Mark Bittman, the NYT food writer and general culinary wizard, just published a piece on how within 24 hours of going off dairy, his lifelong heartburn disappeared, seemingly never to return. A follow-up article appeared as well, sparked by the 1,300 comments he received on the first one, describing ailment after ailment that just went away after dairy was eliminated from the diet. Dairy is now the #2 food allergy after peanuts.
Bittman: “Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews… There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage.”
I have my own personal milk stories to share. First, two of my boys suffered from eczema when they were very young, the younger one so badly the sores would ooze. Eliminating dairy from their diets cleared up just about all of the eczema (with a few other tweaks–including eliminating lentils from my older son’s diet after his pediatrician did a food sensitivity blood panel that showed lentils, which he consumed constantly in the form of soup from our favorite local mediterranean restaurant, were a major irritant, as well as using a thick salve nightly on my younger one’s dry skin). I did find the boys could tolerate sheep and goat dairy products–the proteins are smaller and easier for us to digest and process–so once their skin cleared, I allowed manchego and pecorino cheese, chèvre, etc. The boys now consume cow dairy in limited amounts, but if I notice anything funny going on with their skin, they go off it again to clear their systems.
Another anecdote. Two winters ago, my two younger children who were then 3 and 5, seemed to be perpetually congested, stuffed up and sick. Finally, my mother urged me to consult an ENT. He couldn’t find anything much wrong but suggested I try eliminating dairy. Again, the symptoms simply cleared up. Neither one had respiratory congestion or a single cold for the remainder of the season. Again, I reintroduced limited dairy after their bodies had healed, but whenever I notice any stuffiness, it’s off dairy again to give their bodies a break.
Finally, I myself suffer from mild psoriasis on my elbows, and I’ve noticed that this, too, diminishes greatly the less dairy I consume. I have switched to almond milk, and I try to stick with non-bovine cheese whenever possible. If you’ve ever been to the cheese counter at a Whole Foods or other specialty market, perhaps you’ve seen the amazing and utterly delicious array of sheep and goat cheeses available. Steering clear of cow cheese is not a big sacrifice today.
What about the calcium milk supplies? Isn’t that important for healthy bones? As Bittman notes, not really. “Osteoporosis? You don’t need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. In fact, the rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries, and it turns out that the keys to bone strength are lifelong exercise and vitamin D, which you can get from sunshine. Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mother for almost all of human history, and fresh cow’s milk could not be routinely available to urbanites without industrial production.”
All that said, not everyone reacts to cow dairy, and among those who replied to Bittman, many noticed improvements by switching the form of cow dairy they consumed. Some swore by non-“American” milk, others by raw milk, others by eliminating milk itself but not cow cheese and yogurt, and so on. Read the two columns for more.
The lesson is, I think, that if you are suffering from some of the maladies that Bittman’s readers eradicated by going off dairy–to wit: “heartburn, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, eczema, acne, hives, asthma (“When I gave up dairy, my asthma went away completely”), gall bladder issues, body aches, ear infections, colic, “seasonal allergies,” rhinitis, chronic sinus infections and more”–it might be well worth your going dairy-free for a week or two and seeing whether your condition improves. It’ll cost you nothing, but the benefits could be huge.