Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Got Milk?

I will start this post with a confession:  I love dairy. I am especially enamoured with artisan cheeses, including clothbound cheddar, gouda, brie, and camembert. Actually, the only cheese I'm not fond of are those processed squares of shiny orangeness that are supposed to be cheese slices, and blue cheese (although I do enjoy it when used to complement a meat dish).  I'll drink the occasional glass of milk and have been known to make a homemade batch of yogurt on occasion. Ice cream is, of course, an indulgence during the summer months.  

Yes, I think most of us would agree ice cream is an indulgence right?  It's hardly the poster child for health, given its high fat content and the added sugar. Ice cream has been labelled the 'black sheep' of the dairy family, while skim milk and yogurt have received rave reviews and accolades for their health benefits.  We all know the ad series where celebrities with carefully applied milk moustaches stare at us, a caption reading 'Got Milk?' there to give us a friendly reminder that we need to meet our daily dairy needs if we are to be strong and healthy.

Well, I'm here to call out ALL dairy for what it is: an indulgence.  Dairy is no more a dietary need than popsicles or Fruit Loops.  We have been led to believe that dairy is the almost-perfect food,  a holy grail of nutrition. Parents are reminded (or is it reprimanded) by government, by health practitioners, and by magazine ads (funded by the Milk Marketing Board, of course) that kids, in particular, need milk if they are to grow and have strong bones. Amongst its many apparent benefits, milk serves as a great source of protein, vitamin D, and calcium. Calcium is, of course, the star nutrient of milk. In fact,  I bet if you asked the average person to name three sources of calcium, they'd say milk, cheese and yogurt! 

I haven't the time nor, to be quite frank, the in-depth knowledge to provide an scholarly rebuttal of the claims made on dairy's behalf, however, I will attempt to provide some food for thought that I hope you will take into account if seeking ways to better your health or that of your children.


I will concede that milk contains calcium and that calcium is an important mineral for humans.

The problem is that the pasteurization of milk destroys some of the calcium in milk and, more notably, the accompanying enzymes that are necessary for the calcium to be absorbed into the body. Skim milk that is pasteurized is the worst source of calcium because it also lacks fat that would aid in the body's absorption of calcium.  

In short, if you actually care to about your calcium intake you have to look beyond the calcium content in a food and examine whether the calcium from that food will be readily absorbed.

Oh, I convinced you already? You were only taking in dairy for the calcium and now that you see it's not a great source of calcium, you want to give it up and seek out foods that are high in calcium which will be better absorbed by the body?  Wonderful! 

And you want me to suggest some such foods?  Sure! The best sources of dietary calcium include sesame seeds, salmon (with bones), walnuts, green leafy vegetables, almonds and beef.  Raw dairy products (i.e. not pasteurized) are also a good source of calcium but illegal in many parts of North America.  


When I use the word allergen, I am referring to food intolerances and sensitivities.  Most people are aware of the term 'lactose intolerant' and consider this to mean a person who is unable to digest lactose (a sugar in milk and most dairy products) due to a lack of an enzyme called lactase, which is needed for digestion of lactose. Intolerance to a protein called casein can also cause dairy intolerance.   

The problem with labeling something as an allergy or intolerance is that people are convinced they will surely know if they have an allergic reaction. If we are thinking of allergies to food as we do to a bee sting or pollen, we would imagine that the symptoms of a food allergy would be sudden and obvious.  This, however, is not the case. While some people will have severe reactions to consuming a food, such as dairy, many reactions to food allergies take place within the body and are assumed to be normal, albeit uncomfortable, bodily experiences such as headaches, congestion, bloating, skin problems, and so on.  

Convinced of their allergy-free status, most people don't even consider taking a break from dairy to see if their general health improves with the removal of this food group. One presumes they are just prone to acne or susceptible to headaches and that bloating is a normal consequence of eating. 

As this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I'm not going to provide you with all of the facts regarding milk intolerance, but certainly a simple google search of 'dairy intolerance' will turn up plenty of reasonably reliable sources that suggests dairy intolerance is much, much more common than most of us would expect. One site I landed on suggested that 75 percent of ALL people have an intolerance to dairy at some level.  The rates of intolerance are highest amongst those ethnicities/populations that have not historically consumed diary, such as Asians and Africans, while those of Northen European descent may be slightly less intolerant, although I would propose that as we age, our intolerance for dairy will increase and, with it, the damage we do to our internal systems every time we indulge in cheese, milk, etc.

Curious as to whether, in fact, that stuffed up nose of yours is the result of too many nights with Ben & Jerry's?  There are a few ways to determine if you are intolerant to a specific food or group of foods. The expensive (but easier) way is to get an allergen test done. You may be surprised to discover that you have sensitivities to foods you've eaten in large quantities throughout the course of your life and foods that you only occasionally consume.  There is another way, however, to test for food intolerances and that's by doing an elimination diet. It will require a temporary elimination of many of the foods you probably love, which also just happen to be the most common sources of allergens, including wheat (gluten), dairy,  sugar and yeast.  

There are plenty of sources on the internet to help guide you in an elimination diet.  It's not easy, but if you can do it, your body may reap the benefits for years to come.   Be aware that often times the foods we most crave are actually the ones we are allergic too. This results from the production of endogenous opiods in the body when there is a food reaction.


