnosis, based on the bloating, abdominal pain and cramps, that are listed as symptoms, I think I am victim of dairy sensitivity.

Milk is a substance that is filled with hormones, not just from the animal it comes from, but also the antibiotics that are given to the cow which has been linked to increased cases of acne. Hormonal changes are what cause blemishes to frequent teenagers. Not to mention cows that have been treated with growth hormones so they produce more milk. Also, cows naturally eat grass, but the animal farms have become a business and feeding them grain or soy has become common, which does not produce healthy cows or milk.
The documentary "Food Inc." and the book "What to Eat" by Marion Nestle, were the two biggest factors for me in questioning my milk and other dairy intake. From watching Food Inc. my boyfriend coined the term "Poo Corn," which we use to refer to anything that is processed, isn't organic or was made by feeding animals corn or soy. We both use the term as a normal part of our vocabulary now, which results in weird stares from people, but it's a term that I am sure will catch on.
In Nestle's book she has a lot of information about milk and dairy products. One of the things that shocked me most was her explanation of the sans milk product, Lactaid. I have had Lactaid before and personally I thought it was absolutely disgusting, and now I know why. Lactaid is actually made from milk and is produced by the milk industry. However the lactose, or sugar in milk, is doubled in this product! Lactose is a double sugar which is too big to be absorbed by adults, but babies make lactASE, which splits it into single sugars which are easier to absorb. The lactose in breast milk motivates babies to nurse, but by the time most children turn five years old they stop making lactase, which means the lactose is not easily absorbed anymore and physically we do not need the enzyme anymore.
Nestle also brought to my attention a blurb that I now notice on all organic milk and dairy products that I purchase. On anything that claims to be hormone and antibiotic free, there will be a side note that says, "The FDA has found no significant difference from milk derived from rbST treated cows and those not treated." The natural estrogen released by cows is a small amount and does not seem to affect humans, however dairy farmers can inject cows with growth hormones, making them produce 10 to 20 percent more milk. An agricultural company, Monsanto, produces the most widely used hormone. If you do not know much about this company, I encourage you to google it. To paint a picture of what kind of company they in fact are, they are responsible for milk not being labeled as treated with rbST. Their argument was that by labeling milk as treated with the growth hormone, the public would think that there was something different or dangerous about the milk. They are also responsible for the nice warning I see on all of my bST free products that I buy. They argued that all milk has bST since cows make a natural form of it and therefore the statement is misleading.

Calcium is definitely an important part of our diet, but it can be consumed by eating green vegetables such as broccoli, fish and yogurt. Vitamin D is also essential in absorbing Calcium, which is why in addition to eating my veggies I take supplements of both, along with Omega-3's and iron. I support taking supplements, however, there are arguments against that as well, which is a discussion for another post.

My suggestion is to either buy certified organic milk, which contains less hormones and is made by grass fed cows or to transition to almond or soy milk. I am not a doctor or scientist, but my opinions have been formed based on research and personal experience. Check out the links in this blog for more information and leave comments or questions!
Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Walter Willet
Got Milk Campaign

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