I have been asked a lot lately why my family is no longer drinking dairy. Both of my sons have milk issues...not formally diagnosed but very obvious to me and my husband. They both have severe stomach cramping anytime milk is consumed and that most likely leads to a extended episode of screaming which would deafen the ears of anyone in a 5 mile radius. That was a no-brainer to explain to friends and family. So why everyone else?
First of all, let me start this post by saying that this is what my husband and I have decided is "right" for OUR family. We feel like we have done the research and made an educated decision. Most people would agree that 99% of parents don't withhold something from their children that they believe is necessary for their growth, development, and well-being. On the other side of the coin - most parents are not going to willingly feed their child something that they believe can do them harm. Obviously, there are exceptions - unfortunately. :(
So, why are we trying to eliminate dairy from our family's diet? Aren't their bones going to crumble? Don't they NEED dairy products (mainly milk) to survive? What about calcium and Vitamin D? You decide. You have to do what you believe is best for your family - no matter what anyone else says or does, including me, but I hope that what I say in this post will pique your curiosity and that maybe you will do your own searching for the truth.
First of all, dairy is BIG BUSINESS...anyone disagree? I have to say, I love my dairy products, so my natural inclination when I found out some of the naked truth was to first be disgusted and second get defensive. Nobody's taking my cheese away! ;) Most of what I am about to say comes from my fav book these days (Skinny Bitch). There are many other books, articles, scientific studies, and websites out there saying the same thing, but this book really gets right down to the nitty gritty and doesn't add any extra fluff to the facts. Plus, it's just downright funny. Let's just think of it this way:
A mommy has a baby (let's say it's a baby boy)...awww...the baby cries...mommy produces milk to feed her baby.
The mom feeds her 8 pound baby boy breast milk so that by his first birthday he has in most cases tripled his birth weight to 24 pounds. At that point, typically, mom starts feeding her baby boy fruits and vegetables, grains, and some meats and weans him from her milk. Would we be accepting of a mother who was still breast-feeding her 20-year old? And think of it this way...if she did...I wonder how much that 20 year old would weigh? (think about it for a sec)
Cows produce milk when their baby is born, just like we do. They don't have an endless milk supply their whole life, they don't NEED to be milked to survive. They produce just enough to take their 90 pound calf to a 2,000 pound calf in two years and then their milk dries up and they go about their lives. Cow's milk has more fat than human breast milk simply because it is a much bigger animal and it has a four-chambered stomach! In order for humans to digest lactose (the sugar in milk), we need the enzyme lactase. The trouble is that we lose 90-95% of this enzyme between the ages of 18 months and 4 years. So what happens to the milk in our bodies after 4 years? Well, it sits...in our intestines...and causes the growth of bacteria - and not the good kind (can we say gas and bloating? IBS, anyone?). The acidic nature of dairy products also makes our body acidic which if you know anything about cancer, well, your body starts to look like prime real estate for cancer cells to move in. To top that off, your body starts to try and fight this invasion on your system and will develop more colds and allergies in attempt to get rid of it...mucus...mmmm.
But what about osteoporosis? Well, a study of over 72,000 women over the course of 12 years, done by Harvard showed that milk had no protective effect on bones. Another study done by Yale used 34 surveys from 16 countries and found the same thing. The irony? Americans are among the top consumers of dairy products in the world. American women over fifty have among the highest rate of hip fractures in the world. The only countries who had higher incidence? Those who consumed more milk! OK, so either people who drink milk are just by nature more clumsy, or there is something getting slightly skewed when it comes to the slogan that milk, "does a body good."
