the case against dairy: part 2

23 Jul
dairy negative impact on the environment

A typical American Dairy farm. Image courtesy of the USDA.

Day 4 of dairy-free living. I am happy to report that I have not had ANY dairy during those 4 days; not even tortilla chips with whey as a seasoning ingredient. I have already begun to notice the impacts on my body. Without subjecting you to the gory details, I will say that I have been suffering for months from severe digestive problems. It got to the point where the doctors suspected I had Ulcerative Colitis, and performed a colonoscopy. Those symptoms have all but disappeared in just 4 days. It hasn’t been as difficult as I had anticipated, and I’m not craving the grilled-cheese sandwich or the quesadilla (yet). My urge to eat certain other undesirable foods like French fries, however, has seen a sharp increase. Ha.

But let’s get down to the facts again. I did a little more reading about dairy and its negative impacts, and here’s what I’ve found:

Osteoporosis. I mentioned in my previous post the links between dairy consumption and myriad health problems. Possibly the most damning of these is the link between dairy and osteoporosis, simply because the dairy industry has, for decades, touted milk as the panacea for bone-loss prevention. This may not make a lot of sense to most people; after all, doesn’t milk contain high levels of calcium? In her infamous 2003 article “Dairy monsters”, British journalist Anne Karpf writes, “The most important culprit is almost certainly the overconsumption of protein. High-protein foods such as meat, eggs and dairy make excessive demands on the kidneys, which in turn leach calcium from the body. One solution, then, isn’t to increase our calcium intake, but to reduce our consumption of protein, so our bones don’t have to surrender so much calcium. Astonishingly, according to this newer, more critical view, dairy products almost certainly help to cause, rather than prevent, osteoporosis.” Furthermore, Karpf writes that “…the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that women who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. Another piece of research found that women who get most of their protein from animal sources have three times the rate of bone loss and hip fractures of women who get most of their protein from vegetable sources, according to a 2001 National Institutes of Health study.”

So where can we get calcium if not from milk and dairy products? Many vegetables have high calcium content, including bok choi, collards, kale, broccoli, spinach and turnips. That’s right, I’m telling you to eat your vegetables. There are several great resources out there for finding calcium-rich vegetables. Some places to start: citracal.com and vrg.org.

Environmental impacts. The meat and dairy industries rely heavily on high-density livestock farming, or “factory farming”, to produce animal products fast enough to pacify America’s insatiable appetites. Undeniably, these “animal factories” are major contributors to water and air pollution, deforestation, and energy consumption. According to Wikipedia, livestock production uses 8% of our water resources, and pollutes much more with pesticides and waste runoff. Additionally, the article states, this method of raising livestock creates the following environmental impacts:

  • Deforestation for animal feed production
  • Unsustainable pressure on land for production of high-protein/high-energy animal feed
  • Pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer manufacture and use for feed production
  • Unsustainable use of water for feed-crops, including groundwater extraction
  • Pollution of soil, water and air by nitrogen and phosphorus from fertiliser used for feed-crops and from manure
  • Land degradation (reduced fertility, soil compaction, increased salinity, desertification)
  • Loss of biodiversity due to eutrophication, acidification, pesticides and herbicides
  • Worldwide reduction of genetic diversity of livestock and loss of traditional breeds
  • Species extinctions due to livestock-related habitat destruction (especially feed-cropping)

Casein. There is an addictive element to dairy products that exists naturally in the milk of mammals. This protein, when digested, releases an opiod substance that leaves us craving more. Amy Lanou, the Nutrition Director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), explains, “Cheese is a concentrate of protein and tat, and casein is a type of protein found naturally in milk. Caseins convert to casomorphines, which are chemically similar to morphine, when they break down during digestion. It’s these casomorphines that are addictive. All mammalian mothers’ milk contains casomorphines so that the young will return to the breast for milk.” I, for one, do not like the idea of being addicted to a food that is high in saturated fat, has been linked to many serious health problems, and undeniably has a huge impact on the environment.

Again, entirely avoiding the hot-button issues of animal welfare and the humane treatment of livestock, we can clearly see dairy’s direct impact on human health and our environment.

So, my dairy-free experiment continues. I’ll keep you all updated!

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One Response to “the case against dairy: part 2”

  1. lizlivingvegan July 26, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    My digestive system has DEFINITELY been feeling better since I cut out dairy!!!

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