A little while ago, a friend asked me to write a post about dairy. She was in the midst of doing a detox but they had decided that they were going to cut out dairy all together.
First off, I do have some dairy in my diet. I have a weakness for good cheese, but do not eat it every day. I do not drink milk though. We have almond milk in our house instead. Overall, I do not believe that dairy is necessary in our every day diet and if my dairy consumption caused any adverse reactions, I would cut it out instantly.
Whenever I'm asked about dairy, specifically cow's milk, the first thing I usually tell people is that milk is meant for a baby cow, not for a human. Humans are the only mammals on earth that continue to drink milk past infancy. Cows have multi-chambered stomachs that allow them to digest milk. Our stomachs are not nearly as complex making it nearly impossible to digest cow's milk properly.
There are several reasons why I avoid/limit dairy products and will avoid/limit them with the girls. Here are a few:
- Digestion: The majority of people cannot digest dairy products properly. This can result in a variety of digestive upsets (ie. constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas, cramping etc).
- The Calcium Myth: "But I need the calcium!" I used to hear this one all the time. Women, especially, are scared into thinking that milk is necessary to avoid osteoporosis. What's interesting is that the countries that have the highest consumption of dairy, also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Hmm... Yes, milk has good amount of calcium in it, but the catch is that our bodies absorb little of it. There are some excellent, more absorbable calcium sources. One of the most calcium-rich foods is actually the sesame seed. Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, swiss chard, are also great sources of absorbable calcium.
- Allergies: Dairy tops the list as the food that can cause the most allergies, especially in children. Many adults have a dairy allergy or intolerance but might not realize it. If you get frequent colds, digestive upsets (see above), asthma-like symptoms, hives, eczema, rashes, heartburn, headaches or even feel overly tired, consider cutting out dairy for 2-3 weeks to see if it makes a difference. Note: You need to cut it out completely for at least 2 weeks to see any effect. It takes a while for dairy to completely leave your body.
- Chronic Illnesses: Do you know of any young children who seem to always be on antibiotics for ear infections? Or perhaps a toddler who constantly has a runny nose? Or maybe an adult who seems to get chronic sinus infections? Dairy products are implicated in colds, flus and ear infections (among other things) because they are very mucous-forming. Excess mucous can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system. Personally, if I eat a lot of dairy, I'll become quite stuffed up.
- Inflammation: Dairy is a (very) inflammatory food. Inflammation can show itself in the body in a variety of ways, such as, skin problems, headaches, joint pain, asthma and even silent killers like heart disease. Inflammatory diets can play apart in the development of autoimmune diseases. As I mentioned above, most people have some level of dairy intolerance. If this is the case and we continue to consume dairy, our immune system has to repeatedly kick in because it views dairy as an invader and therefore creates an inflammatory (protective) response.
Cow's milk and babies
Milk is being brought up a lot in our classes and play groups these days. Most of the babies are in the 7-10 month range. Many doctors are telling parents that at the 12-month mark, cow's milk can be introduced to replace breastmilk or formula. Why? 'Because our babies need calcium and fat to grow big and strong.' Yes, calcium is a necessary nutrient for growing bodies. Fat, especially saturated fat, is essential for a baby's developing brain. As I mentioned above, there are plenty of absorbable calcium-rich foods that the girls will eat. The same goes for fat. I have lots to say on fats, so that's a story for another day! Lastly, while this wasn't the case for me, a breastfeeding mother of a colicky body should eliminate dairy from her diet. More often than not, crying significantly decreases.
Finally, if you do eat dairy products, I highly recommend going organic. Pesticides and other pollutants get concentrated in the milk fat of cows. You can avoid these chemicals by choosing organic dairy.