Why I don’t drink cow’s milk.

Dinner last night: herb mashed potatoes, white bean salad, homemade whole wheat bread (I made bread yesterday for the first time in almost a year!), and of course a nice big salad with some creamy non-dairy ranch.

An interesting podcast you should check out. Dr. John McDougall interviews Greg Miller, the spokesperson for the National Dairy Association. It’s entertaining to see how Mr. Miller dodges all of Dr. McDougall’s questions. He seems like just a pawn for the dairy industry (anyone see Fun With Dick and Jane where Jim Carey is used by his company to go on TV to defend the company but just makes a fool of himself?).

Why Shouldn’t I Drink Cow’s Milk? Why Is Cow’s Milk Bad For Me?

Questions, you may be asking yourself. You’ve come to the perfect place, I’ve got some answers, or at least some insights, because the topic of today’s post is: why I don’t drink cow’s milk (more on plant-based milks here and here).

I’ve addressed some of the issues surrounding cow’s milk before, but I want to go into greater detail about why I don’t drink milk. Emotional and devise issue for some, I know, but let me begin by sharing an experience.

About 3 years ago….

I wanted pizza. It had been at least a month now. I hadn’t consumed one thing that contained the slightest hint of any dairy product or meat. I was on a “vegan fast.” Just to see if I could do it.

So there I a was, pining for something cheesy, and pizza was my first choice. I was also 4 months pregnant, and as a pregnant person, I was subject to cravings. All of the time. So now I should just listen to my body, give it what it wants. Okay. So I order a meatless pizza, covered with an abundance of wonderfully greasy pizza sauce and cheese.

Fast forward, next morning and afternoon. It was quite embarrassing actually. I had gone to a workshop with my husband and we had been visiting different sites, touring different things. And that is when it hit me….may I say it? Diarrhea. Bad. I had to go to the restroom at least 6 times within an hour. As I sat in an outhouse (we were up a canyon in the mountains), I vowed in earnest that I would never put myself in this situation again. My body clearly did not react well to cheese. This had not been the first time I had taken cheese out of my diet, then eaten “just a little bit.”

Somehow I had had self-induced amnesia and had forgotten the bloating, cramping and diarrhea or the opposite, constipation, that came with dairy consumption. But this was the last straw. I knew it wasn’t good for my body and I needed to do something about that: decide to no longer make it a part of my diet.

In light of the aforementioned incident, in addition to the fact that milk has never sat well in my digestive tract, I’m fairly certain I’m lactose intolerant. A fair portion of the world’s population is. Symptoms vary but can include mild to moderate symptoms like the one’s I experienced.

What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest significant amounts of lactose, the major sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of the enzyme lactase, which is produced by the cells that line the small intestine. Lactase breaks down milk sugar into two simpler forms of sugar called glucose and galactose, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Not all people deficient in lactase have the symptoms commonly associated with lactose intolerance, but those who do are said to have lactose intolerance.
People sometimes confuse lactose intolerance with cow’s
milk intolerance because the symptoms are often the same. However, lactose
intolerance and cow’s milk intolerance are not related. Being intolerant to
cow’s milk is an allergic reaction triggered by the immune system. Lactose
intolerance is a problem caused by the digestive system.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance?
People who do not have enough lactase to digest the amount of lactose they consume may feel very uncomfortable when they digest milk products. Common symptoms, which range from mild to severe, include nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Symptoms begin about 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating or drinking foods
containing lactose. The severity of symptoms depends on many factors, including
the amount of lactose a person can tolerate and a person’s age, ethnicity, and
digestion rate.

Eliminating dairy products was probably more difficult for me than eliminating meat, (dairy products and derivatives are used in nearly every processed food from soups to crackers, cookies, breads, etc.).

In our western culture, especially as Americans, we grow up learning that milk is good for you, drink a lot, and drink it often. It’s entrenched in our culture that you must eat dairy foods to obtain calcium. You need calcium to prevent osteoporosis, right? All of these things were going on in my head as I began to eliminate milk, cheese, etc. Like I was putting my body in real danger. But I trusted my body, which said, don’t eat those foods, it makes you sick! as well as the research I had studied and pored over, specifically The China Study.

