If there is one thing that I am passionate about in my journey toward a healthier lifestyle, it has been about taking responsibility for my own health; and now I hope that I can share with others what I have learned, what I am learning. There is a wealth of information out there, but most of us just don’t have the time to weed through all of it. It’s valuable information. It will save lives…maybe yours.
In My Story, I touched upon how when I moved from a vegetarian diet, to eating a complete plant-based diet, it meant giving up eggs, chicken and dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, low-fat sour cream and lastly CHEESE.
Many people are skeptical about eliminating dairy from their diet. But believe, me there are really several compelling reasons to do so, and it is something I am pretty passionate about sharing so that others understand why it should be eliminated. Dairy lactose has been associated with ischemic heart disease, number 1 of the top 10 diseases in America! Also there is an association between high-growth-promoting foods such as dairy (I go into this in more detail below) and cancer. There is a clear association between consuming milk and bladder, prostate, colorectal, and testicular cancers. Dairy fat is loaded with toxins and is the primary source of our exposure to dioxin (a highly toxic chemical compound which causes many types of cancer). And it has been found that cheese, among other things, is actually a powerful inducer of acid load, which increases calcium loss. So it makes dairy a poor choice for obtaining calcium! That’s not the information I was taught when growing up. But I know now; and when you know better, you do better. And I feel better! (see article by Dr. Joel Fuhrman ).
Amongst my acquaintances, family, friends, and clients, when they ask me about my plant-strong diet-style; giving up cheese is the number 1 reason, they tell me that they could never commit to a plant-based, or vegan diet. The exact words, every time are: “I could never give up cheese!”
In complete honesty, cheese was the hardest dairy product 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 why I had to give it up. When I finally did,I lost 20 pounds, in a manner of a few weeks! And I have not gained that weight back in nearly 3 years. That right there is pretty compelling to me!
When dairy was a part of my diet, 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 for a while did make me feel better. At the time, I didn’t realize it was the dairy products that was causing the problem. Today, when I read the digestive aid enzyme bottle it says: “take one or two capsules if the meal is very high in fat or protein.”
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, like most of us are brought up to believe, I thought dairy was supposed to be healthy for us, the way to get our calcium and also protein. But when I stopped consuming dairy, my digestive problems went away.
Eureka: the culprit had to be the milk protein.
For years, my daughter 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 had to have been 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 when he called me from India (here he is when I visited him in Glasgow, Scotland). He was living in India participating in a medical internship from September to January. For Sean, eating a Vegan diet in India was difficult although it was very easy for him to be Vegetarian. For the short time he was there, he made the choice to eat Vegetarian basically because of the need to add milk back into his diet. It was really hard to avoid dairy in the majority of the foods he was 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 was also very funny when he asked for black coffee. When he did, he got many “versions” none of which were “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 about the protein called casein which makes up 87% of cow’s milk. It is the protein that promotes all stages of the cancer process and increasing the intake of casein 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 (made with whole-grain flour) 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.
Over time, I realized that it was ok for me not to have cheese on a lot of my dishes like I used to with “real cheese.” But I do like it occasionally and so I’ve tried some various vegan (non-dairy, milk-free, casein-free) alternatives on the market. The top four I choose are: Tofutti Cheese, Daiya Cheese, Vegan Gourmet, by Follow Your Heart, and Go Veggie!
If you do try some of the “non-dairy” brands, be careful because many vegetarian cheeses contain casein! Even some varieties at great stores like Trader Joe’s. Truly?! Go figure! They add it because it makes their product melt. I’ve been tripped up a couple of times, and I’m a great ingredient reader. If that happens, don’t hesitate to take it back!
Most of the time, when I 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. The last purchase I made was when I visited Whole Foods Market, in Hillsboro, OR. For me, it’s the perfect “cheesy” taste to hit the spot.
It’s been almost three 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.
So, here are my 5 take away-tips:
- Discontinue or wean off dairy products, especially cheese.
- In the U.S., lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance among children and adults.
- You do not need dairy products to get sufficient calcium (an inducer of acid load, it actually increases calcium loss).
- You do not need dairy products for protein (1 oz of cheese, has 6 grams of artery clogging fat).
- Try a cheesy flavor alternative. Nutritional Yeast is a wonderful way to add that cheesy flavor your favorite recipes. Or try one of the great non-dairy, milk-free, vegan cheese alternatives out on the market to see which you like best. The top four I choose: Tofutti , Daiya Foods, Vegan Gourmet, by Follow Your Heart, and Go Veggie