Why I Don't Consume Dairy

Dairy products have been around for a really long time. Milk and cheese are products that get introduced in a Standard American Diet pretty early on in life, and are very normal to consume. I ate dairy products for a good chunk of my life, even though I figured out that I was lactose intolerant pretty young, the lure of cheesy pizza and ice cream were really strong, so I did continue to eat dairy even though my gut would soon remind me that it wasn't a good idea. Interestingly enough, in North American adults lactose maldigestion is found in approximately 79% of Native Americans, 75% of blacks, 51% of Hispanics, and 21% of Caucasians (1). There are many factors that lead certain people to react to lactose such as genetics, ethnicity and diet. Roughly 20% of the Canadian population is lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance can lead to an array of symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, stomach aches, nausea and gas. People with this intolerance have a digestive system that isn't able to digest lactose, which leads to the fermentation of this sugar. Even though I would deal with these symptoms after consuming my beloved pizza, these annoying symptoms were not what lead me to ditch dairy. I had always heard of the health benefits of dairy, the main one being calcium. Even though I was vegetarian for most of my life, I always thought I needed to consume dairy for its important nutrients. The dairy industry is everywhere; on bus signs, commercials, the lips of celebrities and in the minds of most North Americans. We NEED dairy is the narrative behind dairy marketing, and they do a VERY good job conveying this message. I decided to do my own research and here is what I found, essentially you can not only survive but you can THRIVE without dairy.

Dairy is NOT the only food that contains calcium

Much to the dismay of most nutrition advertising on calcium, you can find ample amounts of calcium in plant-based sources. Foods like tofu, dark leafy greens (broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard, spinach) and beans. The best part about these sources is that they are highly absorbable by the human body and come with a host of other nutrients, micro nutrients and benefits (2). Dairy does contains calcium however it is often accompanied by animal growth factors, contaminants and saturated fat.

Dairy is NOT essential for bone health

When we think milk, I think most of us think strong bones! It may surprise you to hear that a 2011 meta-analysis showed no overall improvement in fracture risk in the people who consumed more dairy products (3). A 2018 meta-analysis reported that there was no consistent evidence that milk actually lowers fracture risks (4). In fact, there seems to be a correlation between higher dairy consumption and fracture rates. A large 2014 study with over 60,000 women and 45,000 men found that 3 or more glasses/day resulted in higher fracture rates in women AND higher death rates in both! One of the primary reasons is thought to be the galactose in milk (a simple sugar), which creates oxidative stress and inflammation leading to bone loss and other health issues (5). Pretty crazy right!

Dairy is inflammatory for a lot of people and hard to stay away from

As we discussed above, many people are lactose intolerant, roughly 65-70% of adults across the planet to be semi-exact (6). This means that there are many humans who consume lactose that are not able to digest it and are experiencing symptoms of it wreaking havoc on their intestines. Take me for example, my body did not like dairy, yet I still consumed it. I thought I needed dairy for its health benefits, but not only that it tasted really good! Dairy can be seen as addictive. The science is out on the actual addictive quality in dairy, some say the casomorphins it may lead to an opiate effect like a drug, some even call it "dairy crack" (7). Think of where we find dairy; pizza, ice cream, milk shakes, doritos, big macs, mac and cheese, bowls of cereal... you see the point. Often where we find dairy we also find high salt, fat (not the good kind) and high calories, which creates a perfect addictive equation. It's also in so many products! The amount of times I've said "why is there dairy in this!!" would shock you! It's not easy to avoid.

Dairy has a huge environmental impact

Dairy is an industry, there are approximately 270 million dairy cows in the world, 12.5 million of these are in Canada (8). Dairy comes from cows, cows go to the bathroom, they fart, they need to eat, milk needs to be transported, all of which contributes to green house gas emissions, water use and consumer waste. Some of these cow excretions end up in local water resources and the raising of dairy cows can have ecological impacts on wetlands, forests and prairies. You know what the most frustrating part of this is that analysis suggests 116m tonnes of dairy products are wasted globally - that's 1 in every 6 pints, with almost half lost before the dairy even reaches a store (9).

