I’ve been meaning to write about dairy for months, but my original intention was to write about why we were prepared to spend more on organic dairy. Well, now we don’t drink milk anymore and we’ve cut out all dairy except for milk kefir and cultured butter from our family’s diet! The old me wouldn’t have believed it possible, as I have been a full-cream dairy lover since before I can remember. Growing up, I used to drink the cream from the top of the milk (and yes, I used to drink from the bottle when no one was looking… ). Late last year when I suggested I might quit dairy to see if it made me feel better, my mum’s skeptical response was, “But you’ve always loved milk, ever since you were little!” And yet, my husband and I both agreed this morning that we don’t actually miss it at all (we have both surprised ourselves).
To be honest, I’ve never noticed anything that made me think I’m intolerant or even sensitive to dairy products. I quit dairy as an experiment, after some friends suggested that dairy sensitivity is often the culprit for bloating and excessive flatulence (which I wrote about in my last post). Even then I was slow to commit to such a drastic measure of giving up quite possibly my favourite beverage of all time, when I don’t have eczema or diarrhoea or any other common indications of a food intolerance. But then, I had already recently eliminated sugar and wheat from my diet, and I was in a mindset (with a bit of time on my hands) of experimenting with new foods, so I thought I may as well just add this one extra dietary restriction to my life for a few weeks and see how it would go.
Shortly after I started the dairy-free experiment, I got sick for about a week with some sort of weird sinus infection. I say ‘weird’, because I’ve never had any sinus issues like this before, and no one else in my family was affected. It wasn’t like I had a cold or anything; I just found that my upper throat and sinuses were clogged full of green gunge like I’ve never blown out or hacked up in my life before. It was gross. But it passed, and about a week later I was googling around the internet looking for interesting articles to read, when I happened upon a concept called: “dairy detox”. Yes, it seems that dairy (like gluten) is actually addictive, and some unfortunates like myself find themselves having to suffer a sort of withdrawal period while their body adjusts. It turns out I’m not the only one out there who’s suffered a few weeks of brain fog, lethargy, extreme mucus, irritability …etc when quitting dairy! However, the unexpectedly intense withdrawal symptoms only motivated me to persist, rather than give up and in. I couldn’t quite believe that I could be so dependent on a food, such that my body (in particular, my brain) literally needed weeks to adjust to life without it!
Since then, I have learnt a few interesting facts about dairy and the digestive system:
– your body can be addicted to a food you’re actually intolerant to;
– most Asians are lactose intolerant. (I’m half Japanese, so this is kinda significant information for me!) In fact, the majority of the world’s population loses their ability to digest lactose from the ages of 3 – 5 years’ old;
– most cheeses (especially hard ones like parmesan) have little to no lactose in them. Same goes for kefir and real yoghurt, as the culturing process predigests the lactose;
– lactose is added to many processed foods (look for whey powder in particular);
– cows’ milk is naturally high in oestrogen – this point could be of interest to someone who feels that their hormones are out of whack …hmm, like me!
– in order to produce milk for us, cows need to be kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy and lactation (DUH. I am embarrassed to admit that this never occurred to me before, even though I am a mum who breastfed my own babe). Calves are usually removed from the mother cow within a day or two of being born, and they are usually killed from about 4 days’ old. This is true for both organic and non-organic milk;
– you can maintain healthy bone density and ingest adequate amounts of calcium without consuming dairy – for example, bone broth and dark leafy greens are high in absorbable calcium;
– some NZ dairy farmers feed their cows palm kernel expeller (KPE), a by-product of the palm oil industry (and while it could be argued that NZ dairy is not directly responsible for millions of hectares of rainforest deforestation, why?!)
