The Dairy Debate

The Dairy Debate

At this advanced stage in our evolution along with the resulting global health movements ranging from meat free to vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free - the list goes on - most people have explored what the effects of going dairy-free might do for their health. If you’re still on the fence or have yet to wonder what all the controversy is about, here are a few things to consider the next time you bite into your cheese on toast or opt for a soy milk cappuccino.

Humans are the only species that consume the milk of another animal. Cows produce milk to feed their infants to help them grow and gain strength; baby cows are a lot bigger than even a toddler sized human and require a lot more growth hormones than young humans. So exactly which hormones are we consuming? Milk contains oestrogen and progesterone which have both been cause for concern amongst people who are worried they could be at risk of developing ovarian or breast cancer, as well as early puberty in children. However, there is no solid research to prove these theories. In reality there are very small amounts of these two hormones present in milk compared to the amounts our bodies produce each day. For example our bodies produce 6000 times more oestrogen each day than that present in a glass of milk, so technically it isn’t enough to have a physiological effect. However, depending on the overall state of health between different individuals (digestion efficiency, allergies etc), as well as the total amount of dairy each consumes per day (which may be more than one glass), physiological effects may differ from individuals this research is based upon, which is why it’s imperative to know your health status and be aware of what you consume.

If you choose soy milk as a dairy alternative, have you considered the fact that soy products are often genetically modified? Check that the products you purchase are GMO free and then like with anything we consume in life really, don’t indulge in too much. Soy has been proven to affect female fertility and thyroid function but if you don’t have a problem with either of these, a balanced amount won’t negatively affect the hormones responsible for these body functions, according to a recent study by The Journal of Nutrition.

Humans stop producing lactase enzymes after early childhood or shortly after being weaned off their mother’s milk. Thereafter some body systems can adapt to digest milk, whereas others become lactose intolerant.

Dairy is rich in calcium, vitamin D and K2, which are said to be vitamins that support bone health. Dairy is also very high in fat so the benefits of the vitamins could be out weighed for someone who is already carrying too much extra weight and chooses to consume large amounts of dairy products. In this case, a more nutrient rich and diverse diet or vitamin supplemented diet may be preferable.

The dairy industry has always marketed itself as though it is the only source of calcium we can consume, so when the Millennials of this generation started removing dairy from their diets, moms all over the world started picturing rickets and crumbling bones. The foods that have always existed but have not been marketed as being great sources of calcium and vitamins D and K, are almonds, chia seeds, dried figs, white beans, sunflower seeds, edamame beans, kale, sesame seeds, broccoli, sweet potatoes and more! They just require a bit more chewing.

The lists of research for and against consuming dairy goes on. The most important thing to note is how dairy affects your body. There is no cookie cutter solution. The only way we can determine which foods support our individual health is to become more conscious of how we feel after eating them. To realise that indigestion is not normal, skin reactions are a sign of an imbalanced system and stomach aches are not something that should be part of your every day post digestion experience. If you experience reactions such as these after consuming dairy or any other food type, recognise it as a gentle nudge from your body trying to manage itself by warning you against that food type. This seems a far more practical and logical response than trying to treat the symptoms, or look for answers online - a source offering mostly generic information.

So next time you order a drink at a cafe or plan an after dinner cheese board think about which choices will make you feel the most nutritionally balanced.

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