Dairy, especially cheese, is addictive. That’s why it’s so difficult to stop eating it. Why? The primary protein in dairy, casein, breaks down into casomorphins. If that sounds like queso morphines, good, because that’s what it is. The morphine-like addictive substances in milk keeps infants blissfully sucking on their mothers’ nipples until they grow big enough to move on to other, hopefully more age-appropriate foods.
Why ditch the dairy addiction? There are so many reasons! Here are a few:
- You are not a calf. Milk is the perfect food…for the infant of the mother who produces it. Mammals produce milk for their infants, and for no other reason. No mammals need to drink their mothers’ milk past infancy. That’s why they all eventually wean and move on to solid foods. And unless the mother dies or is otherwise unable to provide milk, no mammal needs the milk of another species. So humans old enough to be weaned from breastfeeding have absolutely no need for milk, be it from their mothers or another species. You wouldn’t drink the milk from your lactating sister, or a dog, or a horse, or a pig. Why would you drink milk from a cow?
- You do not aspire to be a 1,000-pound cow. Cow’s milk naturally contains the large amount of growth hormones, fat, and protein needed to turn a 80-pound calf into a 1,000 pound cow in one year. Those amounts of protein and hormones are not only unnecessary for humans, they’re actually unhealthy. Whole milk is 50% fat, milk advertised as 1% (low fat) is still 18% fat, and cheese is 70% fat.
- Milk makes people sick. The vast majority of mammals, including humans, lose the ability to digest the sugar in milk after infancy. About 25% of humans (mostly of northern European descent) have a genetic mutation that allows them to continue to digest milk sugar or lactose. The rest of us (an estimated 75% of us) are lactose-intolerant as adults, including the vast majority of people who are of Asian, African, Native American, and southern European descent. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, pain or cramps in the lower belly, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting. Another milk sugar, galactose, is toxic. As far back as 1981, cow’s milk was reported to cause cataracts.
- Dairy production is cruel. To keep them lactating, cows are artificially and forcibly inseminated on what farmers call the “rape rack” year after year. Most newborn dairy calves are forcibly removed from their mothers before they’ve ever had a chance to nurse. The rest are removed in a matter of hours or days. Mother cows bellow and search after being separated from their babies. Female calves may be slaughtered soon after birth or kept alive to be enslaved and exploited like their mothers. They spend the first 2 to 3 months of life lonely, confined in hutches, and fed a diet of milk replacer while humans drink the milk intended for them. Male calves are taken, chained in tiny stalls where they cannot take a single step, and raised for veal. Because it is unprofitable to keep dairy cows alive once their milk production declines, they are usually killed at 5 to 6 years of age, although their normal life span exceeds 20 years. Their worn-out bodies become ground beef, restaurant hamburgers, and pet food.
- You don’t want to have a heart attack and stroke. Cheese, milk, and other dairy products are high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease. Dairy fat is 97% saturated fat. All dairy products (in fact, all animal products) contain cholesterol, which you do not need to consume. According to Dr. John McDougall, MD, “As an animal, you make all the cholesterol you need. Unfortunately, your capacity to eliminate it is limited to a little more than the amount you make. As a result, the cholesterol added by eating animal foods accumulates in your body parts, including your skin, tendons, and arteries. Cholesterol deposited in your arteries is a major contributor to vascular diseases of your heart and brain. Cholesterol also facilitates cancer development.”
- You want to avoid cancer. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University and author of The China Study, says casein is one of the most significant cancer promoters ever discovered. Cow’s milk increases hormones that directly stimulate growth. The most powerful of these hormones is called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is one of the most powerful promoters of cancer growth ever discovered for cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon. In 2011, researchers at Harvard University cautioned that dairy can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer. Dairy products contain high levels of pesticides and herbicides, which cause cancer and brain damage.
- You don’t want to age prematurely. Over-stimulation of growth by IGF-1 leads to premature aging, and reducing IGF-1 levels is “anti-aging.”
- You don’t want to consume growth hormones, antibiotics, and steroids. Producing milk is very stressful for cows, and frequently causes mastitis, which requires antibiotics, which make their way into the milk. Synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are commonly used in dairy cows to increase the production of milk. Growth hormones and antibiotics are not healthy things to consume. Dairy products also contain steroids and other hormones (both naturally occurring and administered).
