Go a day without dairy. What you’ll notice is an astounding dependence on products derived from cow’s milk. Start with breakfast : no cream in your coffee; no cream cheese on your bagel; dry cereal. Dairy’s everywhere, and it’s in everything. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consume 500 pounds of it per year””that’s 40% of the bulk of food we eat.
Proponents argue that dairy foods are healthy, supplying calcium that builds strong bones and teeth. Milk has been called “nature’s perfect food” because it contains protein, vitamins and other nutrients that support life. Billboards tout its benefits; celebrities don milk moustaches, vouching for its awesomeness; schools teach children they need it as much as they need sleep.
But others point out that dairy foods are high in fat, contain too much protein (which interferes with calcium absorption) and retain traces of antibiotics and pesticides fed to commercial dairy cows. Not to mention, a strikingly large number of humans are unable to digest dairy, bringing into question whether they’re meant to consume it at all.
Consider this: 15 percent of Caucasians, up to 80 percent of Latinos and African Americans, and between 80 and 100 percent of Asians and American Indians are unable to digest dairy foods. Yet those who consume the least amount of dairy (African Americans and Latinos) have the lowest rates of bone-debilitating disease, while Caucasians and Asians have the highest.
So do we really need dairy for good health? Adequate calcium can be easily obtained by eating dark green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts and soy products. Many foods today, like cereals and orange juice, are also calcium fortified, making it even easier to get the amount you need. And there are always calcium supplements, which can supply above and beyond the recommended daily requirements for those who feel they need it.
With many Americans increasingly recognizing their stomachs don’t feel quite right after a dairy-heavy meal, substitute foods are showing up on store shelves across the nation. Flavored soy milks, soy-based “cream cheese” and “sour cream,” and rice- or nut-based ice cream treats can often be found alongside dairy versions.