The benefits of this: lost weight, became “regular” (I want to note that I have always been on a high fiber diet, even before being vegan, so the right amount of fiber wasn’t the problem, it was the dairy that was plugging me up), no longer felt all of those unpleasant symptoms mentioned above.

But milk doesn’t bother me, you may say. Even if it doesn’t there are dozens and dozens of reasons to reconsider your intake of dairy products. Here are a few:

1. Do you think God (if you believe in God) put us on this earth and said, I hope you all get access to a few dairy cows, otherwise, you’re not gonna make it? I find it hard to believe that in order to have health you must rely on the milk that was intended for a baby calf (I’ve heard all of the arguments from the pro-milk side, and they just all seem pretty weak).

Second thing, I’ve heard people say, you need to drink milk because your pregnant or nursing. I don’t follow that logic: in order for me to produce milk for my baby I must drink the milk from a cow. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

2. Half of the world consumes little to none dairy (Africans, Asians, for example), are they withering away from calcium deficiency? Nay, on the contrary, these populations have very little incidences of osteoporosis and hip fractures (which incidentally has a more direct correlation with high-protein consumption rather than a lack of calcium in the diet), especially in comparison to those countries where dairy consumption is very high (the U.S., most of Europe, lead the world in milk consumption yet we also have the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fractures–for more research on this, refer to the tabs under calcium info on the side of my blog).

3. Dairy farms, especially the big ones, are stinky, sickening, and saddening (I grew up in a very “stinky” dairy town). There’s a lot of information out there about the unethical treatment of animals, I don’t like to focus on this simply because it saddens me: the cows are put into a constant state of lactation, separated from their young, subjected to growth hormones, antibiotics, the list goes on. Those hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics come through the milk.

4. If you think of eating in terms of “whole” foods (for example naturally), in order for milk to be considered even remotely healthy (as far as amount of fat and cholesterol go), you need to unnaturally dilute it into 1%, 2%, skim. Whole milk is 50% calories from fat and cheese is 70-90% and is loaded with cholesterol. Milk is the perfect food: for baby calves who are growing rapidly and are meant to grow up to be on average, 1300 lbs.

5. More bowel regularity! Looking back, I think dairy products were the source of most of my discomfort especially constipation, after eating.

6. Plant foods are abundant in calcium (green plants contain calcium that is 70% can be absorbed as opposed to cow’s milk which is on average about 30%). Additionally, the lower your animal protein intake is lower your requirements for calcium (the RDA for most adults is somewhere between 1000-1300 mg). Most of the calcium that we ingest as Americans is excreted out the feces and urine (lay men’s terms: we pee it out).

7. Pollution, anyone? If you want to talk, pollution, cows (methane gas) are bigger contributors than SUV’s.

8. Homogenization and pasteurization. A necessary evil, but it kills all of the bad stuff and the good stuff, like raw enzymes. Homogenization is also thought to create scaring of the artery walls.

Remember you’re not “giving up” anything (other than your indigestion and stress on your body), but rather you’re expanding your diet and your life!

Click here for more resources on the subject.


  1. Meggie Bot
    on March 6, 2009 at 3:24 am said:

    The SAME thing happened to me when I decided to splurge on pizza. I started puking and I was sick for two days. It was awful. And so not worth it.

  2. StephenOlsonFamily
    on February 26, 2009 at 2:47 am said:

    Easy Crockpot Boston Baked Beans2 c. navy beans (small white ones)5 c. water1 1/2 tsp salt (more if you want)1 c. finely chopped onions2 large garlic cloves (minced)2 tbl blackstrap molasses2 tbl dijon style mustard1/3 c. evaporated cane juice/sucanat etc.1/2 tsp. thyme2 bay leaves1/2 tbl. ginger (fresh or powder)black pepper (6 shakes)– stir around & cook on low heat for 12-14 hours. Add 1/3 cup ketchup 1/2 hour before servingI needed more water, but I did it on the stove, it's so yummy!

