For as long as I can remember, I have been told that dairy products are an essential part of a healthy diet. However, there is a lot of evidence that proves this is not the case. In fact, it seems that it you really want to be healthy, cutting down on dairy (or even better, cutting it out completely) is one of the best things you can do. If this sounds crazy to you, I don't blame you - our whole lives we are bombarded with messages that we need dairy to build strong bones and teeth. Mothers gasp when you tell them you're no longer drinking milk - how will you get calcium? Aren't you worried about getting osteoporosis? But not to worry - here are 3 good reasons to cut down on dairy, including answers to the big calcium and osteoporosis question.
1) Animal Welfare.
Dairy cows are often portrayed as living healthy lives grazing in green, wide open pastures, in the fresh air and sunlight. While this may be true in some cases, it is more the exception these days. The reality is that these animals live only a fraction of their lifespan due to the immense stress on their bodies from constantly being pregnant and lactating, and when they are no longer producing milk they are usually slaughtered and used for fast food burger meat. Not to mention their calves are either taken to join the dairy herd (females) or used for veal or low-grade meat, or killed (males). Like all mammals, cows only produce milk in response to giving birth. So to keep up with demand the cows are kept in a near constant cycle of being pregnant and lactating while pregnant, which causes them huge metabolic stress. To ensure that the maximum amount of milk can be used for human consumption, the calves are taken away as soon as an hour from when they are born, denying the mother her maternal instincts and causing extreme stress to both mother and calf.
There is also the practice of inducing labour prematurely to suit the dairy farmer's milking schedule, and it has been revealed that Fonterra (the largest dairy company in New Zealand) uses this practice, despite the company having said it is opposed to it. Other ways that a dairy cow's health suffers are from mastitis (a painful infection in their udder) and lameness, which is a painful foot infection – both common conditions for dairy cows. It is sickening to think that companies in New Zealand were trying to get land consent for massive dairy farming sheds where cows would be housed in cubicles at high-density (up to 16 dairy farms with 17850 cows housed in cubicles). Thankfully at this point this is not going forward, and it would only cause more extreme problems in terms of animal welfare. Unfortunately due to the increasing demand for milk products I’m sure there will be a time in the near future where this comes up again. Unfortunately, factory dairy farming is already common in some countries, including the United States.
2) Environmental Impact.
This is one I am not going to focus on as much in this post, although it is definitely a very important issue. To put it simply, dairy farming is environmentally damaging and unsustainable. It causes pollution of soil, water and air by nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilister used for feed-crops and from manure, contributes to global warming through its emission of greenhouse gasses, uses excessive amounts of water, over-uses antibiotics and contributes to deforestation for growing animal feed.
3) Human Health Impact.
After infancy, humans don't need milk. Anyone who is getting paid by a dairy company will surely argue this, but it is really an obvious fact. Milk is something that is produced by mammals for their babies, and when babies begin to eat solid food, they don't go back to drinking milk - except for humans. Cow’s milk is heavily marketed as being extremely healthy for humans (just think of all the commercials for milk, yogurt, cheese and ads that feature celebrities and athletes with their creepy milk moustaches) but it is becoming more well-known that this is not necessarily the case. Here is an excerpt from an article on the website The Wellness Warrior that explains this well:
"Humans can’t digest dairy properly. Because cow’s milk is not designed to be consumed by humans, a lot of us actually have trouble digesting it. Humans lose the enzyme needed to digest lactose (the sugar found in milk) between the ages of two and five. Being able to digest milk is so abnormal that scientists say we shouldn’t really call lactose intolerance a disease, because that presumes it’s abnormal. Instead, they call it lactase persistence, indicating what’s really weird is the ability to continue to drink milk. When undigested, the sugars from dairy end up in the colon, where they begin to ferment, producing gas that can cause cramping, bloating, nausea, flatulence and diarrhoea." Jessica Ainscough, www.thewellnesswarrior.com.au
Cow’s milk also contains substances that can harm the health of a human being- such as hormones, growth factors and high amounts of saturated fat. Further to this, milk is also known to contain antibiotics, pesticide residues and even pus cells due to high rates of mastitis commonly seen in cows subjected to high-density farming practices. (In the United States, as long as a liter of milk contains less than 100 million pus cells it can be legally sold). The dairy industry is obviously bias in their claims that cow’s milk is essential for our calcium needs. According to Amy Lanou Ph. D. who is the nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C.,
"the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk and have the most calcium in their diets. The connection between calcium consumption and bone health is actually very weak, and the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost nonexistent."
On top of all of this, dairy is also highly processed, and if you would like more information on why this is a problem, read up on pasteurization and homogenization: pasteurization and homogenization. So if you don't drink milk or eat dairy products, where do you get your calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients that we are told we NEED to get from milk? Don't worry, because these nutrients are widely available from other foods that are generally much healthier. You probably already have many of them in your diet. In terms of calcium, you can read my article on getting enough calcium in your diet without dairy products:Ways to Get Enough Calcium in Your Diet Without Dairy as well as this fantastic article 40 Vegan Calcium Sources.
* As a side note, consuming a small amount of unsweetened, natural, fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and even sour cream can have many health benefits, especially yogurt.
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