By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
7:30 PM EST, February 20, 2013
"Canned salmon: It does a body good" doesn't pack quite the same punch as that other slogan.
"Got edamame?" Not much better.
They're worth remembering though, given a growing movement away from milk. Consumption is at its lowest level in 36 years, according to per-capita dairy-intake statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture. And consumption of all dairy products has been steadily decreasing since 2005. In a 2011 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics survey tracking the nation's eating habits, 22 percent of Americans reported decreasing their intake of dairy products in the previous five years.
Of course you need look no further than your local "dairy" case, with its collection of soy, rice, almond, coconut, hemp and oat milks to see that we're exploring our options.
The reasons are as plentiful and varied as the consumers giving dairy-free living a whirl. Some of us struggle to digest milk as we age and the small intestine stops producing lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose. Some people eliminate dairy to address specific health conditions. Others are eliminating animal products altogether in favor of a vegan lifestyle.
A commonality we all share, though, is the need to give our bodies certain nutrients. And while plenty of people will continue to get those from milk, others will turn to other sources, and that's OK, say nutrition experts.
"You don't have to eat dairy to make sure your diet is complete," says registered dietitian Ruth Frechman, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And you just may find your overall health improving in dairy's absence.
"I believe that for optimal health and maximum reduction of risk for chronic illness, all dairy should be eliminated from the diet," says nutritionist Joseph Keon, author of "Whitewash: The Disturbing Truth About Cow's Milk and Your Health." "Some of the conditions I have seen improved or resolved with the elimination of all dairy (are) stomach cramps, bloating, intestinal gas, diarrhea, joint pain, migraine headaches, runny nose, chronic congestion, excess weight and menstrual cramps. I've also seen extensive eczema resolved in two weeks after elimination of all dairy."
This runs counter to our impressions of milk as a staple of good health — a food pyramid building block.
Indeed, an 8-ounce serving of cow's milk packs an appealing blend of nutrients: 8 grams of protein, 306 milligrams of calcium, 380 milligrams of potassium and 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.
But that doesn't mean your body reacts well to it.
"There are more than 5,400 different mammalian species, and every one produces milk for its offspring that's nutritionally unique and meets that species' needs," Keon says. "We are the only species that has chosen to consume the milk of another species. It was never formulated for us, and we have a lot of problems with it."
Keon suggests talking to your physician about getting tested for lactose intolerance or a more severe dairy allergy. If milk triggers a response from your immune system, you could be experiencing a number of significant health issues.
"The body sends out mast cells to deal with what it sees as a threat," Keon says. "Antibodies attach to mast cells that release histamine. That histamine release can manifest itself as eczema, congestion, mucus production, migraines, joint pain."
In lieu of testing, you could simply eliminate milk from your diet for a couple of weeks to see how you feel, Keon suggests.
"About 50 million American adults and children have some form of negative reaction to either dairy proteins or the milk sugar called lactose," he says. "I've had people cut out dairy and say to me, 'I spent my whole life quietly battling cramping, gas, bloating, diarrhea. I can't tell you how this has transformed my life.'"
Dairy is also the leading source of our estrogen intake, since we milk cows through late-stage pregnancy when hormone levels are highest, Keon says. This can exacerbate uncomfortable menstrual symptoms in some women.
"Estrogen is responsible for building up the lining of the uterus," Keon says. "More estrogen means there is more likely a heavier buildup of the lining, which releases prostaglandins — chemicals that are responsible for cramping."
Noted vegan advocate Del Sroufe, author of "Forks Over Knives," the cookbook companion to the 2011 documentary, says the number of calories and fat grams in dairy products should give more consumers pause.
"The relationship between saturated fat and cholesterol to weight gain and cardiovascular disease is a large and well-documented one," Sroufe says. "That's easily addressed by reducing dairy."
Subsequent weight loss and improved cardiovascular health, he says, are often accompanied by other benefits.
"One of the first things you see for men is restored sexual function," he says. "That's a big one. Any time you reduce your cholesterol and fat intake, you're going to see myriad benefits."
The trick is replacing dairy with nutrient-dense foods that are also lower in saturated fat and calories.
The critical nutrients to make room for are calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin D, Frechman says. One approach is to stock up on supplements and start checking labels to see what products are fortified. Orange juice, cereals, bread products and milk alternatives are frequently fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
A healthier approach, she says, is to look for foods that contain such nutrients. Beans, grains, most vegetables and some fruits are also rich sources.
For potassium, Frechman recommends bananas, avocados, potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, kiwis, papayas and mangoes.
Calcium-rich foods include dark green, leafy veggies (spinach, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, broccoli); almonds; beans (edamame, kidney beans); sardines; and canned salmon, particularly with the bones mashed into the meat.
For vitamin D, salmon and other fish are also good sources.
As for protein: "Any type of nut butter," Frechman says. "Beans, eggs, tofu, meat, fish, peas, spinach. You'd be surprised how much protein vegetables have. Fruit has hardly any."
A dairy-free diet doesn't have to feel restrictive, Sroufe says.
"It's not just about giving something up," he says. "It's about increasing variety in our diets."
And possibly feeling better along the way.
"Since milk offers us no guarantee of bone health, and it really wasn't intended for us in the first place, and you're looking at a payload of fat, hormones and calories," Keon says, "then it's well worth taking a look at."
But what is dairy, exactly?
Dairy is any food product derived from cow's milk. Aside from the milk itself, dairy items include butter, most cheeses, yogurt, whey protein and ice cream, to name a few. Read the ingredients to be sure your food products do not contain milk products if you're trying to avoid dairy.
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