The practices of the dairy industry is one I cannot pay to support In the dairy industry, a dairy cow produces an average of 30 litres of milk per day (10). Cows naturally produce milk when the have a calf. Since we as humans drink their milk, the cows need to be continuously bred so that we can take their milk. On average a Canadian dairy cow will have her first calf around 2 years of age and will continue to be re-bred each time she has a calf so that we can have her milk, not her baby, general practice is to separate the mom and her baby withing hours to keep separation stress low. Canadian dairy cows are usually sent to slaughter and deemed a "spent cow" by 5--6 years of age, this is a lot younger than their natural life span. There are many inhumane practices that take place in Canada, so that Canadians can drink milk.

Cows housed in tie-stalls. This means that they don't get much time to exercise, socialize, groom, graze, or perform other important natural behaviours.

A lot of dairy cows have something called lameness. This means that they get so large that they have a hard time standing, they tend to get leg injuries from slipping on wet floors, have hoof rot, unable to get up as often from lying on hard surfaces, and they can often have many internal disorders, either leading to antibiotics or removal of teats.

Dehorning or horn growth prevention of young dairy cows is routine in Canada, to reduce injury to each other and to workers. They do use pain medication for these procedures to reduce the pain.

This stuff isn't fun to write or to read, and if it makes you shiver I really do hope that you will look into where the dairy you consume comes from and how it is produced. Our money pays for these practices, we have a choice. The marketing for dairy is really good at making us not think about this stuff. You can buy locally sourced dairy products, and do research on where dairy is coming from.

Dairy has some worrisome data attached to it

One study of 100,000 people found significantly higher mortality rates in those who consumed 3 or more glasses of milk per day compared to those who drank less than 1 (11). Dairy consumption (milk & cheese) has also been associated with Parkinson’s disease, a serious neurodegenerative disease, likely due to the galactose within dairy and the ability of dairy products to drop uric acid levels too low (12). Dairy is a large source of saturated fat which contributes to heart disease.

There you have it some research and information on dairy. The point of this article is not to sway anyone in a certain direction, the point is to show the data on dairy and the practices that lead it to show up in our grocery stores in nicely labelled packages. Dairy is an animal product that we certainly do not need to survive, especially with the rise in plant milks, nut "cheese", and dairy-free foods. On a very personal note, giving up dairy allowed me to not only have less gut irritation, it also improved my iron levels (calcium and iron compete for absorption in the body) and helped in reducing acne on my face.

1) Scrimshaw NS, Murray EB. The acceptability of milk and milk products in populations with a high prevalence of lactose intolerance. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988;48(4 Suppl):1079. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=3140651. Accessed on October, 2, 2019.

2) Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Calcium and Strong Bones. (n.d.). , Available at: https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/health-concerns-about-dairy/calcium-and-strong-bones

Accessed on October 1, 2019

3) Bischoff-Ferrari, HA et al. Milk Intake and Risk of Hip Fracture in Men and Women: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Bone Miner Res. 2011.⁣ ⁣Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20949604 Accessed on October 2, 2019

4) Bian, S et al. Dairy product consumption and risk of hip fracture: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health. 2018.⁣ Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29357845 Accessed on October 2, 2019

5) Michaelsson, K et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ. 2014.⁣ ⁣ Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6015

Accessed on October 2, 2019.

6) The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 2, August 2019, Pages 273–279, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz104 Lactose digestion in humans: intestinal ... - academic.oup.com. (n.d.).

Available at: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/110/2/273/5512720

Accessed on October 3, 2019

7) Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, May 24, 2017, Why It's So Hard to Give Up Cheese. Available at: https://www.forksoverknives.com/addictive-food-cheese-pizza/#gs.7m11mk

Accessed on October 3, 2019

8) World Wildlife Fund, Dairy. (n.d.). Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/dairy

Accessed on October 2, 2019

9) Gross, A. S. (2018, November 28). One in six pints of milk thrown away each year, study shows. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/one-in-six-pints-of-milk-thrown-away-each-year-study-shows

Accessed on October 1, 2019

10) ​Dairy cattle production in Canada: Dairy cows: Dairy products. (n.d.).

Available at: https://spca.bc.ca/programs-services/farm-animal-programs/farm-animal-production/dairy-cattle/

Accessed on October 2, 2019

11) 5) Michaelsson, K et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. BMJ. 2014.⁣ ⁣ Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6015

Accessed on October 2, 2019.

12) Jiang, W et al. Dairy foods intake and risk of Parkinson’s disease: a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2014.⁣ ⁣Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24894826

Accessed on October 1, 2019

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