Step 5: Limit Meat and Dairy. Focus on quality
As I’ve immersed myself in the nutrition world, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
- If it is controversial, it’s probably best to eat in moderation.
- Quality really matters when it comes to ALL foods, but especially animal foods.
Today we are focusing on meat and dairy–Two very controversial topics in nutrition.
Let’s talk about meat
There are many personal, religious, environmental and ethical reasons for choosing whether or not to eat meat, dairy and other animal projects. If you do choose to eat meat, we recommend doing it in moderation and focusing on quality products. To read our opinion in full, visit our post-The Meat Debate and My Meat Philosophy. Here are some highlights:
- Both the “Meat is good” and “Meat is bad” camps have valid points to consider and are backed by credible research.
- Meat does have nutrients that are not available in plants. Vitamin B12 is essential for cell division and making blood but cannot be found in plants. So vegans are advised to take supplements to get their needed B12. Meats like fish also have more readily available omega-3 fatty acids than plant sources.
- Too much meat can kick out better things. Meat is high in calories and eating lots of meat can take the place of other important healthy foods in your diet like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Processed meats are not great. Processed and over-cooked (charred) meats can introduce harmful substances into our bodies such as nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Those are all big words for nasty things that can be created when meats are cooked. If you are going to eat processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat you should try to find nitrate-free options and not grill them black.
- Hormones and antibiotics are routinely given to animals in our modern-age system. To avoid them you can eat less meat and focus on hormone and antibiotic-free meats when you do eat them.
- Sustainability is an issue for my family. Growing animals for meat generally tends to take more resources than growing plant foods. It definitely depends on where you get it but that is something we think about in our food consumption.
I can personally identify with both sides of the camp. I ate a vegan diet for 6 months and really loved it! I felt great and I feel like it’s better for the environment not to eat too many animals. I have chosen to introduce meat and dairy back in my diet after some research. I feel like my body needs meat during certain times like in the really-cold winter, when I tend to crave it and at some points during pregnancy. That being said, we are pretty much vegetarian at home, so meat for me is VERY limited. Do your research and decide what’s best for you.
Also, visit our post on meat and cancer in the news.
Action Step 1: Reduce the amount of meat and choose quality.
What is quality? Minimally processed, hormone and antibiotic-free, grass-fed and not charred-broiled. You may have to compromise, depending on your food budget. Buying quality meat (which is expensive) often encourages you to buy less of it. So, the two can go hand-in-hand.
How about Dairy?
I’ve never really liked milk or been able to tolerate it well even though I’ve always been a big fan of cheese. The past few years I’ve rejected them both to be vegan and then “mostly vegan” after reading Dr Campbell’s book The China Study. I felt like his evidence was compelling and since dairy never settled well with me anyway (literally) I was happy to go along with it. As my health journey progressed, I became a fermentation enthusiast and bacteria junkie (it’s fascinating! I promise). I often questioned the milk issue since milk is SO easy to ferment and is such a viable source of good bacteria. Recently I have read some critiques of Campbell’s work and done a lot of digging on my own. What I have found has made me re-think my opinion of milk.
Does milk cause cancer?
Campbell’s main complaint with dairy is that he saw casein (protein in dairy) contribute to cancer growth in many of his studies.1 He also found correlation in epidemiological studies in the China study showing that all animal products, including milk are linked to higher incidents of cancer growth. However, the validity of his conclusions, especially about milk, have been hotly debated on many other blogs. 2
Health officials have previously recommend daily consumption of milk (3 a-day) due to the high level of calcium and other vitamins. Recent research, however, has linked consumption of milk with increased risk of bone fractures, cardiovascular disease and heart disease.3 These and other studies have caused people to seriously question dairy.
On the other hand, studies show that whey protein (also a protein from milk and a by-product of fermentation) is beneficial in preventing cancer growth.4
In all studies it is difficult to make conclusions about milk, because the quality of the milk consumed is not usually reported. We don’t know if the milk is pasteurized, raw, organic, grass-fed or fermented. Each of these milks have vastly different qualities that make it difficult to draw conclusions when they are lumped together.
Which milk is best? What is quality milk?
Due to federal regulations, organic milk is free from major toxins and hormones. Cows are required to spend a large percentage of the year in pastures.4 It is reasonable to expect that since milk comes from cows, the quality of the milk is related to the cow’s diet and lifestyle. Research has shown that grass-fed cows produce milk with better nutrients. For example, organic milk contains “between 71 and 240% more omega-3 fats than conventional milk.”5 Another essential fatty acid contained in meat and dairy products is known as congugated linoleic acid (CLA). It helps our bodies access body fat and release it as energy.
“According to a 1999 study published in the Journal of Dairy Science, meat and full-fat dariy products from grass-fed animals can produce 300 to 500 percent more CLA than do cows fed the usual grain diet.”4
So, organic is an important distinction among meat and dairy products. Dee McCaffrey, CDC, also recommends consuming full-fat milk. She points out that the processing required to lower the fat content of milk “makes the milk less nutritious and less digestible. It changes the color of the milk, requiring companies to color the milk and/or add dried milk powder to bulk them up.4
I recommend fermented dairy products such as yogurt, whey, cheese and cottage cheese, because they have additional health benefits.
Action Step 2: Buy quality dairy, eat it less and eat it fermented.
I recommend eating less than 3 servings a day since the research has been inconclusive. If you tolerate it well, it appears that organic, full-fat dairy, raw dairy and especially fermented dairy products are beneficial to your health.
- T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Thomas Campbell, MD. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health, 1st Edition. BenBella Books, Inc. Dallas TX, 2006.
- Colpo, Anthody. “The China Study: More Vegan Nonsense!” Sept 2, 2007. (Read online here.)
- Thompson, Dennis. WEbMD. “Is Milk Your Friend or Foe?” Oct. 29, 2014. (Read online here.)
- Dee McCaffrey, CDC. The Science of Skinny: Start Understanding your Body’s Chemistry–and Stop Dieting Forever. Da Capo Press; 2012: 158-60.