- You don’t want to consume life-threatening microbes. Dairy products are known to be infected with pathenogenic microbes, including E. Coli, listeria, salmonella, staphylococci, tuberculosis, bovine leukemia viruses, bovine AIDS viruses, and mad cow prions. Dairy products often contain other contaminants, including parasites and mycotoxins. Fresh dairy products are highly perishable, and quickly smell and taste bad.
- You don’t want to be constipated. Milk and cheese have no fiber. (Neither does meat.) In addition, according to Dr. Keith Nemec, MD, “Casein, which is very sticky, is a main component in popular nontoxic glue. Casein coats the digestive system, leading to leaky gut syndrome, malabsorption and/or constipation. These all lead to a weakened immune system and toxic build up in the blood along with a host of other health problems that stem from the leaky gut syndrome.” Cow’s milk protein causes allergic reactions, which paralyze your bowels, making it almost impossible for to eliminate hard stools. You don’t need all the laxatives they’re trying to sell you on television. Happiness is a high-fiber diet, and a high-fiber diet is plant-based.
- You don’t want your children to develop diabetes and other illnesses. Cow’s milk protein is the most common dietary cause of allergy and autoimmune diseases, including nephritis (kidney disease) and severe forms of arthritis. According to Dr. John McDougall, “Exposure to cow’s milk protein early in life, when the intestinal tract is immature, sometimes results in the milk protein entering the blood stream where antibodies to this foreign substance, cow’s milk, are made by the immune system. Unfortunately, these same antibodies also attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. By glassful of milk after spoonful of ice cream, over a period of about 5 to 7 years, the child destroys his or her own pancreas – and is left with a lifelong, life-threatening, handicap: diabetes. The pancreas is forever destroyed and the child will have to take insulin shots daily. Complications, such as blindness, kidney failure, and heart disease will be a real threat during his or her shortened lifespan.” Infants and children fed cow’s milk are also more likely to suffer from colic, intestinal bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, ear infections, and weight problems.
- You want strong bones. People in the countries that consume the most dairy have the highest osteoporosis rates. Osteoporosis and kidney stones are from bone loss caused by eating animal proteins and dietary acids. Hard cheese like Parmesan is the greatest source of dietary acids. The researchers at Harvard suggested that foods like collards, bok choy, and baked beans are safer choices than dairy for obtaining calcium. In fact, watercress, tofu, mustard greens, turnip greens, basil, collards, spinach, beet greens, spearmint, rapini, chicory, dandelion greens, thyme, parsley, okra, wakame, cardoons, chives, endive, cilantro, chard, kale, butterhead lettuce, bay leaves, celery, leaf lettuce, scallions, broccoli, cabbage, hearts of palm, and nori, all have more calcium per calorie than milk. Other plant foods that contain calcium include: beans, nuts like almonds and seeds like sesame, and whole grains.
- You’re an environmentalist. Production of dairy foods is a leading cause of environmental pollution and climate change.
In addition to being more humane than cow’s milk, plant-based milks and cheeses are generally lower in fat and calories and contain no cholesterol. But let me start with three caveats. First, this isn’t exactly health food. Many vegan milks, cheeses, and creams are processed junk food loaded with fat, calories, and sugar. Second, you don’t need to “replace” dairy in your diet: you have no more need for soy milk than you have for cow’s milk. But if you enjoy splashing some white stuff in your coffee or on your breakfast cereal, or if you enjoy something melty on your pizza or cold and creamy for an occasional treat, go ahead and give these cruelty-free foods a try. Or, if you are having a difficult time breaking your casein addiction, these products can certainly help you when cravings strike. My final caveat is that none of these products are meant for unweaned infants, who should ideally be consuming their mother’s milk, or an appropriate formula as directed by their pediatricians. That said, here goes:
Milk: Plant-based milk can replace cow’s milk in any recipe. Soy and rice milks are available in a variety of flavors including plain, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. If you cannot find a non-dairy milk, try making almond milk at home. For desserts, try using almond, oat, or coconut milk.
- Soy milk is one of the most popular and available non-dairy milks. With 8-10 grams of protein per cup, it is also the most protein-rich of all plant milks. It is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D as well. Soy has protective health benefits due to its phytoestrogen content. Because it is often genetically modified, be sure to purchase USDA certified organic soy products, which are GMO-free. I like Trader Joe’s Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk.
