Growing up, I didn’t really like milk all that much, but was always told to drink it because “it’s good for you”. Everybody seemed to think it was the best thing you could possibly consume, and in Sweden, dairy is abundant. Most people eat some form of milk product (yogurt, creme fraiche, sour milk, etc.), cheese and butter every day, along with other full-fat super salty dairy products (my husband, who is American, thinks it’s really funny to see ads for butter where they proudly announce that there is now even more salt in it than it was before). How everybody stays so thin is a mystery…
But it’s not just in Sweden that dairy is portrayed as fabulously healthy: you’ve seen the ads here in the US with the (in my opinion disgusting) milk moustaches. But, is milk (or dairy in general) all that great for humans?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer to this. There are many arguments both for and against, many contradictory. Here’s an example:
- Provides calcium
- Contains lots of vitamins and other nutrients (which can help with weight loss)
- Milk can help lessen the risk of coronary heart disease
- Drinking cow’s milk contributes to osteoporosis. According to Julian Whitaker, MD “dairy products, because of their high protein content, promote calcium loss”
- Adds lots of cholesterol and saturated fat to the diet. Frank Oski, MD said “The drinking of cow milk has been linked to iron-deficiency anemia in infants and children”. Catherine Berkey of Harvard Medical School found in a longitudinal study that “Children who drank the most milk gained more weight. Contrary to our hypotheses, dietary calcium and skim and 1% milk were associated with weight gain”
- Milk proteins, sugar, and saturated fat in dairy products are unhealthy and contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, allergies and obesity. A study by Dr Johanna Paronen at the University of Helsinki, Finland found that “exposure early in life to cow’s milk may increase the lifetime risk of developing diabetes in high risk children”. Dr. Kurt Esselbacher states “Homogenized milk, because of its XO content (an enzyme), is one of the major causes of heart disease in the U.S.”
Pretty confusing, and they are all credible sources.
I started looking into this because I have an extremely health-conscious (vegan) friend who has been telling me for years I should stop eating dairy because of all my allergies. She says a lot of people blame food (and other) allergies on milk. But I love cheese, used to eat it several times every day, needed milk in my tea and cereal and butter on my sandwiches, and could not imagine giving it up. Then, this winter, I got the worst eczema ever on my hands (I usually get a little once the temperatures drop in the fall, but this was off the charts) – they looked like they had been severely burned and it hurt.
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I usually try to stay away from “western” medicines, so I tried all my usual natural creams and waited for the warm weather to arrive (which usually gets rid of it), but even that didn’t help. So I went online in search for other natural ways to cure it. Again and again, I came upon forums and articles about how quitting dairy had cured peoples eczema completely, and quickly too. I decided to completely stop my dairy consumption for a few weeks and see what happened.
Well, the eczema got better almost immediately, but I also started feeling better than I had in years. The nightly heartburn was gone, I felt “lighter”, my joints move more easily, and to my surprise, once I figured out what to replace all that dairy with, I didn’t miss it all that much. I also lost a lot of weight, which I didn’t expect at all (I wasn’t overweight to begin with, but had admittedly gained a few post-40 pounds over the past few years), but since I can now fit into summer clothes I haven’t been able to wear in years, that was a very welcome side effect! I will not give up cheese for good, but I can honestly say that knowing now how much better I feel without it, cheese will be a rare treat, and only on special occasions. And milk, forget it.
Did it get rid of the eczema? No. I was going through an extremely stressful time in my life this spring (stress makes it worse), and ended up having to use a steroid cream for a few nights to get my hands to heal. But it certainly helped. And I’ll be interested to see what happens this winter since I have now been off dairy almost completely for 4 months, and by then, it will be 7-8 months.
I’m still working on how to replace all that calcium and other nutrients I used to OD on daily, butI’m sure I’ll get there eventually. It’s been kind of fun coming up with new vegan and dairy-free recipes and re-vamp old ones. And I’ve made some new great discoveries: I now use Coconut creamer in my ice coffee, rice milk on my cereal (I like it better than milk actually) and Earth Balance (soy-free) instead of butter (the color is slightly off-putting, but it tastes fine). I’m still looking for a good vegan cheese for those times when you really want pizza (have tried a few, but they have all been less than appealing, plus I’m not sure if my soy allergy is gone or not). I’ll review it here when I find one.
For some vegan and/or dairy-free recipes (note: I’m not a vegan – I do eat honey, fish and shellfish occasionally), check out Pasta with Carrot Sauce, Tortilla Rollups, Chickpea Burgers – and more to come!