Dairy Myths and Alternatives

You do not have to drink milk to be healthy.

Blasphemy! I know.

In fact, dairy foods like milk may be part of the reason why you don't feel your best every day. No matter how many mustache-bearing, hot models you see saying otherwise, milk does not necessarily “do a body good.”

The American Dairy Association wants us to think we will die early (or at least fall and break something important) without a daily glass of milk (or two, three or four). When there are entire countries of people who never eat dairy foods in their entire lives, yet they still thrive, get plenty of calcium in their diets and have Olympic teams.

Did you know that over two-thirds (yes, more than 66%) of the world's population has some degree of lactose intolerance? This means your body lacks an enzyme called lactase and cannot digest milk well, causing bloating, flatulence, diarrhea or other irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-like symptoms. This is a gastro-intestinal issue (GI) and can be 100% cured if you simply stop eating dairy foods.

It's often that simple. If you're suffering, simply choose to stop.

But the problems with dairy go way beyond lactose intolerance. For many people, dairy foods are highly inflammatory. As one of the top three food sensitivities in the US, dairy can cause post nasal drip, achy joints or muscles, skin inflammation like eczema, weight loss struggles and low energy.

Unlike lactose intolerance, this is not a GI problem and you may have no GI symptoms at all. Dairy sensitivity is an immune system issue in which your body decides dairy foods are a foreign invader and develops antibodies against it (just like it does for a rogue bacteria or the common-cold-causing rhinovirus). Antibodies allow your immune system to remember what milk looks like. Then every time you drink it, your immune system activates and you don't feel well.

If you suspect dairy may be causing your symptoms, you may try fully eliminating all dairy foods for 4 weeks (it really needs to be cold-turkey elimination to be a valid experiment). And keep in mind many people experience significant withdrawal cravings during the first few days of the elimination period, so hang in there as this too shall pass.

After the 4 weeks, you will reintroduce dairy products by eating two regularly-sized portions of dairy foods for 3 days in a row and take careful note of how you feel. If your immune system doesn't like dairy, you will have noticeable inflammatory symptoms (though perhaps different ones than you did before).

Dairy sensitivity is growing. The more we try to engineer natural food, the less natural it looks to our immune systems. And the more likely our bodies are to reject it. With most milk, we pasteurize it, homogenize it, pump it up with hormones and pharmaceuticals, and feed highly stressed-out, permanently-lactating dairy cows unnatural grains like corn.

Many people don't even like dairy foods but force themselves to eat it for the calcium. Well, yes, we do need calcium. Our body uses calcium to run our muscles (including the heart) and to keep our bones strong and dense. If you do well with dairy foods, they are an excellent source of calcium. But if you don't feel at your best with dairy, calcium is prevalent in many other foods such as sesame seeds, leafy green vegetables like collard greens and kale and nuts like almonds and pistachios.

Since sesame seeds are such a rich source of calcium and other nutrients, take advantage of them daily. Sprinkle a tablespoon on a salad or a portion of stir-fry. Sesame seed butter called tahini is in most hummus and makes a great base for a stir-fry sauce. A delicious, natural sweet treat is a sesame seed bar called halvah.

For more calcium-food ideas, check out the following table. All of these values are per 100 gram or 3.5 ounce portion*. Keep in mind that human breast milk (nature's perfect food) only contains 33mg in the same portion. Dr. Walter Willett, from Harvard University's School of Public Health (and easily the most respected nutritionist in the world) has recommended no more than 700mg total calcium per day for healthy adults.

Culturally, we are a bit obsessed with getting large amounts of calcium without considering the critical role of other nutrients such as Vitamin D, Magnesium, Vitamin K and good-quality protein in building and retaining dense, strong bones. Studies repeatedly show that eating dairy foods alone (or even supplementing with high levels of calcium) doesn't significantly prevent bone fractures in older persons.

Cow's milk-291 mg                     Kale-250 mg                         Pistachios-131 mg

Yogurt-252 mg                           Almonds-234 mg                   Tofu 128 mg

Sesame seeds (sprinkle a
Tbsp on a salad or stir-fry
portion)-1160 mg                       Parsley-203 mg                     Figs-126 mg

Sardines (a convenient
lunch option)-371 mg                 Mustard Greens-183 mg         Sunflower seeds 120 mg

Amaranth (a delicious
gluten-free grain)-267 mg          Salmon-167 mg                      Buckwheat-114 mg

Collard Greens-250 mg              Chickpeas-150 mg                   Beet Greens-100 mg

If you choose not to eat dairy foods, there are many non-dairy milk alternatives to fill in the gaps. Here are some tips and suggestions to help you make a transition and find options you enjoy and can happily sustain.

 Remember that alternatives are not mimickers. Give yourself some time to explore and learn to enjoy the new textures and flavors of these options.

 For baked goods, I recommend alternative yogurts as a substitute. Some of these milks are too thin in the batter/mixture to give you a nice texture in the end.

Coconut Milk Products

  • Coconut kefir/yogurt is thick and a good replacement for baking, especially recipes that call for yogurt or buttermilk (e.g. pancakes, waffles, muffins, cornbread).
  • Try adding vanilla and honey (or stevia) to kefir to help with transition if drinking in a smoothie.
  • Use coconut milk in a can, and not in a carton, for the cleanest, additive-free option.
  • Coconut milk makes a great creamer for coffee/tea (but look for unsweetened) e.g. So Delicious brand.
  • Coconut milk is the best substitute for milk/cream in sweeter recipes overall (e.g. butternut squash soup).

Almond Milk Products

  • Flavorful but thin. Be sure to look for unsweetened. Drink very cold for best flavor. A great choice for smoothies/shakes that involve cocoa or nut butters.

Rice Milk Products

  • Typically the least allergenic option. Unfortunately, it usually contains a lot of sugar and is difficult to find in unsweetened varieties.
  • Light on flavor and also thin but the blandest flavor to avoid changing your favorite recipe tastes.

Other Non-Dairy Milks

  • Soy milk must be organic! It's most nutritious if used fermented (e.g. soy yogurt).
  • Hazelnut/cashew milks are a pretty good coffee creamer option; a bit sweet and rich in flavor and thicker than other alternative milks.
  • Flax and hemp milk are new arrivals which are higher in protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids.

by: Tracy Harrison (www.SchoolAFM.com)

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