What are the reasons to ditch meat and dairy? Today I’m getting into the hottest subject that concerns both pro- and anti-veg people.
There is so much info about this all over the internet that if you start digging, you might get easily confused and frustrated. Especially if you are very new to the idea of living meat and dairy free.
There are plenty of individuals, groups, and organizations that seem so passionate about the subject that when they shower newcomers with information, they scare them away with their enthusiasm (Those guys are crazy! Salad-eating freaks! Anyone giving up animal products must be going insane!).
I know, I know. Yes, it’s easy to get carried away when you truly believe that your way of living is the only right way to go, and everybody should follow you. I myself have been guilty of this a few times (I wonder how many of my friends have had a thought: ‘Hmm, I’m not sure if I like this new Alina…’).
But let’s cut all of us vegan freaks a break here, and just focus on the cold hard facts of why it makes sense to ditch animal products.
Why People Choose to Ditch Meat and Dairy
If you ask anyone who’s been meat and dairy free for some time about why they decided to do this, you might hear different answers. I love reading ‘About Me’ pages on all kinds of vegan blogs!
Most often it comes down to taking better care of their health, being passionate about animal rights, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on global warming. There are also people who never liked the taste of meat, or go for it as an experiment (30 days without meat! etc.).
While most of today’s post is devoted to health benefits of ditching meat/dairy, I can’t ignore the facts of how the upkeep of livestock all over the globe affects the environment. Here are just a few facts that were outlined by Dr. David Pimentel of Cornell University:
- – Animal protein production requires 8 times more fossil fuel than plant protein production;
- – Livestock in the US consumes 5 times more grain than human population. And they were not even intended to eat it by nature!
- – In order to produce 1 kg of beef, you need 100,000 liters of water. 1 kg of wheat – 900 liters. 1 kg of potatoes – 500 liters. All of this is happening while the world’s freshwater supplies are running low or getting contaminated!
- – 80 percent of deforestation in the tropics is attributed to creating more farmland, especially for grazing cattle.
(Source: T. Colin Campbell. Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition. Part 2. Chapter 12: Reductionist Social Science. What We Do to Ourselves, We Do to the Earth.)
This paints a pretty sad picture of where we all are heading as humanity.
As the famous Hollywood director James Cameron (also a vegan) put it in his recent speech at the National Geographic 125th gala, “…we are all sleepwalking off a cliff ” if we keep our high animal consumption rates. He added, “By changing what you eat, you will change the entire contact between the human species and the natural world.”
You can find much more information on this through additional research: animal right activists and environmental protection agencies all over the world can paint this picture much better for you than I ever could in just one post. Keep your eyes open!
Why Meat and Dairy are Bad for Our Health
Once again, there’s been a lot of research done to determine whether or not humans are meant to eat meat. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus at Cornell University, concludes in his book The China Study that we only recently – historically speaking – began eating meat, thus never fully adapting to digesting it.
Dr. Campbell describes through the research he had conducted during his 40+ year-long career as a nutritional biochemist that there is a very clear connection between animal protein consumption and the development of cancer and heart disease.
Dr. Neal Barnard, the president of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, agrees with this point of view in his book The Power of Your Plate suggesting that humans originally began eating meat “…by scavenging – eating the leftovers that carnivores had left behind. However, our bodies have never adapted to it. To this day, meat eaters have a higher incidence of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other problems.”
Paleontologist Dr. Richard Leakey agrees that humans are not anthropologically developed to consume meat: you “can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand”.
We don’t have large paws with sharp claws to hold down the prey and tear its flesh. Our teeth are not nearly as sharp as the teeth of carnivores, and though we might have teeth called ‘canines’, they are much weaker and duller than your average carnivore’s canines.
There are significant differences in the composition of our digestive systems. Carnivores’ stomach acid is at least 10 times stronger than that of humans, and our intestines are much longer. When carnivores eat flesh, it gets digested faster and more efficiently once attacked by their stomach acid, and then exits their bodies quickly without having to rot in their intestines.
What would happen to us if we decided to start eating uncooked meat? You know it: we would get sick in no time because our stomach acid couldn’t kill all the bacteria!
If we were not meant to eat animals, what happens in our bodies when we do?
One of the most negative reactions that happens in our bodies after consuming lots of animal protein is called metabolic acidosis.
Basically, animal proteins have higher levels of sulphur-containing amino acids. When these amino acids are metabolized, they cause the PH level inside our bodies to go lower, thus making it more acidic.
