Do you need to be vegan to give up dairy?

Posted by Tintin Sealey

When someone says that they don’t consume dairy out of choice, most people generally tend to assume that they are vegan. In some cases this could be true but there are people who eat meat and fish but don’t drink milk. Apart from medical or health reasons such as being allergic to dairy or lactose-intolerant, there are many people who chose to give up drinking milk and consuming dairy products for a number of other reasons. These reasons range from following a diet that advises not to drink milk such as Paleo, reading about and discovering that milk is not as healthy as they thought it was or simply asserting their intuitive taste preference which finds drinking milk not enjoyable at all.

Dairy perfect food

For those who have been drinking milk since childhood, the very suggestion of giving up milk may seem like preposterous. Why on earth would you want to willingly give up milk and dairy products when you know it’s healthy? Not only that, most people who may not enjoy drinking milk do enjoy eating cheese, butter, ice cream and other dairy products.

People chose to be vegans for many reasons. Some may do so to adhere to a religious doctrine while others may do so for ethical reasons. The desire to live and eat healthy could also be a strong motivating factor to become a vegan. Similarly, people who give up milk and dairy products do so for varied reasons.

Health arguments for and against dairy.

Milk and dairy products have for a long time been highly recommended not only by medical practitioners but also by the government health authorities in most countries. Daily consumption of milk was long considered an indispensable part of nutrition and it still is by many health professionals. Almost everyone will tell you that drinking milk provides essential calcium which is required for healthy bones and teeth.

Recent reports and studies however, tell a different story. It is estimated that three out of four people show signs of intolerance towards dairy. This includes milk, butter yoghurt, cheese and ice cream. Most people are not aware or may simply ignore the symptoms which range from the common, such as headaches, cough, asthma, skin allergies like acne and a bloated feeling in the stomach to the serious, such as irritable bowel and cancer.

It has been found that the ability to produce lactase, the enzyme that is required by the body to digest lactose or milk sugar, stops in all mammals after weaning. Humans are no exception. However, humans are the only mammals which continue to drink milk after weaning though it is milk which is not produced by themselves but by other animals such as cows or goats.

Is milk really as nutritional as they say?

The calcium argument for milk received a major setback when studies indicated that the people in mainland China did not traditionally drink milk or consume any other dairy products for many thousands of years. If milk is an essential source of calcium, then how come the Chinese haven’t demonstrated any noticeable deficiency in calcium or a higher incidence of osteoporosis? Is it because of an abundance of other sources of calcium in their diet such as fish and vegetables?

The Chinese didn’t have a dairy industry for many centuries. So there was no vested interest or an organised lobby to promote the consumption of dairy products. It was also found that the Chinese showed a remarkable low level of cholesterol, heart disease and cancer compared to those who lived in developed countries in the western world.

Is drinking milk worth the risks involved?

If it is estimated that more than 75% of the world's population displays some kind of intolerance to dairy, what are the other risks? While the dairy industry and even many government health authorities advocate drinking milk for healthy bones, clinical studies indicate the exact opposite. Drinking milk may cause osteoporosis because the calcium contained in milk is not easily absorbed and also because dairy can cause a condition known as leaky gut which leads to nutritional loss gained from other sources such as plant and animal protein.

The significant amount of antibiotics and hormones that is injected into cows to increase milk production is inadvertently consumed by humans when they consume dairy. The connection between these hormones and antibiotics to cancer and other terminal diseases is another cause for concern. Moreover, the growing evidence of enough non-dairy alternatives that fulfill both nutritional and taste requirements indicates that it is not essential to drink milk to be healthy. To the contrary, it may be beneficial not to do so.

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