Monday, February 20, 2012

The Dairy Debate

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 IllnessesDo 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. 


  1. This is really interesting to me right now because our youngest son has been having stomach troubles (diarrhea, gas, bloating etc.) and has lost weight. The pediatrician said he probably had a virus that temporarily damaged his digestive system so he can't handle lactose. He asked us to cut lactose out for a few weeks so his gut will have time to heal, but said he can still eat cheese and yogurt because it's broken down differently in those foods or something. We've switched to lactose-free milk and are limiting other dairy. We also started him (and our other son) on probiotics. I haven't noticed a huge change. His stools still aren't normal although they aren't as bad as they were and he's not having as many. We've been wondering all along if it's an issue with dairy. It would be very hard for us to cut out dairy completely but I'm wondering if we should try it and see if it changes anything for him.

    I don't drink milk because I don't like it and I used to get stressed out about it but my doctor once told me that he thinks it's gross that humans drink cow's milk and pointed out exactly what you said about how humans are the only mammals who drink milk past infancy.

    I can't imagine trying to get my kids to eat spinach, kale etc. regularly, though. They used to be great, adventurous eaters as babies and young toddlers but one thing I've found is that kids get pickier as they get older. Our kids still do okay but I'd definitely have to be hiding that stuff in their food somehow. They won't even eat a bagel if it has sesame seeds on it. Erik is now getting to an age where he's becoming more interested in trying things again. The other day he actually ate raw onion. He didn't like it but he wanted to try it.

    1. You could grind sesame seeds and hide them in foods. I can imagine that it gets trickier when babies turn into kids who can say no! Have you ever tried making kale chips? It might be a long shot but the kids could like them. If you're interested, I can let you know how I do them.

      Yogurt is a bit easier to digest. Some people who cannot tolerate milk, ice cream etc. seem to be able to tolerate yogurt.

      Another great way to get fruits and veggies into kids is to make smoothies and fresh juices. I would often add a huge handful of spinach into mine. You can't taste it, especially if you use a fruit like mango or banana that masks the taste quite well.

    2. Both kids do pretty good with vegetables. Erik eats lots of different kinds. Ian is pickier right now but he'll eat cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower and corn and I think he'll like others once he gets to the stage that he wants to try more things.

      I do make smoothies but Erik doesn't really like them. He wants to have one but only drinks a few sips. I might try adding spinach to my own, though. I drink smoothies a lot.

      Sure, if you could let me know how to make kale chips, I'll try it and see what happens.

    3. The kale chips!

      Rip the leaves off of a bunch of kale (any colour) and rinse. Toss in a small amount of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat). Throw in the juice of half of a lemon (the vit c helps the body absorb the iron in the greens) and add a touch of sea salt. Bake on a cookie sheet for approximately 1.5 hours at 215 degrees.

  2. Just re-reading your post. Ian also always has colds and is on inhalers all the time for asthma-like symptoms. Hmmm...

  3. also because when the milk enters the stomach its so acidic that the calcium in the bones go to neutralize it. Put the ph back in balance... so there goes your calcium.

    what will you give your babies after they are done breastfeeding instead of milk?

    1. I'm planning on breastfeeding until they're 2 (as long as they're up for it), so they'll get fat and other nutrients that way. Once they're mainly eating food, I will give them calcium-rich foods, as I mentioned above. I will also try them on almond milk eventually but it doesn't have a ton of fat. They need lots of fat for their developing brains, eg. avocados, coconut oil, flax oil, butter, eggs, fish, nuts (providing no allergies), possibly some goat or sheep products.

  4. As someone who works for a yogurt company, I find this post distrubing :-) haha But I understand what you mean, especially about drinking milke

    But yes, the bacteria in yogurt breaks down the lactose so it's actually okay if you have an intolerance. And the probiotics can actually help digestion!

    1. Yogurt is definitely a different than milk, ice cream etc. You're right about it breaking down differently. As I mentioned, many people can tolerate yogurt but can't tolerate other dairy products.

  5. I love this post. We are a non milk drinking house too and only buy it for a couple of exceptions....I use milk to cook, not everything but some recipes just call for cows milk....that being said, I try to use raw milk exclusively (still has all the enzymes and healthy bacterias that make it much easier to digest that usually get pasteurized out) ....I also use raw milk to make our butter and some yogurt (we eat WAY too much yogurt for me to make all of it)
    My kids eat tons of coconut oil for fat, real homemade butter, and loads of tahini, and dark green veg. I have never once worried about their calcium intake. We also don't eat refined sugars or any refined foods that contribute to leaching calcium.
    I couldn't agree with you more about this