by Vesanto Melina, MS, Registered Dietitian
There are many good reasons to embrace a diary-free diet:
Human health: Most of the world’s population has some degree of lactase insufficiency or lactose intolerance after the age of weaning and milk protein is one of the top allergens.
The environment: Pleasant, pastoral scenes don’t show the environmental damage from cattle to riverbanks, air, water and wildlife. Legislation is taking shape, (despite strong opposition), requiring large California dairies to apply for air permits.
Manure: “A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people.” – Environmental Protection Agency. Manure overflows and passes into groundwater and pathogens make people sick.
Concern for cows: Cows are managed in order to get peak milk production and then slaughtered when they can’t perform as “Supercows.” This generally occurs at less than one-quarter of their natural life span. At that point, they typically become burgers. And rest assured; the phrase “humane slaughter” makes no sense at all.
Workers: Those who slaughter, butcher and process cows have intensified exposure to infectious animal materials, including Staph aureus.
Yet cow’s milk has been a significant source of calcium and vitamin D, an additive in fluid milk. So how else can we get these nutrients?
Calcium: In Palaeolithic times, calcium intakes were far greater than that of today. Yet the sources were not dairy products and meat is not a calcium source. It was mostly attributed to their very high intake of plant foods.
Green vegetables: Calcium is extremely well absorbed from certain leafy greens (kale, napa cabbage, bok choy, Chinese greens, broccoli, okra, turnip and mustard greens). Spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard are not in this category, as their calcium is bound by oxalate and is mainly unavailable.
Fruits: Oranges, figs and calcium-enriched orange juice are the superstars in this food group.
Seeds and nuts: Almonds, sesame seeds and butters from these, such as sesame tahini, provide this mineral.
Black beans, white beans and calcium-set tofu: These are rich in calcium. When buying tofu, look for calcium on the ingredient list. Non-dairy beverages are fortified with calcium. To get the intended amount, you must shake the package!
Some breakfast cereals and tortillas.
Here’s an example of how to get a day’s supply of over 1,000 mg calcium:
Breakfast: Oat cereal, 1 c: 27mg / Blueberries, 1 c: 9mg / Fortified non-dairy milk, 1 c: 300mg / Walnuts, 3 tbsp: 21mg.
Lunch: Pita, 1 with hummus, ½ c: 70mg / Kale salad, 2 c: 274mg / Fresh orange, 1: 71mg.
Dinner: Tofu, 4 oz in a stir-fry with Chinese greens, peppers, snow peas, broccoli, 3 c: 250mg or much more. / Brown rice, 1 c: 20mg / Non-dairy yogurt, 1/2 c: 98mg.
Total calcium: 1,140mg
Vitamin D: We need vitamin D for calcium absorption and retention. North of the 49th parallel, however, we get negligible sunlight to stimulate our body’s own vitamin D production. Solution? Take 1000 IU (25 mcg) of vitamin D. For seniors, double this.
Food solutions: How do we get delicious foods and beverages without a drop of dairy? Local natural foods stores and even mainstream supermarkets offer some outstanding alternatives.
Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian, consultant to individuals (online and in person) and co-author of the award-winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books.