I was a bad, bad girl this weekend.. I ate cheese, my nutritional archenemy! But, I have a great excuse- it was my birthday weekend! I also grew up on cheese (I'm Italian, and Polish!) and I truly believe it's OK to splurge once in a while, even necessary, to maintain one's sanity. But isn't dairy healthy, full of calcium that we need?
[Tangent: If you've seen the movie Idiocracy, this reminds me of the part of the movie where the characters constantly repeat that Brawndo, their "wonder sports beverage" that has replaced water altogether (even for watering plants), "has electrolytes, and gives you what you crave." "It has electrolytes and gives you what you crave!" They repeat this slogan over and over like broken records because it's what they've been fed by their media, and they've become an incredibly ignorant society.]
Yes, dairy has calcium. But the fact has been misconstrued.. The bioavailability of this calcium is actually much lower than the bioavailability of calcium in plant foods such as leafy greens, beans, sea vegetables and grains, all which have significant amounts of calcium and are much better absorbed by the human body by at least 20%! Crazy right? Listen, I was appalled at the things I have learned about dairy (and experienced) in the past 10+ years or so.. You see, I've been on a health roller-coaster since childhood (to be continued more in-depth in another post), so I set out to do my own research to heal my body, because I was tired of being SICK and TIRED. One of the main health culprits I have eliminated from my daily diet is dairy. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the taste. But I do NOT love the way I feel after eating it, and the snowball effect it has on my health from exacerbating allergies tenfold, increasing hormone levels, to digestion upset. Although I am not allergic to casein, I do have a mild lactose intolerance. However, that's such a minor inconvenience compared to what it does to my immune system! Over time, my immune system is weakened, and it triggers WAY more frequent allergy attacks (from seasonal, environmental to food), causing sinus infections, bronchitis, skin issues and so on. Not fun! It also has some other annoying side effects like increasing exhaustion, bouts of nausea, and worst of all- CRAMPS! Ladies, if you suffer from a very painful monthly guest, do yourself a favor and remove dairy from your diet pronto! Try it out for a good 2-3 months, and see how your body reacts. ;-)
Even if you do not experience these types of side effects, you may be suffering on the inside, and not even know it until an illness pops up later on. Dairy is *highly- acidic to the body and all of its systems, creating a perfect breeding ground for disease. Disease cannot survive in an alkaline environment, but it thrives in an acidic one. Dairy also has incredibly high amounts of hormones, because it comes from a pregnant cow, a much larger animal than humans to begin with, but most likely also injected with additional bovine growth hormones, and antibiotics to keep them from getting sick since they're also given feed they're not biologically engineered to eat (corn) to fatten them up more quickly. This is why "grass-fed" is all the rage, because it means the cows are eating what nature intended them to eat (grass), thus forming a leaner, healthier animal. Additionally, dairy is incredibly congestive, not just when you're sick but at all times, and it does things like exacerbate allergies, create inflammation (the beginnings of disease) and mess with your natural hormone levels (because you're literally ingesting hormones, like hormone replacement drugs!!) Think skim milk is a better choice? Think again! It's far from it's natural state, and removing the fat has only made the milk more fattening because it spikes your blood sugar without the fat to slow down it's absorption. The way our dairy (in Western cultures) is processed, is truly an abomination. From pasteurization and homogenization, to powdering it (whey protein), defattening it and adding synthetic "vitamins," It goes through such a rigorous processing that it is left far from it's natural state, making it just as "processed" as the fake fruity cereal in a box. If I'm scaring you, good. But, there's a brighter side, I promise.
What to do now that you're freaked out about dairy, and have no idea how you're going to live without it? Don't panic, there is life after dairy.. or at least the kind of processed, completely de-natured dairy that is described above. First and foremost, if you're going to eat dairy, opt for the freshest, grass- fed, most UNprocessed kind you can find. Raw dairy (from milk to cheeses) is much more abundant these days thanks to Whole Foods popping up everywhere, and many more health food stores catering to what educated consumers want. Secondly, you want to stick with dairy from the smallest animal first- goat dairy, sheep dairy and lastly cow dairy. You will ingest less hormones this way, decreasing your exposure to estrogens and progesterone (all which lead to increased Cancer risk). If you don't want to entirely remove dairy from your diet, it's best to reserve it as a treat, as you would birthday cake or a deep fried Oreo cookie (hopefully!). That way, you'll satisfy your craving and won't feel like you're missing out, but you're also not toxifying your body on a daily basis. My personal dairy strategy: I only eat goat and sheep milk dairy maybe once or twice a month. I rarely have cow milk dairy now because of its super high hormone levels (even when grass- fed), so I try to lower my exposure to estrogen and progesterone as much as possible. I use ghee occasionally for cooking treats like biscuits, or pancakes, and eat cashew ice cream (tastes amazing!) whenever I crave regular ice cream (which is rare too, since I'm a salt/ fat craver, not a sweets craver).
Here are some of my favorite substitutes for dairy:
- Milk: coconut milk, cashew milk, hemp milk
- Cream: Cashew cream and coconut cream
- Butter: I occasionally use organic Ghee for treats (clarified butter with 99% casein removed) or Organic Earth Balance
- Cheese: Daiya cheese shreds for melting on burgers, pizza, eggs and pasta, etc., and Daiya cream cheese spread for bread/ bagels.
- Ice Cream: Cashewtopia ice cream, vanilla.
*Check out this excellent article on Alkaline and Acid Balance, and this useful chart
for a good reference.
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Any and all written, visual, video or audio media by Graziella Baratta Ventura, the Fit Foodie, represents her sole opinion as a certified nutritionist and certified personal trainer.