I followed a lacto-vegetarian diet for fifteen years before I was willing to seriously consider life without dairy. Michio Kushi, one of the country's leading macrobiotics teachers, suggested that dairy products were contributing to several of my health problems, including serious digestive difficulties, endometriosis and a chronic candida yeast infection. At this point, I was ready to try anything, even giving up feta cheese and yogurt!
Only two months after eliminating all dairy products and following a more balanced vegan diet, most of my symptoms magically disappeared and others diminished dramatically. I was convinced! However, I was left wondering exactly how dairy products contribute to health problems.
Kushi cites casein, the protein in dairy products, as the culprit. Because it is not easily absorbed, it accumulates undigested in the upper intestine, producing toxins and leading to a weakening of body systems and an increase in mucous deposits. He theorizes that the body attempts to isolate this excess, creating cysts and tumors. In addition, these deposits can accumulate in the kidney and gall bladder, leading to stones. Kushi also believes that dairy products are a major contributor to endometriosis, infertility and systemic yeast infections.
But don't we need to consume dairy products to get sufficient calcium? According to Kushi, dairy products like milk and cheese can actually draw calcium from bones and teeth. This is because dairy consumption produces an excess of protein in the body. Excess protein causes an acidic condition requiring an alkaline buffer, calcium, to neutralize it. Thus, the body's attempt to balance high protein, acid-forming foods depletes calcium reserves from our bones.
Herman Aihara, another well-respected macrobiotic teacher, believed that cow's milk is unsuitable for human consumption for several reasons. First, milk is highly processed, containing many chemical additives such as antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and preservatives. Second, milk is high in saturated fats, predisposing us to cholesterol deposits in the arteries. Finally, the protein in cow's milk is seven times larger than human milk protein, causing digestive problems.
John Robbins, author of Diet for New America, agrees. In his book he states, " Dairy cattle are fed such 'delicacies' as sawdust laced with ammonia and feathers, shredded newspaper (complete with all the toxic colored ink from Sunday comics and advertising circulars), 'plastic hay,' processed sewage, tallow and grease, poultry litter, cement dust, and cardboard scraps, not to mention the insecticides, antibiotics, hormones and tranquilizers." Creamy, white dairy products are not as pure and wholesome as they appear.
The Western medical establishment is now confirming the connection between dairy consumption and illness. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has concluded that milk, cheese, butter and yogurt contribute to diseases such as cancer, allergies, digestive problems and heart disease.
There are many healthy alternatives to dairy products. For calcium, try eating dark leafy greens such as broccoli, collards, kale and bok choy. Other good sources are beans, sesame seeds, sea vegetables, tofu and soy beverages. To satisfy the desire for rich foods, choose seed and nut butters, oil-sautéed vegetables and tofu dressings. Natural food stores sell non-dairy sour cream, butter, cheese and ice cream. Lastly, Amasake, a sweet rice drink, makes a delicious "milkshake."
Whether you are experiencing health problems or would simply like to eat for optimal health, there are a wide variety of delicious, dairy-free foods to choose from. Here is one of my favorite recipes to help you get started on the road to greater well-being.
-excerpted from Lenore's Natural Cuisine cookbook
This quick, high-calcium spread is a memorable alternative to margarine or butter. High in protein and low in fat, it can be plopped on salad instead of cheese. Try it as a substitute for cream cheese on a bagel.
1/2 pound soft tofu
1. Steam tofu for 4 minutes.
Add a pinch of dried oregano, basil, thyme or dill to step #3.