- Oat milk has less protein than the other milks, but the highest amount of healthy fiber. It also contains a decent amount of calcium and iron.
- Hemp is a great source of omega-3 fats and hemp milk contains 4 times more omega-3s than soy milk does, but is lower in protein. Hemp is generally well-digested.
- Almond milk generally has only about 1 gram of protein per serving, but is also often lower in calories than soy milk. Almond milk is a good source of calcium.
- Hazelnut milk is rich in B vitamins, and vitamin E, which promotes healthy skin and hair among other benefits. Like almond milk, hazelnut milk generally has only about 1g of protein per serving but is also often lower in calories than soy milk.
- Rice milk has little nutritional value and is often heavily sweetened. It is best tolerated by people with allergies.
- Coconut milk is very high in calories and fat. A glass of coconut milk has between 90- 500 calories depending on whether it is canned (higher) or a boxed and watered down brand such as Silk. Coconut milk is 3 times higher in saturated fat than even cow’s milk. Enjoy a splash in your coffee for a creamy taste, relish a decadent coconut curry, or a post-workout coconut smoothie, but unless you are an endurance athlete, someone trying to gain weight, and you have low cholesterol and no family history of heart disease, I would not make coconut milk a daily habit personally. Look for a brand without additives and carrageenan.
The best way to avoid all of the additives in commercially produced plant milk is to make your own. The basic recipe for plant milk is as follows:
1 cup nuts, grains, or seeds
4 cups water
1-2 dates for sweetness
vanilla or almond extract or any other flavor you might like
Directions: Soak the nuts, seeds, or grains overnight in water to cover. Drain and discard the water. Place the soaked nuts, seeds or grains in your blender and add the 4 cups of fresh water. Blend for several minutes until the mixture is smooth. Strain in a strainer or special nut milk bag, saving the nut pulp for use in baking. Return the strained milk to the blender and add dates and any additional flavors. Blend until smooth. Nut milks will keep for 3-4 days in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
Whipped cream: Try Rich’s brand nondairy whipping cream, beaten until stiff peaks form. You can find it at most Kosher or specialty baking stores. Alternatively, you can try making your own Easy Coconut Whipped Cream.
Buttermilk: Combine one cup soy milk and one tablespoon vinegar.
Creamer: If you must put something white in your coffee, Trader Joe’s makes an organic soy milk creamer.
Cheese: You can make vegan cheese at home. Try these recipes or check out The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Joanne Stepaniak. Replace cottage or ricotta cheese with crumbled, seasoned tofu. There are also plenty of convenient alternatives to cheese, such as the following, available at the grocery store or online:
- Daiya brand comes in shredded (mozarella, cheddar, pepper jack), sliced (cheddar, Swiss, and provalone), or wedges (jalapeno havarti, cheddar, and jack). It melts wonderfully. Daiya cheese is available on their brand of frozen pizza, and your favorite pizza at Mellow Mushroom and Z Pizza! Daiya also has cream-cheese spreads in plain, strawberry, and chive and onion.
- Follow Your Heart brand comes in mozzarella, nacho, Monterey jack, and cheddar flavors. You’ll find it in natural food stores or online.
- Tofutti brand makes slices in American and mozzarella, five styles of non-dairy cream cheese, and ricotta.
- Go Veggie brand vegan parmesan cheese is okay, but my No-Harm Parm is awesome.
Yogurt: So Delicious makes cultured coconut and almond yogurts, which my daughter the yogurt lover prefers to soy. Also try Silk or Whole Soy brand vegan yogurts alone or in a recipe. If you were making dairy yogurt at home (I did when my children were young, but aforementioned daughter now has my yogurt maker), you can make vegan yogurt, too; just make sure that your starter culture is designed for plant milks.
Ice Cream: There is a wide variety of vegan ice cream available on the market. Coconut ice creams from Coconut Bliss and So Delicious, rice ice creams by Good Karma and Rice Dream, soy ice creams like Tofutti and Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy, and then many nut and seed based ice creams like almond, hemp, and cashew. Oh, yeah, and you can make your own vegan ice cream.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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