Many people are lead to believe that dairy consumption is a necessary part of life and without it will suffer from poor bone health and calcium deficiencies. This is simply not true! More harm than good comes from a diet containing dairy products. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, cream and eggs are filled with high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and other alarming substances such as casein (a protein in dairy that has been linked to diseases such as prostate and breast cancer), growth hormones and antibiotics that have been given to cows to promote growth and fight infections that occur from constant milking, and don't forget the pus and other bodily secretion that come along with it. Yuck!
Everything that can be obtained from dairy products (except for all the nasties!), can be obtained from a healthier source - such as a diet high in plants! Lets break things down..
Lots of people are fearful of adopting a plant-based lifestyle due to being afraid they won’t get enough calcium to support strong healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. What most people don’t understand is that a strong skeleton depends more on preventing the loss of calcium from your body rather than on eating or drinking large amounts of calcium. The best way to build bone density is to perform weight bearing exercises regularly such as lifting weights, walking, jogging, running or jumping at least 3-4 times per week. This will ensure to keep your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments strong and flexible.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and plays an essential role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, secretion of hormones and enzymes and of course, the formation of bones and teeth. Nutritional recommendations for a strong skeleton include eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, cutting out dairy, maintaining optimal vitamin D levels by exposing your arms and legs to sunlight for 15-20mins each day and by consuming plant sources of calcium such as:
Green leafy vegetables (113mg per 1/2 cup)
Beans, legumes & lentils (38mg per 1 cup cooked)
Tempeh (110mg per 100g)
Dried figs (241mg per 1 cup)
Sesame seeds and tahini (140mg per 2tbsp)
Almonds and almond butte (25mg per 2tbsp)
Fortified plant milks eg soy (250-300mg per 1 cup)
Calcium set tofu (350-600mg per 100g)
Calcium is a mineral found in the earth, which explains why plants are great sources of calcium. To read more about the wonders of calcium on a plant based diet, Pick Up Limes offers a very informative article which can be found here.
The Australian Dietary guidelines and Nutrient Reference Values states the following recommendations (RDI) for Calcium intake:
0-6 months: 210mg/day
7-12 months: 270mg/day
Children & Adolescents:
1-3 years: 500mg/day
4-8 years: 700mg/day
9-11 years: 1,000mg/day
12-18 years: 1,300mg/day
19-70 years: 1,000mg/day
>70 years: 1,300mg/day
19-50 years: 1,000mg/day
51-70 years: 1,300mg/day
>70 years: 1,300mg/day
Pregnancy & Lactation:
14-18 years: 1,300mg/day
19-50 years: 1,000mg/day
All these targets can easily be met on a whole food plant based diet. If you eat a varied diet and exercise frequently, you will have strong and health bones to last you a life time!
Dangers of Dairy Consumption:
Humans are the only species on Earth who consumes another species milk and continues to consume milk into adulthood. Yes, it is true that milk, regardless of it's species or origin, is food and is the only substance that has no other purpose than to be consumed. But have you ever considered just what is in this white liquid and the effects it and its by-products may be having on your body?
Nearly 75% of the worlds population is lactose intolerant, meaning the body is unable to digest lactose (the sugar component of milk), due to the body's failure to produce to required enzyme (lactase). What most people are unaware of though is that lactose intolerance is not an abnormality. Since lactose's only function is the digestion of lactose in milk, the activity of lactase (the enzyme) is dramatically reduced after childhood weaning, making lactose persistence in adulthood the abnormality. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gastrointestinal pains, gas, bloating, cramps and diarrhoea - doesn't sound very pleasant to me!
Cow’s don’t make calcium, they eat calcium-containing plants, which is why their milk contains calcium. When you consume cow’s milk, you’re not just consuming the milk/calcium alone. Chances are you’re also consuming growth hormones and antibiotics which have been fed to the cow to stimulate growth and fight infections that occur from constant milking. Personally, these are not things I would like to be putting in my body!
