Growing up I was the biggest milk consumer. I would drink it with basically every meal and would eat ice cream almost daily (and then wash it down with a glass of milk, of course). I’d spread butter all over my waffles and went through a serious bagel and cream cheese phase, too. At the time, I did not think much of my love affair with dairy. I thought I felt fine after eating it, and never thought twice about the fact that my “naturally rosy cheeks” might actually be red due to some underlying inflammation. My muscles would be sore for days after my softball and field hockey practices, but I thought that this was normal because I was working hard, and not potentially due to the inflammatory foods I was eating.
Source: NIH Genetics Home Reference
Lactose intolerance in infancy resulting from congenital lactase deficiency is a rare disorder. Its incidence is unknown. This condition is most common in Finland, where it affects an estimated 1 in 60,000 newborns.
Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Lactose intolerance in adulthood is most prevalent in people of East Asian descent, affecting more than 90 percent of adults in some of these communities. Lactose intolerance is also very common in people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent.
The prevalence of lactose intolerance is lowest in populations with a long history of dependence on unfermented milk products as an important food source. For example, only about 5 percent of people of Northern European descent are lactose intolerant.
Flash forward to my transition to plant-based eating. The more whole-foods, plant based by diet became, the less red my “naturally rosy” cheeks became. I noticed that I was recovering more quickly from my workouts and that I could train longer and harder with less fatigue. The times that I would be eating out and my food would be cross contaminated with dairy without me knowing it (this was before I learned how important it is to double check with the waiter about ingredients in my order), I would go home and have terrible headaches, bloating, stomach aches, and sinus pressure. This was surprising to me because I had eaten so much dairy for most of my life and never had these symptoms.
The way I conceptualize what happened to me after eating dairy during the earlier days of my plant-based lifestyle, was that since my body was becoming less chronically inflamed overall, the more occasional inflammatory assaults (in this case in the form of dairy) would stimulate an immune response. When I was eating dairy several times a day, everyday (along with lots of other animal products), my body existed in a low-grade, chronically inflamed state. My body was constantly working as if was having to fight off some kind of foreign invader because in some sense, it was.
Saturated fats found in meat, dairy, and egg products carry endotoxins. Endotoxins come from bacteria found in these animal products, and they are not destroyed in cooking. Endotoxins are unique in that they can cross the gut barrier and enter in the blood stream where an immune response is mounted to cause inflammation in our arteries. Inflammation within our arteries in conjunction with exogenous (ingested) cholesterol can give rise to atherosclerosis and the development of cardiovascular disease. (Erridge, 2011). Saturated fats found in all animal products have also been shown to give rise to insulin resistance, can cause the accumulation of toxic breakdown by products of muscles, and give rise to free radicals that cause inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction.
“Casein [the main protein of cow’s milk] is the most relevant chemical carcinogen ever identified…Casein causes cancer.”T. Colin Campbell, Phd, Author of The China Study
It’s not like eating dairy is good for your bones or your longevity either. In this meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies, it was found that milk consumption was not associated with a protective benefit from bone or hip fractures in middle-aged or older adults. In this recent study that followed more than 100,000 people for two decades, the researchers found a potential increase in bone and hip fracture rates in women consuming dairy. They also found an increased risk of premature death, heart disease, and cancer for each additional glass of milk drank per day. Consumption of just three glasses a day is associated with nearly twice the rate of early death.
I only learned about these dairy consumption health drawbacks, among others, after I had already decided to go plant-based. What ultimately stopped me from consuming dairy was the environmental and ethical implications. If you are curious, you can check out my Why I Am More Than Just Plant-Based post I wrote awhile back.
Plant-based alternatives to dairy products have gotten so good in the past few years. You can get everything from plant-based milks, cheeses, yogurts, and yes, even ice cream! My best friend from high school actually decided to try a plant-based diet after she tried one of my fairy non-dairy ice creams and was blown away by how good it was and how little she missed her dairy ice cream. If you would like me to do a round-up of my favorite dairy alternatives, just let me know in the comments below!
If you are curious to learn more about the power of a whole-food, plant based diet, check out my resources page for some of my favorite books and websites.
Disclaimer: I am a naturopathic medical student, not a licensed physician. The opinions expressed are my own, and do not reflect the opinions of the entire naturopathic doctor community. Nothing on my blog is intended to be taken as medical advice. Always consult a licensed physician before making any lifestyle or dietary changes.