Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dairy, Dairy, Quite Contrary

Dairy - including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc., is a hot topic of debate and I’ve heard and read the very passionate views on both sides.  For those of you who have been consuming dairy on a regular basis all your life, the thought of giving it up may seem impossible, understandably.  My views and level of consumption have certainly changed over the last several years but they’ve been slow to come.  And although I’ve greatly reduced the amount of dairy in my diet, I still haven’t completely eliminated it.

We grew up having milk in glass bottles delivered to the house and left in the insulated, metal box we left outside the door.  Milk went into our cereal but interestingly, I never really cared for the taste of it, or even cheese (but loved ice cream!).   In fact, it wasn’t until I got older that I began to willingly consume milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt for the calcium and because I had finally acquired a taste for it.  It actually became a staple because I thought I was “doing the body good”.   That is not to say that I believe I’ve caused irreparable harm by consuming dairy, but what I’ve learned has prompted me to slowly reduce it to minimal amounts.

If you’re unaware of what all the debate is about, here are some the main points for you to consider:

Organic versus non-organic - Today, most non-organic milk is produced on a high scale from cows that are fed pesticide-containing grains (potentially grown from GMO seeds) and given growth hormones and antibiotics.  Organic milk, however, is required to be free of synthetic hormones, antibiotics GMOs, and pesticides.

Pasteurization - Heating the milk to kill potential pathogens also destroys the milk proteins, enzymes and beneficial bacteria that could otherwise help the gut digest the milk.  Raw milk, on the other hand, retains its full spectrum of benefits.  In fact, some people who are intolerant of pasteurized milk can comfortably consume raw milk; however, it’s not easy to come by and in the United States, it’s regulated on a state-by-state basis.

Nutritional Value - Milk from grain-fed cows is high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are typically high in today’s diet.  It is also fortified with vitamin D2 rather than D3, which the body does not assimilate as well.  Milk from grass-fed cows has a better balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Calcium and bone density - Interesting here is that despite the fact that dairy is naturally high in calcium,countries that consume high levels experience higher rates of osteoporosis than countries that consume little or no dairy.  Is this because of what they are consuming or what they are not consuming?  For example, do people who typically consume more dairy products eat less calcium-containing seeds and vegetables than those who avoid dairy?  Many also believe that the calcium from plants like green leafy vegetables is more easily absorbed than calcium from dairy. And finally, there is some question as to just how much calcium we need on a daily basis and that our levels of additional nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorous, silica, vitamin D and K are additional, important factors to consider along with exercise for healthy bones.

Cancer - there is also the belief, backed up by lots of research that dairy in the diet can feed cancer due to the presence of a number of growth factors that can promote the growth of cancer cells.  However, there are also studies to show that some fats in the same milk can inhibit certain cancers, suggesting that drinking skim or low fat milk can actually promote certain forms of the disease, like prostate cancer, more readily than full-fat dairy.

Lactose and casein intolerance - While people of Northern European decent are generally better able to tolerate dairy due to a genetic mutation (~ 75% of the population), a high percentage of black, Asian, and Native Americans cannot digest lactose.  In addition, the strain of cow from which the milk is produced can play a role in how well the milk is tolerated.

In general, most mass-produced milk comes from cows whose milk has an A1 form of beta-casein that, when digested, releases a protein fragment called BCM7, which is believed to cause most of the intestinal distress and joint pain experienced by some people who consume dairy.  If you get your milk from a local farmer, ask them if they raise A1 or A2 cows - milk from A2 animals doesn’t cause this problem.  Goat’s milk is similar to A2 milk so it may be better tolerated too.

There are also ethical and environmental issues as well with regard to how cattle are raised and the strain they place on land, water supply, and air quality that I won’t delve into here.

If you are someone who can tolerate dairy and have no intentions of eliminating it from your diet, I would like to offer some tips for consuming it in a more healthful manner:

  • Rather than get you cheese fix from the pizza delivery guy, add some feta or goat cheese to your salad or wrap.
  • If you have your daily “fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt, mix some unsweetened Greek yogurt with a bit of honey or real maple syrup and some walnuts or almonds and fresh or frozen berries.  Make it chocolate by stirring in some unsweetened cocoa powder.
  •  If you’re adding milk to your morning oatmeal or cold cereal, opt for organic (or if you’re adventurous, try raw) whenever possible, even better if you have access to a local farm.  Or switch it up occasionally with almond or hemp milk. 
  • Serve raw cheeses with your crackers, grapes and vegetables at your holiday party

If you suspect that dairy may be the root of some of your health issues, eliminate it for at least two weeks and then slowly introduce it back into your diet and closely monitor how you feel.  Ultimately it’s your own body that should be the last authority on what you eat.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images 

Linda DiBella is a nutrition and lifestyle mentor who helps clients gradually change their diet and lifestyle habits so they can lose weight, eliminate their dependency on stimulants, have more energy, and improve their moods. She works with clients in person, over the phone, or Skype. For more information, visit her website at http://www.getreal4health.com or email her at getreal4health@gmail.com.

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