Dairy consumption also stimulates insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which accelerates cancer cell growth. High levels of IGF-1 are normal during periods of growth such as childhood, but high levels are not something that should occur in adulthood as these levels can mean that cancer cells are stimulated to grow. Studies have shown that consuming more than 2 serves of dairy per day is linked with increases risk of prostate cancer in men. So, let’s ditch the cow (with the added saturated fat and cholesterol) and go straight to the source – plants!
As mentioned earlier, a strong skeleton is dependent on preventing calcium loss rather than eating or drinking large amounts of calcium itself. Ways to prevent loss and ensure healthy bones on a plant-based diet include:
Each calcium rich plant foods such as tofu, green leafy vegetables such as bok choy and kale and adequate amounts of beans and legumes.
Include regular exercise (cardio and weight baring exercises) into your daily routine.
Avoid tobacco use.
Severely limit or avoid consuming alcohol.
Manage sodium intake by cooking at home with no added salt, avoiding packaged foods and eating out at restaurants.
Avoid excessive protein intake (increases excretion of vital minerals).
Increase exposure to Vitamin D – roughly 20minutes per day.
Alternatives to Dairy:
Calcium is plentiful in plants, you don’t need to go reaching for harmful animal products which wreak havoc on your arteries due to their high protein, fat, cholesterol and sodium content. You may be thinking ‘but all my favourite recipes include dairy!’ or ‘I could never give up cheese!’. So, allow me to share with you some tips on simple ingredients swaps you can make in your day to day life to kick that addiction to dairy!
Choose a non-dairy milk. There are plenty of options out there such as almond, soy, oat or rice. If you’re feeling creative or feel like trying something new, you can also try making it yourself! Buttermilk can also be made by mixing non-dairy milk with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar and allowing it to sit for 5-10 minutes.
Cashews can represent the texture of cream beautifully. Combine raw cashews with water or plant milk and blend in a high-speed blender until smooth. Silken tofu can also imitate sour cream.
Just like milk, choose a non-dairy based yoghurt. There are many soy or coconut based yoghurts out there, but be mindful of the high added sugar and fat content of some of these products, especially coconut based yoghurts so be sure to check the labels.
Vegan butter substitutes such as Nuttlex* can be used to replace butter in equal amounts. In baked goods, pureed fruits such as applesauce or mashed banana work perfectly in replace of butter and oil.
*use in moderation or avoid when possible.
To replace scrambled eggs, try scrambled tofu. For baking, replace eggs with ‘flax eggs’ – combine 1 tbsp of ground flax seeds with 3 tbsp of water. Mix well and allow to sit for a couple of minutes to become gelatinous. Multiple this mixture by the number of eggs required. For binding (in recipes such as burger patties), use 2 tbsp corn-starch mixed with 2 tbsp of water. Mix well. You could also substitute this for ¼ cup of tofu.
Try sprinkling nutritional yeast on meals for a cheesy flavour or combine 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast with ¼ cup cashew in a blender until a crumb/parmesan like texture appears. Tofu and cashews can also replace dairy in recipes with cheese sauces such as alfredo pasta sauce or lasagne. If you feel like a challenge or if cheese is something you feel you cannot go without, I recommend purchasing Julie Piatts book ‘This Cheese is Nuts’. It’s full of creative recipes for making non-dairy cheese including firm cheeses for antipasto platters, hot cheese sauces, aged cheeses, mozzarella and so much more!
Although giving up dairy products may sound challenging, your taste buds will adjust, and you will no longer have cravings. It is true that people feel addicted to dairy. This is because dairy contains Casomorphins which are substances that trigger the ‘feel good’ sensation. If you choose to only make one change to your diet, choose to give up dairy. The detrimental effects of dairy are not worth the addicting fix!
In the coming weeks I will be presenting a talk about the risks of dairy and egg consumption to a group of people who are taking part in a WFPB eating program. Stay tuned for my posts throughout the next few weeks as I'll be sharing more information regarding my talk, the program and lots of other topics relating to a WFPB lifestyle!