Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Great American Dairy Myth:Learn How to Live Long and Stay Healthy Without the Cow!

I have long been a proponent of a non-dairy diet. My 4 children were raised that way and are healthier than most. My youngest two, ages 5 and 3, have never had dairy since birth, nor has their mother during their nursing. Both youngsters have less colds and sickness than any of their peers. I counsel my patients to avoid dairy at all costs.

So what’s the problem with dairy you may ask?

Cow’s milk and milk products are the most pervasive food allergy causing substances on the planet that are both easily obtained and widely used as foods. A protein in milk, casein, appears to be the major cause of adverse reactions. Casein is in milk of all forms, including lactose-free or low-lactose products. Casein is a very large and convoluted protein, and it is often mistaken for a foreign substance by our immune systems. And truly it is, because cow’s milk is meant for baby cows, not humans.
A human infant’s intestinal tract is designed to digest mother’s breast milk from birth to at least nine months of age, preferably to 12 months. Breast milk contains immune factors which protect against foreign substances. Breast milk contains three times the lactose, one third the calcium, a more absorbable form of iron, and higher amounts of essential fatty acids than cow's milk. Cow’s milk formula feeding prematurely exposes an infant's fragile intestine to cow's milk, and through a long series of maladaptive biological functions, the infant becomes sensitive (allergic) to that cow's milk.
Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance are not the same issue. Lactose intolerance means that the enzyme lactase is not produced by the body in sufficient quantity to digest lactose (milk sugar) resulting in gastric symptoms, such as cramping, gas, bloating and/or diarrhea. One can be lactose intolerant and yet ingest low-lactose, or lactose-free milk and dairy products without ill effects. Allergy to casein is another matter, and has nothing to do with lactose.

Why, then, is our American culture so hung up on cow’s milk? The problem is multi-factorial and has both cultural and economic roots. Milk and milk products are big business in America, and many in my generation were raised to believe that milk is an “essential food”; you can not live properly without it. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Many of us were raised at a time when the American Dairy Association touted dairy as “one of the 4 food groups”. Even today, dairy has it’s own section on the USDA Food Pyramid. In reality, we neither need dairy nor should we look at it as a separate or essential food category in our diet.

Two-thirds of the world’s population cannot tolerate milk and a rapidly growing number of Americans are allergic to cow's milk. In fact, cow's milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Many cultures never ingest milk products and are healthier than Americans by far. These cultures get much of their protein from legume sources and their calcium from legumes and vegetables.

One of the biggest untruths the American Dairy Association uses to promote cow’s milk as “essential” is that it is the only good source of dietary calcium. It’s time to debunk that myth as well. There are many excellent sources of calcium in other foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, some fruits and figs. Many cultures that eat no dairy have better health and stronger bones by getting their calcium from fish, green vegetables, and legumes.

As far as protein: Yes, milk is high in protein, but at what cost? If casein is one of the most allergic proteins to humans, why ingest it at all? Soy and other legumes are much better alternatives. Even lean meats are. If you are not a vegan, sustainable fin fish that is low in mercury, like salmon and tilapia, are a fantastic source of calcium and protein.

Concerning soy products: Much misinformation was circulated in the recent past attempting to tarnish soy’s clean image. Don’t believe it! Cultures that have eaten soy and vegetable based diets are the healthiest on earth. Their people have greater longevity, lower cancer rates and lower rates of chronic illness. We, the great “milk” drinkers have lower levels of energy, greater obesity, and shorter life spans.

My suggestion to everyone is this: Eliminate dairy as much as possible. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole foods. Eat more fiber and less fat, and never, never give babies milk to drink or cheese to eat. You will live happier, healthier and longer I promise you.