Most of us grew up thinking that milk and dairy products were good for us. We have been taught that they were important for our health but especially to develop strong bones and teeth. Our government policies are still promoting dairy products as part of a healthy diet, but it’s mainly for economic reasons –not to protect us. The countries with the highest dairy consumption actually have the highest rates of osteoporosis. The reality is that milk and dairy products are not necessary to remain healthy neither to have strong bones.
First, let’s clarify something. Milk is nature’s perfect food –for babies. They’re the ones for whom it is produced. Then, babies grow up and start to eat solid foods. Beyond a certain age, we naturally start to lose the digestive enzymes that are required to fully digest and absorb the milk, as we don’t need milk anymore but a healthy and varied diet. Animals, in the wild, will stop drinking milk and will naturally start to eat what’s appropriate for them. Humans are the only species that keep dairy products in their diet and that consume milk from other species.
We also have to understand that the milk we have today is completely different than the milk that was consumed many years ago. Before, people were drinking raw milk, and the milk was coming from local, and healthy cows. Today, our milk is homogenized and pasteurized which destroys all the nutrients, enzymes and good bacteria present in the milk. Our milk also comes from unhealthy cows that have been given antibiotics, growth hormones and have been fed with genetically modified food, which goes in the milk we drink. There is also a lot of estrogen in cow’s milk, due to pregnancy, that can affect us hormonally.
On the ethical side, it’s extremely sad and frustrating. Most dairy cows live in terrible and inhumane conditions. They will never go outside or eat what they were intended to eat. Conventional dairy calves are removed from their mothers immediately after birth, creating a lot of fear and stress for both the mother and the baby. The male calves are not needed so they are sent to the veal industry. Cows can normally live up to 20 years, but they are sent to the slaughterhouse before they turn five. Cows are emotional beings, and it has been well established that they can feel pain, fear, hunger, and thirst.
As far as health is concerned, cow’s milk is hard to digest and is the main allergen in children, causing digestive problems, ear infections, asthma, and eczema. Dairy products are mucous and acid-forming, as well as being inflammatory to the body, leading to different health problems such as congestion, constipation, acne, cramps, bloating, Crohn’s disease, joint pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, infertility and even cardiovascular diseases, as well as prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer. Because they are acid forming –just like other protein rich foods –they may contribute to calcium loss, as the body needs calcium to neutralize acidity in the body.
If you still want to keep dairy products in your diet, I highly recommend to get whole, organic, grass-fed products and eat them in small amounts or only occasionally. If you can find raw dairy products, it’s even better. Think quality rather than quantity. Avoid what’s highly processed and what has added sugars or artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or colorings. Fat-free products aren’t better as they are even more processed, they are not satisfying, and they are usually higher in sugars. Fats are also needed to absorb vitamin D, which is crucial for calcium utilization.
Remember that to have strong bones, you don’t only need calcium, but you also need magnesium and vitamin D. All of our precious alkaline minerals can be found in plant foods such as nondairy milk, kale, collard, almonds, chia seeds, tahini, and figs. We don’t need dairy products to remain healthy but a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet that consists mainly of whole, clean, and fresh foods.