Even before Sean and I (Veronika) got married, we were eating most meals together simply because we were spending the day together in the first place. Over time, our food tastes and preferences naturally shifted and became more synchronized – I learned to love fish, while Sean learned about the joys of the hundreds of types of vegetables that are out there. So when Sean gave up cow’s milk around 2011, it became normal for me to consume the alternatives that he had whenever I was visiting his house… so these included almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and rice milk. It made no difference to me really at first. I mean, milk is milk… right?
It was then that I became aware of a horrible truth – dairy (cow) milk is not actually the only healthy choice out there! Even scarier, it may pose some serious risks to your health. Cows these days are pumped full of things like hormones and other chemicals, which may pose serious risks to your health.
Granted, there are benefits to consuming dairy, including calcium and potassium. “Milk contains a big package of nutrients that are especially important to bone health,” says Connie M. Weaver, PhD, director of the nutrition department at Purdue University. “People who don’t drink milk tend to be deficient in them. So it makes good sense to encourage people to consume dairy products”. But the thing that we need to remember is that dairy is NOT the only option out there if getting your recommended daily dose of calcium and potassium. It is, however, by far the most popular.
The USDA’s dietary guidelines increased the recommended servings of milk from two to three cups a day back in 2005. In 2010, they released the latest guidelines, which repeat that advice. They specifically urge everyone to consume more fat-free or low-fat milk and other related dairy products… so they are obviously pro-dairy.
The USDA’s recommendations are based on the fact that milk is a prime source for three essential nutrients: calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (which is added to fortified milk). However, as beverages go, milk is actually relatively high in calories. For example, one cup of 2% milk has 138 calories! Drinking three cups a day adds 366 calories to the diet – and that is a lot for anyone who is watching their weight!
Individuals often drink milk in order to obtain vitamin D in their diets, unaware that they can receive vitamin D through other sources. Without vitamin D, only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium is absorbed. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and no dairy products naturally contain this vitamin. Therefore, fortified cereals, grains, bread, orange juice, and soy or rice milk exist as options for providing vitamin D through the diet. Supplements are also available.
Dairy products – including cheese, ice cream, milk, butter, and yogurt – also contribute significant amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat to the diet. A plant-based, low-fat diet that eliminates dairy products, in combination with exercise, not smoking and stress management, can not only prevent heart disease, but may also help reverse it.
But a lot of people aren’t willing to change their dairy-consuming ways. This is ok! Consuming a cup or two of milk or equivalent dairy is fine. The point isn’t that you have to give up dairy. But it’s also important for people to know that they don’t have to drink milk to be healthy.
People who are lactose intolerant, of course, can’t easily drink milk. For them, and for people who don’t choose to drink milk, it is important to favor other sources of calcium. Examples include lactose-free dairy, and leafy green vegetables such as collards, spinach and bok choy, beans, and calcium-fortified orange juice or soy milk, and vegetables.
It’s also wise to make sure you’re getting adequate potassium, which is abundant in tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables.
So after learning all of this (and realizing that it had been the dairy I was consuming that had been upsetting my stomach for years), both Sean and I thought it would be pretty groovy to give up our dairy-consuming habits. And you know what? We haven’t even looked back.