A question I get asked a lot is why I switched from being lacto-vegetarian to being vegan. Most people understand why I don’t eat meat, but it’s harder for people to understand why I exclude dairy and eggs from my diet. As I was raised on a lacto-vegetarian diet, I already didn’t eat eggs because my family didn’t want to support the suffering of hens who lay eggs, arguably the cruelest of all factory farmed products. I tended to avoid drinking plain milk because I disliked the taste and odor, but I didn’t know much about the dairy industry until I did some research in high school. I was absolutely amazed about what I learned.
Here is a list of the main reasons, in no particular order, why I made the decision to ditch dairy six years ago.
Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert. This is a blog post about my personal experience, and these are personal conclusions that I drew from my research when when I looked into removing dairy from my diet. The Shorthorn does not claim to be a source of nutritional or medical expertise, nor does it advise other people to remove dairy from their diets. Those who wish to make any significant changes in their diet should always consult their physician and proper resources.
1. Dairy made me sluggish
When I first started looking into veganism, I would challenge myself to be vegan for most of the week and have a cheat day or two, where I would consume dairy, usually in the form of cheese. As a student athlete, I was working out five days a week, and I personally noticed a significant increase in my mood and energy levels on my “vegan days.” I compared my experiences and noticed that on the days I consumed dairy, I felt more sluggish in class and had less energy in completing my workouts. This difference, I now realize, was probably because I had a hidden allergy to dairy. Research shows that fatigue and depression can be linked to allergen consumption.
2. Prevention of cancer and osteoporosis
I became inspired about how my nutritional choices could impact my health and prevent degenerative diseases. Casein, the protein found in dairy, has been found to be the biggest carcinogen in our foods. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who grew up on a dairy farm but changed his diet after his nutritional research, discovered that casein actually encourages all stages of the cancer process. After many years of peer-reviewed research, Campbell found that casein is an on/off switch for cancer. In his comprehensive study comparing Western and Asian diets, Campbell also found that rates of osteoporosis were higher in Western countries than Asian countries. The difference is the presence of dairy prominent in Western diets. Campbell’s research is published in his book The China Study, which has been called the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. His findings were also featured in a recent documentary called Forks Over Knives, a film that discusses the prevention of many degenerative diseases through proper nutrition. Other studies also have concluded that dairy consumption directly leads to higher risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
3. Cow’s milk is made for calves, not humans
We are socially conditioned to see cow’s milk as necessary and normal for humans. However, during my research about cow’s milk, I took a step back and considered how strange the notion of drinking cow’s milk is. Sure, milk is needed for the development of a baby’s body, but humans are the only species who continue to consume milk after the stages of weaning, and we are the only species that consumes the milk of another species. Human breast milk and cow’s milk have notable nutritional and structural differences in their compositions, including fatty acids, protein and calcium content. In this table, one can see that human breast milk and cow’s milk are not interchangeable. An estimated 75 percent of the world’s adult human population is lactose intolerant. That’s probably not a coincidence. Cow’s milk is intended for calves, after all.
4. The dairy industry contributes to climate change
My minor is in environmental and sustainability studies, and I’ve always been passionate about environment. Through the years, my convictions about environmental benefits of veganism have only strengthened. The meat and dairy industry is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation sectors combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That was the widely cited and accepted figure in 2006. However, in 2009, a comprehensive re-examination of the figures by the World Watch Institute found that the FAO report was outdated, and estimates that the number is actually much higher — a dumbfounding 51 percent. This study was conducted by Robert Goodland, a retired lead environmental adviser, and Jeff Anhang, a research officer and environmental specialist at the World Bank Group. Goodland and Anhang addressed multiple issues that the FAO report left out, including the emissions given off from livestock waste. Cows raised for beef and dairy release a significant amount of methane, a lesser known greenhouse gas that traps 72 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. It was no surprise to me when I found that other studies concluded that a reduction in both meat and dairy products is one of the most effective methods of mitigating climate change.