Here's the deal with all of that mumbo jumbo. Milk is not the only source of calcium on the planet, in fact, in comparison to the other sources we have within our grasp, it is a pretty poor source because we can't absorb it as easily - the absorption of the calcium in milk is a measly 2%. Here are some examples of foods that have calcium and are also highly absorbable (is that even a word?) in our bodies: Brussels sprouts (the highest touting an absorption of 63.8% - dang - I knew they were good for me), broccoli (52.6 % - whew - I love my broccoli), kale (50%), mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, swiss chard, bok choy, cabbage, okra, watercress, legumes (peas, beans, etc.), chickpeas, red beans, soybeans, almonds, sesame seeds, and sea vegetables (like seaweed). It is also found in calcium fortified juices, cereals, soymilk, rice milk, and some tofu. Sounds like a pretty good list to me! Oh, and that vitamin D thing? Well, that's easy. You just need 5-25 minutes (depending on your skin tone) of sun a day, 2-7 days a week. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when exposed to the sun...in moderation of course...skin cancer is not cool. You can also find it in vitamin D-fortified cereals, rice and soymilks. If absolutely necessary, you can also take a vitamin D supplement. Watch out though b/c too much vitamin D can be toxic.
Now to my favorite part...
Let's make this simple. Cows only make milk for a two-year span while their babies are growing. Farmers need to keep the milk production high and continuous...cows are injected with growth hormones, mainly BGH, to increase their milk supply, SURPRISE! That hormone is brought to you by our ol' pals, Monsanto. Oh Monsanto...how you just woo us with your charms. (confused? watch Food Inc or check out my post "From Foodie to Food Inc.") Don't let anyone trick you for one second and tell you that the pesticides cows ingest from tainted grains (not grass) and the hormones pumped into them are not getting through to milk. If you have ever had a baby or known someone who breastfed - everything you eat, drink, ingest goes into your milk.
Also, because the cows are raised in ways that are less than ideal, they get sick which means they need medicines. So...they are also pumped full of antibiotics to help keep them "healthy." (which translates to keeping them working until they keel over and get ground up into hamburger) Now, yes, there is organic milk, which is definitely "better" than regular milk because there are less hormones and antibiotics and pesticides found in the milk...but there is still pus and poo. WHAT!!??
OK, here's the deal. The cows are hooked up to metal milking machines and think about it...the are lined up very close to each other. The metal causes abrasions on their sensitive utters and those abrasions get infected...pus. The farmer most likely is not stopping production and using a sterile method to clean the wounds and prevent the pus from getting into the milk or giving the cows a rest period to heal...in fact, he probably isn't even aware that it's happening half the time. Pus gets in the milk. Even though it's pasteurized, there are still dead white blood cells from pus floating in the milk we drink...organic or non-organic. OK, I just made myself sick. As for the poo...I'll try to make this short and sweet. There is a thing called Johne's Disease. It is very similar to what we call Crohn's disease in humans. Both cause uncontrollable, chronic diarrhea. Remember how I said the cows are lined up closely? Poo gets splashed onto the udders, and well, you get the point. Farmer John isn't on poo alert ready and armed with a soapy bath...
Here's the deal. If what you read bothered you...do something about it. There are local farms that sell milk that is hormone, pesticide, and antibiotic free that is still much better than the organic milk you can buy in the stores. They don't have big milking mechanisms and the living conditions are more than likely night and day different. You can look up farms in your area on www.eatwild.com. You can do a search by state and then zoom-in on the map to find the closest one to you. Most of the farms also have grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and a number of other things that are better for you than what you can buy in the store. (thank you, Lindsay, for the link!)
There are many dairy-free options out there - more than ever now b/c people are demanding them. There is soymilk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, and several others. I have tried all but the hemp milk and they are great - really! It is a little more expensive, but think of it this way...you can pay more now at the grocery store or more later at the doctor's office (or, God forbid, the hospital). Also, you can find good deals if you are willing to search. We get 3 half gallons of SILK at Sam's Club for 6 something - not too shabby!
There is so much more about this whole topic that I didn't have the time or space to include it all. There is a study that was done called The China Study that covers things in even more depth. You can either check out the website here www.thechinastudy.com or the book here The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.