  3. Deja
    on February 26, 2009 at 1:34 am said:

    We never drank cow's milk when I was growing up, and I remember that whenever I had it at a friend's house, it gave me a terrible stomach ache. Which is probably a big signal I don't handle it well. Nice to see this articulation of why it's bad news.And the vegan ice cream recipes are thrilling. Can't wait to try them!

  4. StephenOlsonFamily
    on February 26, 2009 at 1:07 am said:

    Melissa, we just commented at the same time! ha!

  5. StephenOlsonFamily
    on February 26, 2009 at 1:06 am said:

    Abbie- So I was curious, did your headaches go away? Sorry, I don't have your e-mail address, and your blog is private. You've had over 1,700 profile views by the way… That's a lot!! Way to go on feeling better!

  6. Melissa DeLeon
    on February 26, 2009 at 1:04 am said:

    Thanks! :)Once upon a time I used Fabio's adored I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (the spray kind was great for toast and for grilling sandwiches), but after hearing about all of butter-substitutes negative effects, I went back to good ole' cream butter. I know I can't see the forest through the trees on this one just yet, but I just can't imagine a life worth living without a grilled cheese sandwich! Sigh… (hehe)I made soup last night with whole wheat bowtie pasta — Monico no likie. I used chicken broth and put in some (less than usual) chicken chunks, but I think I will try to make it with vegetable broth and no chicken next time to see if Monico can tell the difference. I just have to remember to use a different kind of noodle. I would really like to try a simple bean soup recipe (especially white beans or chickpeas, my new favs) if anyone has one they would like to post.

  7. Abbie
    on February 26, 2009 at 12:20 am said:

    Love the post and love the comments. I have been off meat now for a week and a half and feel great. I don't even miss it! And I just go the McDougall cookbook in the mail today and can't wait to try out some different options. I've nearly eliminated dairy but not completely. My greens have increased as has my fruit intake and I feel great. I use PB on too much though and have got to give that up. I find your posts so informational and appreciate all the time you put into them!

  8. Vegan Mothering
    on February 25, 2009 at 10:20 pm said:

    Melissa. I do love you. I think you are great. About the margarine, I myself actually don't use it. There are a few rare occasions when I will make something and use EarthBalance buttery spread (a non-hydrogenated vegan margarine). This is generally what I give my kids as they need more fats than I do, although I have used the organic dairy butter a few times, but very rarely. There are some great non-dairy versions that you can make from coconut milk and cornmeal (sounds crazy, but actually quite good). I would put butter/margarine in one of those categories that is not necessary, but rather a cultural taste. If you are used to putting something on your toast or rolls I would try a homemade butter substitute (I will try to post these among other non-dairy versions of milk, sour cream, whipped topping, ect. sometime soon), apple-butter, non-sugar jam/jelly (they do exist), a mashed banana (this is great on breakfast toast), raw honey, agave, a small amount of nut butter such as almond or peanut butter (if you're not trying to lose weight). As far as for cooking, well some use oil as a substitute for butter, but I use water or broth (for sauteing) or flax, mashed bananas, tofu, pureed fruit, or a mixture of pureed prunes and agave nectar for baking. Hope this helps. And btw, rolls and toast are actually quite good without anything on them, but it is something you must train your tastebuds to like.

  9. Melissa DeLeon
    on February 25, 2009 at 9:31 pm said:

    I agree that dairy is the most difficut animal product to avoid, as nearly every recipe requires milk, butter, or cheese. Growing up, we drank milk (at least 1 glass, but typically 2) with our dinner. After I got married, I took a class for diabetics (which I am not) to learn about food and consumption. Since then, I have not had milk or juice by the glass as a "drink" unless I was eating at someone's home and it was the only thing offered. Why? Because of the monsterous amount of SUGAR!!However, there is a serious flaw in the belief that you can substitute margarine for butter and that it is the "healthier" choice. Yes, butter has saturated animal fats, but margarine has transfats, which are universally refuted by dieticians. (For example, see http://www.naturodoc.com/library/nutrition/margbutt.htm. I like Dr. Weil's final thought: "I don't keep either of them in my house. But if I were forced to make a choice, I'd take the real thing in modest amounts.")I am curious (not contemptuous, I promise!) about the vegan rationale regarding margarine. Then again, is there a third option?