Plant-Based Pause No 4: The Problems With Dairy

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘The human body has no more need for cow’s milk than it does for dog’s milk, horse’s milk, or giraffe’s milk.’ – Michael Klaper, MD

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I was born covered head to toe in eczema, and it is a condition that has affected me my whole life. Unfortunately, I was born in the early 80s when health professionals knew very little about nutrition, and parents listened to their GPs without question. Even though there was evidence back then that dairy was highly unsuitable for eczema sufferers, my doctor told my parents to feed it to me, because it was ‘natural to have allergies’. My doctor didn’t have allergies himself. All he saw was the inflamed skin all over my body, he couldn’t feel the intense pain that I felt when anything touched me, or the sickness I felt when my open sores led to blood poisoning and battered my immune system, making me open to other illnesses and infections. Had my doctor advised my parents not to give me dairy when I was a child, my condition would have been a lot easier to manage.

As well as eczema and other skin complaints, dairy has also been proven to be dangerous for people with asthma and respiratory problems. Chef Chad Sarno cites asthma as one of his reasons for switching to a vegan diet.

And what about everyone else? Dairy is a vital source of calcium, right? You’re told as a child to drink milk, eat cheese and have yoghurt for dessert because it helps you grow strong bones and teeth. Then, as an adult you pass this information down to your own children.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERADairy is not the only source of calcium, nor is it the best. It is true to say that dairy contains a lot of calcium, but it also contains a lot of acid. The only way our bodies can neutralise the acid is by taking more calcium from our bones, so the more dairy we eat the less calcium we end up with. That’s why in western countries, where we consume the most dairy, we have the most cases of osteoporosis (brittle bones). There are much healthier, plant-based sources of calcium such as green leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, watercress, romaine lettuce), pulses (soya, kidney beans, chick peas, broad beans, baked beans), lentils, parsnips, swede, turnips, some nuts such as almonds, Brazils, hazelnuts, pistachio and some fruits (dried figs, currants, lemons, oranges) and olives – and exceptionally high are sesame seeds.

DSC_0499Aside from anything else, when you think about it, it’s just weird that we drink milk from a cow. Cows’ milk is meant for baby cows. Apart from pets like cats that we control, we are the only species who continue to drink milk after we’re weaned. Naturally, cows produce just enough milk for their calves, the same as any other species (Please bear in mind here that a ‘natural’ cow is nothing like the cows we see in fields today which were specially bred during the agricultural revolution to produce more food). In the dairy industry, cows are artificially inseminated to keep them constantly pregnant and therefore constantly producing a flow of milk. About 50% of the calves born are male, and therefore no use to the farmers, and are shot in the head shortly after birth apart from a few that are reared for veal. Just like any animal, having their babies taken away from them is extremely distressing for the cows and they have been known to bellow for days, calling for their baby. On top of that, they have to suffer infected and swollen udders that are a result of producing too much milk.

There are many, vegan alternatives to dairy that are much kinder to other beings and do not leave you feeling sick. Butter, cheese, ice cream and yoghurt all have dairy-free alternatives. Just look for the ‘Free From’ section in your local supermarket. There are now lots of different varieties of vegan milk. Personally, I prefer unsweetened soya milk, but you can also choose from sweetened soya, almond and rice milk to name just a few. Soya milk does curdle in hot drinks, so make sure you either heat the milk or allow the drink to cool a little before you add the milk. Almonds and cashews make a great cream substitute, just soak them in water for a couple of hours and then blend them. Doing this with cashews makes a great melted cheese replacement.

All this talk about food is making me feel hungry, but before I go, next time you’re about to drink a glass of cows’ milk, please consider how it got there and if you really need it.

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