Dairy alternatives promote human health-part 3

This is the third part of the series on dairies and their effect on health, both human and animal. The article, entitled “The Dirt on Dairy,” by Monica Engebretson, is reprinted with permission from Animal Issues, Fall 2003, the publication of the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, Calif.

Fortunately, not only do numerous dairy alternatives exist, they are increasing in popularity—and for good reason. Research shows that dairy products supply about one-third of the saturated fat found in the typical American diet; saturated fat raises “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood more than other forms of fat. Residues from the hormones and antibiotics fed to many dairy cows also threaten human health. Further, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Genetics, between 30 million and 50 million North Americans, including 75 percent of African-Americans and 90 percent of Asian-Americans, are lactose intolerant and frequently experience nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea after ingesting dairy foods.

Despite the dairy industry’s attempts to peddle milk and milk-based products as “health foods,” the truth is, a dairy-free diet may be a better bet, nutritionally speaking.

“But what about calcium?” is a question commonly posed to those who choose not to eat dairy. Although the public largely associates calcium with dairy, this essential nutrient is actually present in many non-dairy products, such as leafy green vegetables, fortified orange juice and soy beverages, dried figs, and enriched wheat flour. In fact, the calcium in leafy greens (with the exception of spinach and collard greens) is often more plentiful and better absorbed than the calcium in dairy products, and contains no cholesterol or saturated fat. Additionally, unlike dairy foods, vegetables contain beneficial phytochemicals and are loaded with fiber.

Moreover, while dairy products do contain calcium, there is no evidence that milk consumption prevents osteoporosis, as the milk industry often implies. In fact, documented evidence now suggests that the opposite may be true.

A 1998 study published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that vegan women did not have lower bone density than vegetarian women, despite the fact that the vegan women consumed no dairy products and had lower intakes of calcium. The reason for this may be that reducing calcium loss is more important than levels of calcium intake. Diets high in protein, particularly animal protein, appear to increase the loss of calcium through the urine and lead to a weakening of the bones.

Another recent study (in which two API staff participated) further supports the benefits of a dairy-free diet. Researchers at the University of California at Davis, exploring the relationship between osteoporosis and diet, compared women who ate both animal and plant foods to women who only ate plant-derived foods. Their results indicated that rates of bone resorption—in which calcium is leached from bones into the bloodstream—were the same in the omnivore women and the vegan women. Bone formation rates, however, were significantly lower in the women who ate animal products, indicating a possible association between omnivorous diets and lower bone densities.

Dairy products also appear to increase vulnerability to cancer. A study published in the July 16, 2003, edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that premenopausal women aged 24-46 who eat red meat and high-fat dairy foods, such as cheese, may be at greater risk for breast cancer than those whose fats come primarily from plant sources.

This is not the first time that animal products have been implicated in contributing to certain cancers. A report published in the January 2001 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked eating meat with certain cancers and found colon cancer to be most strongly correlated with a meat-heavy diet. A 1997 report by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the world Cancer Research Fund concluded that vegetarians have decreased rates of several kinds of cancer due to their larger intake of plant foods.

If we choose to listen, there is a clear message to be heard in the results of these health studies, in the suffering of the cows exploited in dairy production, and in the environmental harm dairies cause to our air, soil, and water: For the sake of animals, people, and the planet, don’t buy dairy!

If you would like more information on health and humane nutrition, request a copy of API’s “Going Veggie: A Beginner’s Guide,” or visit www.ChooseVeggie.com.

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