“I usually stress moderation with all food groups, including fish and other animal protein for those who really want to keep them in their diet. However, this is the one category where there is no room for moderation. No one should eat dairy. Period.” – Kimberly Snyder, C.N.
There is no arguing the appeal of dairy. In fact, most of us grew up believing milk, cheese and yogurt to be a healthy source of calcium and protein. Our intrinsic acceptance of dairy into the canon of a well-balanced diet dates back to the impressionable days of elementary school in which the food pyramid, instructing three servings of dairy products each day, was seemingly written in stone.
Recently, however, there has been a movement among many nutrition experts towards re-examining our unquestioned relationship with all things, dairy. Established as these foods may be (trust me, I get it: yogurt and granola, café lattes, cheese boards), science is now revealing new evidence relating dairy to overall health that hasn’t been a part of the mainstream conversation in the past. In this post, I hope to highlight several points regarding the adverse effects of dairy on our digestion and long-term health, outline some popular non-dairy alternatives, and suggest a natural remedy to counter the congestion caused by consuming excess dairy.
Firstly, the science: on the chemical scale of acidity (0.0) to alkalinity (14.0) the ideal blood pH level is a slightly alkaline 7.364. When we consume animal milk products, they leave behind a highly acidic (pH between 0.0 and 7.0) residue as a result of metabolic waste products. If these waste products are not balanced by alkaline foods (think: fruits, vegetables, beans) then the body must draw from existing resources for neutralization. Most often, this results in leaching alkaline compounds such as calcium carbonate from bone tissue. Ironically, then, drinking cow’s milk actually depletes calcium over time which means that eating a salad would have a far more beneficial impact for healthy bones than drinking a glass of milk in the long term. Although this goes against everything we have believed to be true about milk and dairy, the biochemical evidence stands true. The key to remember here is that although dairy does contain calcium and protein, the short-term benefits are far outweighed by the long-term harm that can be caused by the creation of an acidic environment in our digestive tracts.
The second point to be made about cow’s milk in particular is its main protein (87 percent): casein. Casein is a protein designed to promote the large bone growth of baby cows and is present in four times the amount that our bodies are naturally able to digest. The result is that the casein coagulates, causing congestion which can lead to acne as well as difficulty losing weight and maintaining muscle tone. Furthermore, in his landmark book The China Study, Dr. Campbell conducted groundbreaking research on the correlation of animal protein, particularly casein, with the growth of cancer cells. In his research, Dr. Campbell was able to turn the growth of cancer foci on and off in rats simply by altering the amount of casein in their diets from 5 to 20 percent when exposed to carcinogenic compounds. In his findings, Dr. Campbell states that “casein promotes cancer growth while using a highly integrated system of mechanisms. It is a powerful, convincing and consistent effect.” While a small amount of dairy will certainly not lead to the onset of cancer, it is important to keep in mind that our daily threshold for dietary protein should not exceed 12 percent and that cow’s milk contains 300 percent more casein than our bodies require, even as growing infants.
These are two points among many to be made regarding dairy, and I would urge readers to look into these sources further to gain a deeper understanding of the science behind dairy consumption. Understandably, these revelations are not entirely welcome to those who still consider dairy a major food group. Fortunately, there are many non-dairy alternatives available that offer the same taste and texture without the acidity and carcinogenic effects of animal proteins, not to mention the ethical considerations of mass-scale dairy farms. The next time you’re in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, see if you can find a carton of almond, soy or coconut milk in place of cow’s milk. Coconut yogurt is also becoming more readily available, as well as almond cheese and other non-dairy cheese alternatives. I particularly love using soaked and pureed cashews to add creaminess to desserts or salad dressings, or even to create your own nut milk at home! Bonus: nuts are also an excellent source of plant protein.
Step by step guide to making your own almond milk at home: Homemade almond milk.
One of my favorite anti-inflammatory home remedies for when the inevitable dairy ingestion does occur involves creating ‘golden milk.’ This recipe involves making a turmeric paste (mix ¼ cup turmeric powder with ½ tsp. ground pepper and ½ cup water and heat on the stove) and adding ¼ tsp. of paste to 1 cup nut milk, heated and served with cinnamon or maple syrup for sweetness. This home remedy is anti-carcinogenic, improves digestive health, supports liver function and promotes scores of other health benefits as well. I hope you enjoy!