To neutralize this acidity, our body draws calcium from our bones! According to Harvard University’s Nurses’ Health Study, dairy may increase the risk of bone fractures by 50 percent.
Ask yourself: how many older people do you know who are suffering from brittle bones (osteoporosis)? I’m sure all of us know at least one older lady who once stumbled on her walk and fell down breaking a hip?
That’s right – hip fractures are a perfectly clear sign of osteoporosis! And has that lady been a milk drinker all her life? Well, you know the answer.
But milk does the body good! We were told all our lives about that calcium!
You have to understand: just because calcium is in milk, it doesn’t mean that it gets absorbed by our bodies. Animal protein doesn’t only cause the existing calcium to be washed out of your bones – it also inhibits our body’s absorption of other nutrients that we may have consumed with the same meal (Source).
By the way, osteoporosis levels differ country by country. In Asian countries, where people have lived for centuries without milk, osteoporosis used to be a rare occasion (read more about the research in this article).
In the West, however, all that cattle farming and cute milk mustaches have made their impact: we’ve been living with osteoporosis side by side for years.
Have you ever thought about how calcium got in milk in the first place? That’s right – from the plants that cows eat! We are much better off getting our calcium from plants too.
Green leafy vegetables, beans, carrots, cauliflower, calcium-fortified non-dairy milks are all good sources of calcium, and it absorbs better from plant sources than from milk (more about this here).
Too much calcium is no good for us either. Our bodies have developed a protection mechanism to avoid soft tissue calcification that could cause us a terrible death: if you consume too much calcium, it doesn’t get absorbed properly through our intestinal walls and just comes out of the other end.
If you don’t want to flush your money down the drain, don’t worry about calcium supplementation either: our bodies get plenty of it from a whole food plant-based diet.
But I could never give up cheese and ice cream!
Interestingly, cheese is the one product that a lot of newly vegan people name as the hardest food to give up. The texture, the creaminess, the decadent flavor… I’ve been there – cheese haunted me for weeks after I switched to a vegan diet. (What – cheeseless pizza?! No more wine and cheese tastings?!)
Imagine how big my surprise was when I found out that humans can develop a chemical dependency on dairy and cheese in particular! How come?
Mother Nature was very smart when she created milk. There had to be something in it that would attract babies to their moms so that they come back to eat more. Enter casein – the milk protein that, once digested, produces peptides called casomorphins. They in turn produce an opioid effect on our bodies – yes, just like drugs! We feel relaxed, happy – and hooked.
Cheese happens to have the highest amount of casein out of all dairy products. That’s why it can be hard to give it up when you’re just switching to a plant-based diet.
Why would I need to give up cheese anyway?
If you care about your health, you will do your body good by ditching dairy. The China-Oxford -Cornell study conducted in the 1980s, as well as a lot of research that followed it, have proved that casein is a strong carcinogen. High intake of dairy causes an increase in IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) levels – a known cancer promoter (here’s a great article on this by Dr. Mark Hyman).
It is estimated that 75 percent of human population is lactose-intolerant – so why should we torture ourselves? Humans are the only species on the planet that choose to drink another species’ milk, and continue to do so all their lives!
Yes, human milk is the perfect food for human babies while they are nursing. After that, there’s no need to keep consuming dairy.
The fat in animal products is a well-known cause of heart disease. It’s time to say goodbye to the idea of ‘I work out a lot, so I can eat whatever I want!’ You might be okay on the surface right now, but heart disease builds for years, and sometimes the first symptom is a fatal heart attack. It’s up to you to change that!
The Good News
After all of this you want to say there are some good news?! That’s right! After all, I don’t want to just scare you with all this info.
The good news is, our taste buds can adapt to a new way of eating beautifully. Even if you crave that cheese and ice cream and an occasional steak, the longer you stick to a plant-based diet, the more delicious it will become for you.
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes can be cooked in hundreds of delicious ways, and there’s even dessert allowed!
You can experiment with vegan cheeses and non-dairy milk: if you don’t like them at first, try different varieties until you find a favorite.
There are always, always ways to go. As my favorite saying goes: When one door closes, another one opens!
So good luck to you on your new path to becoming vegan! See my post about first steps when going vegan to get some pointers, and check out my 10 quick and easy vegan meals that will help you eat healthy without spending lots of time in the kitchen.
Please note: all the facts provided here are FYI. I am neither a scientist nor a doctor and cannot make any scientific claims. It is always recommended that you do your own additional research, and consult your doctor when making changes in your diet and lifestyle.