5. Hormones in dairy causes health concerns
I was blown away by how much antibiotics are injected into cows and by how many hormones are added to cow’s milk, when it already contains hormones and growth factors naturally, to support a calf’s growth. Dairy cows are injected with bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to increase their milk production. Drinking this hormone increases levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor I, IGF-1, which has been linked to higher rates of breast and colon cancer. To keep the milk white, powdered skim is added (this also applies to organic milk), which oxidizes the cholesterol found in dairy. Research shows that consuming oxidized cholesterol causes clogged arteries and heart disease.
6. Less allergies
I used to wake up almost every morning sneezing several times in a row. It was kind of funny, but it was a really irritating way to start my day. After taking dairy out of my diet, this problem slowly decreased, and now I have no allergies in the morning at all. Studies have shown that higher rates of dairy consumption can cause congestion problems in adults.
7. Plant-based calcium is more readily absorbed
When I first started trying out a vegan diet, I was concerned about my calcium intake, but I learned that I had nothing to worry about. The high protein content found in dairy actually leaches the calcium from our bones. Plant-based calcium, from dark leafy vegetables, has a higher absorption rate than dairy-based calcium. I go outside to get vitamin D from the sun, which helps with calcium absorption, and eat calcium-rich plant foods like broccoli, spinach and kale.
8. Less constipation
I got plenty of fiber from vegetables as a lacto-vegetarian, but I noticed I went to the bathroom a lot easier when I switched to a vegan diet. Dairy, having no fiber, can be a culprit for indigestion and constipation.
9. Cruelty of the dairy industry towards cows
As someone who loves and respects animals, I was deeply troubled to learn that the dairy industry still contributes to the suffering of animals, even if they don’t kill the cows right away. I learned that the process is arguably crueler than the killing of animals for meat. The cows are made to produce so much milk that their udders become swollen, making it difficult for them to walk. For cows to give milk, they must be pregnant. One of the worst things I learned was that at any dairy facility, female cows must be forcibly and artificially inseminated--a completely unnatural and inhumane practice which violates the cows. As if this exploitation of the mother cows was not enough, dairy production inevitably involves the forcible removal of calves from their mothers, to prevent the calves from nursing, because the milk produced is to be sold for human consumption. This causes emotional distress for the mother and calf, but dairy farmers disregard the cries and mourns as a normal part of the dairy process and say the cows are not in distress. Imagine taking a child from its mother. Knowing these things, I became absolutely horrified and disgusted with the industry as a whole, and I no longer wanted to be a part of it.
10. Supporting the dairy industry means supporting the veal industry
When learning about the treatment of dairy cows, I also finally understood the connection between the veal industry and the dairy industry. In the dairy industry, male calves are virtually useless. Veal is an inevitable by-product of the dairy industry. I learned that only boycotting beef or veal was not an effective method to fight these cruel practices, boycotting dairy is the way to do it. I could no longer bring myself to support any kind of dairy farming.
11. Weight loss
I noticed that cutting dairy from my diet helped me lose a considerable amount of weight. Eliminating dairy helped me maintain a weight I was more comfortable with, so I stuck with it. The USDA has touted dairy to be a weight loss aid, but studies examining the effects of high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol found in milk say otherwise. While federal guidelines recommend the intake of skim milk or reduced fat milk to help prevent obesity, the Harvard School of Public Health says that researchers suggest that these products could contribute to weight gain. Their nutrition experts recommend limiting dairy intakes to only one or two servings a day in their “Healthy Eating Plate,” a revised eating guide that differs greatly from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “MyPlate,” which advocates three servings of dairy a day for adults.
12. It’s easy, fun and interesting
The sheer number of dairy alternatives makes it so easy to cut it out from my diet. Soy milk is no longer the only alternative. There are so many for me to choose from, including almond milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and rice milk. Vegan baking seemed like a challenge to me at first, but with the abundance of online resources and tips, it's been a breeze. I still miss cheese from time to time, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as Daiya and Teese cheese, and I really enjoy making my own vegan cheese at home. Almond parmesan is like magic. Making cheesy childhood favorites, like mac and cheese, is like an adventure to me now. I can choose to use cashews, tofu or even cauliflower. One of my favorite Pinterest boards to browse has more than 30 different ways to make vegan mac and cheese.