[Which] protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer [in this research]? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process. What type of protein did not promote cancer, even at high levels of intake? The safe proteins were from plants, including wheat and soy.
- T. Colin Campbell, The China Study
When I performed in St. Paul two weeks ago, I got to meet Heidi and Justin from Raw Food Right Now – a popular raw food blog. Typically, I don’t talk to anyone before I perform. But the three of us chattered away right up to my show time. It was a fun conversation. We were each so passionate about the shifts we’ve experienced in our moods and bodies from being vegan.
[Note: I call myself "Mostly Vegan" because I am not always vegan when I travel. I also very occasionally have a small portion of organic meat. Also, I'm not even close to being a raw foodie - but I prepare some raw meals.]
Heidi was clear that her objective is not about converting people to raw food or making them vegans. She and Justin both believe that each person has to make his/her own choices about food and lifestyle. Me too.
AND, as we talked, it was apparent that if we could be preachy about one thing, we knew what it would be. We agreed that this one dietary change had profound effects on our moods, weight, skin, and overall health. We talked about how we’d love to somehow convince people of the giant benefits of doing just this one thing. What is it?
Giving up dairy products.
Americans consume more cow’s milk and its products per person than most populations in the world. So Americans should have wonderfully strong bones right? Unfortunately not. A recent study showed that American women aged 50 and older have one of the highest rates of hip fractures in the world.
- T. Colin Campbell, The China Study
Heidi told a story about one of her business clients. She noticed he was sick all the time. He was always congested, coughing, and lethargic. After one of their meetings, they ended up talking about health and diet. Heidi asked her client what he ate on a daily basis. He told her that he ate ice cream every single night before bed. She suggested that he try one dietary change: Cut out the ice cream. Two weeks later, Heidi received a big bouquet of flowers from this client. The note thanked her for changing his life. His health issues had disappeared.
Men with the highest dairy intake had approximately double the risk of total prostate cancer, and up to a 400% increase in risk of metastatic or fatal cancer.
-T. Colin Campbell, The China Study
I rarely talk about how I choose to eat. There’s enough confusion and skepticism out there, and I don’t want to add more “should’s” to anyone’s list. Occasionally, however, someone will ask me about being vegan, or about how I stay healthy. I’m happy to talk about it when someone asks. (Sometimes, people get confrontational about it. They want to pick a fight. This always strikes me as odd, since I don’t feel particularly agenda-ish about being vegan.)
When the discussion turns to dairy, the reaction is often a horrified look. “I could never give up cheese!” I understand the sentiment. Dairy products are the staple “comfort food” for many people. In my first years working with an acupuncturist for my health/eating disorder issues, I was encouraged to give up dairy. The best I could do was to stop eating ice cream, and shift to only organic dairy products. (In Chinese medicine, ice cream is considered one of the worst foods to consume.)
Fast forward to early 2006. I listened to the audio book version of The Way We Eat, and soon after, I made the choice to go “mostly vegan” simply because it was becoming harder and harder to trust what “certified organic” meant. I felt ready. At the time, I didn’t think of the choice in terms of health benefits. I just don’t like many of the practices of the food industry.
The first two months without dairy were the hardest. I had bouts of grouchiness and moodiness. I was emotional, and I couldn’t reach for my favorite palliative food – melted cheese. This made me angry. (It was actually kind of funny.)
After two months, the cravings ceased. Then I felt completely normal. In fact, I felt really good. In the past year, my health has improved so much that I’m certain I’ll never go back to eating dairy…even the organic stuff. Here’s a list of the health shifts I’ve experienced since I (mostly) stopped eating dairy over a year ago:
- No more zits. I used to have regular break-outs on my forehead. (When I have had dairy on the road, I’ve come home with zits.)
- All PMS symptoms are completely gone. This includes massively sore breasts and huge emotional outbursts the day before onset. (I still have occasional weepiness though!)
- I lost about seven pounds in a few months. (I also work out regularly when I’m not traveling – so there are other elements involved in my weight loss.)
- I haven’t gotten a cold or sore throat in over a year. (They used to be a quarterly event.)
- I’m less emotional.
- I never feel like I’m “giving up” any kinds of foods. I delight in vegan dishes. It feels completely normal.
There’s one drawback:
I’m more sensitive to processed foods and road food. This makes it a little harder to recover from road trips. If I do have a meal with dairy in it (there are times on the road where it just happens – and I don’t have the energy to find an alternative meal), I will often break out within a few days, and PMS symptoms will return that month. I haven’t experimented enough to know how much of this is just the stress of travel. It’s just what I’ve noticed. Other vegans I’ve met have had similar experiences.
Americans have weak bones not because they drink too little milk but because they drink too much, Campbell says. Animal protein, such as the protein in milk, makes blood and tissues more acidic, and to neutralize this acid, the body pulls calcium, which is a very effective base, from the bones. Because dairy products contain substantial amounts of animal protein, drinking milk actually robs the bones of calcium, he says. The more meat and milk Americans eat, he says, the more calcium they need to consume to process that protein.
- LA Times on The China Study
I recently listened to The China Study in audio book format. (I often start books in audio, then I go back and read them for more detailed information.) As you can see from some of the quotes in this article, the China Study research revealed that dairy protein is a block to health. The book has also convinced me to eliminate even the small amount of organic meat that I have been eating. I highly recommend reading it.
Two final notes about eating:
1 – One of the key tenets of The China Study is that a whole foods plant-based diet is of utmost importance. Many of the vegetarians I’ve met in my life are what I call “potato chip vegetarians.” French Fries and cokes are vegetarian, yes. But they’re not healthy. Before I considered becoming vegan, I had already fallen in love with dinners of lightly steamed veggies and rice. I taught myself how to eat simply and healthfully.
2 – One of the reasons I’m not rigid about how I eat is because perfectionism is a surefire way to ruin your emotional health. If eliminating dairy, or being vegan, or any other shift in your diet doesn’t feel do-able, then don’t go there. Some people can use this kind of information as another way to beat themselves up. I’ve chosen to shift my diet in this way because I’m at a point where my old food addictions and eating disorders are no longer an issue. Still, I watch my own perfectionistic tendencies. And I go easy when I’m traveling. Give yourself some time to feel into this choice. And remember to go slowly.