If you remember how Seinfeld’s George Constanza equated eating a block of cheese with some sort of bachelor paradise, you may begin to understand the type of intimacy I have with dairy.
Once when I was six I made a tent out of blankets. Then I raided the fridge and retreated to my little fort with all the cheese in the house. I ate for hours. Then I proceeded to throw up that entire evening.
When I first moved in with my partner, we went to a farmer’s market one day and he spent over $100 on cheese. Nothing says I love you louder than THAT.
A few months ago when I first started trying to cut back on cheese, I decided that a good intermediary step would be to stop buying processed cheeses, and only stick to the real stuff. I figured that the price increase would discourage me from buying and eating so much cheese. It did – to an extent. But it also caused me to develop a cheese appreciation that I never had before.
For example, I learned that I love wine cheese. This is funny because I don’t actually drink wine. But I could easily eat a whole block of wine cheese. I may actually be willing to harm another human being if it meant that I could eat some wine cheese.
When I was 13-19 I drank about a bag of milk a day. Just me.
The best present I ever received in high school was a carton of milk. I shared it with my sister (a noble sacrifice), then kept the carton for exactly three years (obsessive?).
At one point I was drinking so much milk that my parents tried to switch us to POWDERED milk. I had suicidal thoughts.
I always tell people that were it not for milk, I probably would not have survived my childhood. So I have to give credit where it is due. But I’m all grown up now. And I know more about milk than I ever did before.
DAIRY AND DIGESTION
There’s a lot of contradicting advice surrounding dairy. Some swear that it’s unnatural to drink milk, while others praise it as a main source of calcium and protein for athletes. The more I learn about dairy, the more I realize that it really comes down to digestion.
Dairy is a disaccharide (simple carb) called lactose. Through digestion, our body breaks it down into galactose and glucose (an energy source). But in order to properly digest it, we require an enzyme called lactase. Not everybody is capable of producing this enzyme. It is estimated that 50-60 million people in the USA are lactose intolerant.
Needless to say, I definitely have some lactase going on. And because I can digest dairy, I never saw a reason why I should have to give it up. But then I learned that whether or not we experience any symptoms related to lactose, dairy in itself is physically difficult for our bodies to digest. It’s hard on our liver.
Dairy is something the liver must process in order to metabolize. It does this with some difficulty, particularly when it is burdened. This process of breaking down dairy into something we can use creates a higher amount of waste by-product (uric acid) compared to other types of foods, which then must be processed by our kidneys and eliminated. It seems like a lot of work when there are many other protein and calcium sources that are easier to absorb.
Our liver is a busy organ. It has over a hundred different functions, including blood sugar control and hormone regulation and blood filtration. At night, it attempts to detoxify when we sleep. So when our lifestyles include a diet high in chemicals (which the liver must process) combined with lack of sleep, our liver becomes stressed. Substances like sugar, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs (both pharmaceutical and recreational) further paralyze the liver.
Because my intense marathon training causes a build up of free radicals (which produce toxins that the liver must eliminate), I feel it is important for me to suck up to this particular organ. I want it to have the easiest life possible, with a lot of time to eliminate my naturally forming cellular metabolic waste, as opposed to extra toxins from processed foods and hard-to-digest dairy.
Most people know that dairy produces mucus. This makes it harder for us to breathe when we run, and can be very uncomfortable. But it also inhibits the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in our stomachs. Low HCL (hypochlohydria) affects our ability to digest protein, and feels like heartburn. Often mainstream dairy products contain animal hormones that must again be filtered through our livers.
Additionally, dairy slows down our bowel movements and could lead to constipation. Dairy that we fail to properly digest could lead to a candida (unfriendly bacteria) overgrowth, or it can begin to puncture tiny holes in our small intestine, causing undigested food particles to travel where they are not welcome. This triggers our immune system and often results in an allergic response.
There’s no guarantee that any (or all) of this will happen. Everybody’s body responds different to dairy, and I don’t believe that a balanced intake of dairy is necessarily detrimental. But I’m at a point now where I have very specific athletic and nutritional goals. So my general feeling is: Why take that chance?
There are already so many environmental toxins that I can’t avoid (like poor soil quality leading to poor nutrient quality in foods that we farm, environmental pollution that comes with urban living, second hand smoke, electromagnetic pollution from countless electronics), so I’d rather do what I can to support the smooth functioning of all my organs in as many ways as possible.
I have yet to eliminate dairy completely from my diet. I probably never will. But the amount that I’ve cut out (almond milk instead of cow’s milk, and cheese only on occasion) is enough to make a significant difference in my body. And I feel good about it.