This is my third and, admittedly, weakest argument against dairy.  Yes, that's right, the possible connection between dairy and cancer is my weakest argument. This is not to dismiss the seriousness of cancer, but rather to acknowledge that I am not entirely convinced of the research that links dairy and cancer.

The China Study is a much-touted research study that, at its very core, claims that the only 'safe' form of protein for humans is vegetable-based protein. This, of course,  has vegans cheering with glee and praising the rigor of the research process that was carried out by The China Study's author, Colin T. Campbell.   Dairy products, so it appears, are given particular notoriety due to the high levels of casein they contain. Casein is a type of protein and, according to one summary of Campbell's findings on casein it was noted that ' the connection between casein and cancer was so profound that the scientists could literally turn cancer growth on and off in the laboratory animals simply by altering the level of casein protein in their diets like a light switch.' (Source: http://www.wholevegan.com/casein_protein.html). I must mention that The China Study included extensive research beyond the laboratory. Again, I encourage you to seek out more information about The China Study and the possible link between dairy and cancer if you are so inclined.


The more I study nutrition, the more I am convinced that the only true way to determine what is best for your health is to become your own guinea pig. I've read so many conflicting studies about pretty much every diet and type of food, that one can easily be swayed one way or the other if they want to be.   There are some things that are generally agreed upon, however, and the fact that milk is a common allergen seems to be generally accepted by sources that are not being funded by dairy boards! 

If you want to know whether you'd be better off without dairy in your diet, I suggest you try cutting it out for a month or two. Note that if you have other food allergies, however, you may not notice any difference in your well-being as your body will still be suffering from the other allergens (hence the suggestion of an elimination diet).

I am on my way to eliminating dairy, but first I am eliminating alcohol and wheat. These are two common allergens that I am most comfortable going without. The harder ones for me to eliminate will be dairy and sugar, but I will do it!  Oh, and did I mention that a food allergy need not lead to a lifetime ban of the incriminating food?  Healing your digestive system/gut and giving it a break from food allergens can do wonders for your overall health and, in time, you may be able to indulge (on occasion) in foods you were once sensitive to without suffering any side effects.

The End.  

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Make It So

I've not been very good at keeping regular blog posts as of late.  Or, to be more accurate, since Facebook became popular and my blog, which had previously been a long-form means of providing status updates on my life, was forced to morph into something with more substance.  It turns out it's more difficult to write 'blogs of substance' on a regular basis than it is to provide weekly updates of how life is going. Facebook provided a double-whammy assault on my blogging, though, in so much as it forced me to redefine the content of my posts, it also lured me away from the blank white page staring back at me, with its promises of instant entertainment and connection with people near and far. I wouldn't say I've become a Facebook addict by any means, but I'm certainly a regular user and occasional abuser of the social networking site.  Of course the finger cannot be pointed solely at Facebook, my reasons for blogging abandonment are many and varied.

All of the above is to say that I regret having let my blogging wane.  Actually, to get right to the heart of the matter, I regret having neglected the writer within me for the past few years.  I love writing and have loved it since I was a young child, yet I've always found it a challenge to move words from my head onto a page.  Every day I am writing narratives in my head, creating characters or devising plots, yet when I sit down to type out what seemed crystal clear in my head, nothing comes out.   The writer within me was saved over the years, strangely enough, by the demands of school teachers and professors.  Being a rather serious student, I flung myself full throttle into every writing assignment I was given.   Going into university, I feared my chosen degree in business administration would leave my creative self starved, so I signed up for every creative writing elective that was offered.  And then I left formal education behind and with it, the deadlines and required writing assignments.  I've dabbled in creative writing since then, most notably when I read Julia Cameron's book 'The Artist's Way' and completed the 13 week self-directed 'course' within the book that is intended to help one's self discover and recover their creative self.  But the truth is that, by and large, I've been neglecting the writer within me.  Blogging has been the only saving grace over the years, although it's rarely been a medium for my creative writing and, as noted above, even my blogging has seen a decline in the last few years.

Well, then, thank goodness for new days and the unwritten future, which make regret an unnecessary emotion.  Now I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but I do find the time off of work  between Christmas and New Year's allows for one to take stock of what they want to achieve in the coming months and years.  This year I took full advantage of my holiday time, even purchasing two journals to record my vision and goals for the coming year(s).  I identified four main areas that I want to focus my energies on in the coming year: my livelihood, relationships, wellness, and self-discover/personal development.  Given that writing is a passion which I want to incorporate into my livelihood, provides me with a means of reflecting upon my relationship with myself, with others and with the world, serves as an outlet for my stresses, and provides me with a sense of fulfillment, I reckon it actually fits into each of the four arenas I want to focus on and I must therefore make it a major priority.

I've identified specific goals I want to achieve in each of the four identified areas. One of my goals is to start earning some income via my writing skills.  More notable to those that may read this blog, I've also committed to writing a blog post at least once per week during the year. I suppose this post will count as my first. Ideally, I'd like to be blogging twice a week, but we will see what the year brings.  I am also exploring other ways of satisfying my creative self.  A shout out to Mr. Wonderful for encouraging these efforts by conceiving of and committing to weekly 'creativity dates'.

I'm pretty excited about the adventures that 2013 will offer up and look forward to sharing some of what I learn and experience via this blog.