In My Story, I touched upon how when I moved from a vegetarian diet, to eating a complete plant-based diet, it meant removing eggs, chicken and dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat sour cream and lastly CHEESE from my food choices. In total honesty it was the cheese that was the hardest for me to give up, but after seeing Forks Over Knives, reading The China Study, and researching the “why” behind my “addiction” I truly understood that I needed to give it up. When I finally did, I lost 20 pounds, in a manner of a few weeks.
When I ate dairy, I felt bloated, and my digestion, well, made me feel uncomfortable. I always had this “full feeling” behind by breastbone that is just hard to explain. I used to take antacid, but I didn’t want to do that anymore, so, for a while I started taking a daily essential digestive aid enzyme that did make me feel better. When I read the bottle today, it says: “take one or two capsules if the meal is very high in fat or protein”… well looking back at that time I had already taken fat out of my diet and other than the milk products: cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese the only other protein I was consuming was plant-based protein …. At the time, I thought dairy was supposed to be a healthy way to get calcium and protein. But when I stopped the dairy my digestive problems went away. So the culprit had to be the milk protein.
For years, my daughter (who was married in August!) struggled with acne. Once she went Vegan and off dairy (she was highly motivated to get off all dairy immediately) her outbreaks disappeared. Recently, she attended a conference at which meals were provided. Even in progressive Portland, OR, sometimes the hotel caterers don’t understand that Vegan means no milk, no cheese, no ranch dressing, no butter — “NO DAIRY.” Well apparently some dairy must have been “added” to the sauce they poured over her steamed vegetables because the very next day she had a huge, painful outbreak on her chest and back. She was so uncomfortable and knew immediately it was from something she had eaten the day before.
I got another first hand experience of what milk can do to the body when chatting with my son this morning when he called me from India (he graduated from Trinity College last May!). For the past few months he has been participating in a medical internship. (Calls from India are always a BIG boost to my day!) Being Vegan in India has been difficult although it is very easy for him to be Vegetarian. For the short time he is there he has made the choice to eat Vegetarian basically because of needing to add milk back into his diet. It is really hard to avoid dairy in the majority of the foods he is offered at his homestay, etc. Also, in India it is very common for people to meet up with you for tea or invite you to their home and make you a delicious Indian Spiced Tea which contains about 1 cup of steamed milk. He laughingly told me it has also been very funny when he asks for black coffee. He has gotten many “versions” none of which are black – just a variation of black coffee with some amount of steamed milk added. When he first arrived, he thought he would just politely decline when he visited homes and tea was offered. But his hosts didn’t understand, and he received very sad faces because they thought they had offended him in some way. So, he told me “I’ve gained some weight, and I know exactly why. It’s been a great first-hand experiment to see how my body reacts to the reintroduction of milk; and when I get back home, I’ll get back on track.”
When I read The China Study, I learned that the protein casein—which is what makes up 87% of cow’s milk, is the protein that promotes all stages of the cancer process. And that increasing the intake of casein intake promotes cancer. Besides the fact that cheese has cholesterol and high saturated fat, that got my attention.
I started researching more about casein, and I was shocked to learn that in the 1980s researchers discovered that casein actually breaks down into casomorphin when it is digested. This produces an opiate effect. So cheese actually contains trace amounts of morphine. This morphine, found in a mother cow’s milk, is what ensures her offspring will bond with her. That is natural for cows and their offspring. Also, the milk the calf drinks enables it to grow from about 70 pounds to 500 pounds in 205 days! Stop and do the math. 430 pounds in 205 days calculates to 2.09756 pounds – a day! Doesn’t that alone just blow your mind? Cows milk is designed for its offspring to grow very quickly and be able to fend for itself in less than a year. Truly understanding what this means it’s apparent that cow’s milk, in any form, is not for human consumption. We don’t need to gain 430 pounds in 205 days!
Because cheese has the highest concentration of casein than any of the other dairy products, it’s no wonder people feel that they could never give up cheese. Because the casein in cheese is so concentrated, so is the level of casomorphins and so as the body breaks down the cheese during digestion it has an opiate affect on your body… relaxed, happy and content, and addicted. Just like sugar, just like cigarettes, just like drugs, cheese keeps calling us back to more and more. So if you feel you are just crazy about cheese, the fact is you’re hooked on cheese.
I was hooked on cheese.
And just like any addiction, although I knew it was a horrible and harmful food for my body, it was hard to give it up cold turkey. Homemade cheese rolls were just so yummy. So, in complete honesty, I actually weaned myself away from cheese. Being money conscious, it’s always hard for me to throw out … anything … so I know that I finished off what I had in the fridge which was probably the last of a brick of sharp cheddar cheese, the last couple of boxes of Laughing Cow Cheese, and at least one of those 3 oz chunks of Feta cheese I used to put on my “healthy” salads. But once it was gone I have never eaten or purchased cheese again.
For a while, I looked for a cheese replacement and tried some of the vegan cheeses; but I have yet to find one that has a good texture. And quite honestly, it’s so expensive I’d rather spend my money on something really healthy like avocados.
If you do try some of the “non-dairy” brands, be careful because many of the vegetarian cheeses contain casein! Even some varieties at great stores like Trader Joe’s. Truly?! Go figure! I’ve been tripped up a couple of times, and I’m a great ingredient reader. If you do, don’t hesitate to take it back.
So, when I do feel I’d like that “cheesy” flavor on my homemade pizza, or on a baked potato, or on my bowl of homemade chili, or in some recipes like my homemade mac and cheese (which I enjoy occasionally on a cold, rainy winter day) my cheesy flavor replacement is Nutritional Yeast. For me, it’s the perfect “cheesy” taste to hit the spot.
It’s been almost two years now since I stopped eating cheese, and I can honestly say I really don’t miss it. I feel so, so much better. And with all the wonderful spices and herbs and balsamic vinegars and tapenade and pesto sauces (vegan) to savor – oh, and I love, love, love the different flavors of homemade hummus (I make a delicious hummus veggie pizza) – I don’t have time to miss it. And when I dine out, it’s not hard to ask my waiter or waitress to please hold the cheese to make a Vegetarian dish Vegan. I’m truly glad I’ve become more adventurous as well as healthy.