While this whole thing started as an experiment, my husband and I feel so good about our decision to quit milk that we have no intention of resuming our old milk-drinking habits anytime soon. We went into it thinking that eliminating such a huge part of our diet would result in there being almost nothing left for us to eat, but this was not the case at all! Mostly because we don’t eat processed food – I don’t deny that eliminating gluten, sugar, and dairy from a processed food diet would likely leave you with 2 -3 food items to choose from :-/ – for us, we found that we actually have a slightly more diverse diet, if anything. We now drink homemade almond milk (it is so easy to make, it’s ridiculous!) and a bit of oat milk which I mix up from a powder. (By the way, I don’t buy any milk substitutes in cartons as they are all reinforced with aluminium and lined with polyethylene plastic). At the moment, we still make milk kefir and I make cultured butter from organic cream. But our milk consumption has dropped so dramatically that our recycling bin is now almost empty on rubbish day; this is an unexpected bonus for rubbish-conscious me!
Yet another interesting discovery we have made as a result of this experiment is our son’s apparent sensitivity to dairy. He will be turning two next week, and I feel a bit embarrassed that it took us so long to realise this. He had no skin issues, no apparent digestive distress, no sleep issues, nothing that would prompt us to think he had any food sensitivities. He did, however, have VERY loose stools, and he would poo around 5 times a day – you can imagine cloth nappies weren’t really happening with my second born, haha. I just assumed that there was a range of ‘normal’ when it came to children’s bowel habits, and we were the unfortunate nappy-changing parents on the ‘loose’ end of the spectrum. But when I quit dairy, and we thought about it a bit more, it occurred to us that maybe Daniel’s poos were loose for a reason. Although he is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little boy, he is a quarter Japanese… and my husband was intolerant to dairy for the first years of his life (he was raised on soy formula)… and my daughter couldn’t stomach cows’ milk formula when she was a baby… Hmm, we decided to trial a family-wide dairy-free diet for a few weeks. Sure enough, a few weeks’ in and Daniel’s poos were normal. We only have to change No.2’s once or twice a day now, and they are not all up his back and down his legs anymore. Cloth nappies are back on the menu, yay! We haven’t noticed any other changes really, but this in itself is a major game-changer as far as we’re concerned.
Now that I can think about dairy objectively (that is, my judgement is no longer clouded by my body’s addiction to it!), I feel that quitting milk really aligns with my values in terms of sustainability, ethics, and health. Dairy is yet another example of how our society has prioritised quantity (for profit) over quality, ethics, responsibility, and even necessity. I quit dairy for a purely selfish reason (my own health) but as a person who has experienced pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and motherhood, I will freely admit that my feelings about milk are now 99% emotional. I actually feel ashamed for every drop of milk that I have ever drunk – or worse, wasted – without ever acknowledging the effort and suffering that was required in order for me to drink it. Given that no one in my family is actually allergic to milk, I don’t (yet) feel any need to eliminate dairy completely from our diet (as I believe that quality dairy is very nutritious), but I am resolved to make every effort to reduce our dairy consumption significantly, minimise any waste, and instil a sense of gratitude and responsibility into my children for the privilege that is dairy.
Here are a few articles I found really interesting:
Post-graduate Medical Journal – “Systemic lactose intolerance: a new perspective on an old problem”
Nutritional Therapy Association – “The Storm Before The Calm: Why some people get temporarily worse on a gluten-free or casein-free diet”
Prevention.com – “7 Signs You Have A Food Sensitivity”
SAFE.org – “Dairy” (click on links to read a bit more about specific dairy-related issues)
Wellness Mama – “How To Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy”
NZ Forest & Bird – “Agriculture” (about the environmental impact of dairy farming in NZ)
The featured image for this blog post is of a page in Giulia Enders’ book, “GUT”. This book is a fantastic introduction to understanding our gut and its role in managing our overall health and wellbeing, both physical and emotional. Enders has written a whole chapter about allergies and intolerances, including lactose intolerance. She explains why some of us have difficulty with certain foods and suggests how food intolerances can affect our mental and physical health. The Gut book is available from the Mrs Goodness Shop – in fact, I enjoyed reading it so much, it was one of the first products I wanted to sell!