You’re Going to Give up Greek Yogurt?!?

by HEAB on April 15, 2009

Yes I am, and no, I haven’t lost my mind.  There are several reasons why I’ve chosen to go dairy free.  Growing up, my mom could not keep enough milk in the fridge for me and my brothers.  It was was served with every meal and every snack.  Nothing tasted better to me than a tall cold jug glass of milk, and I know it was a big contributor to me being overweight.  I’m not saying you have to cut out dairy to lose weight, but it did help me as I was simply taking in too many calories in milk, ice-cream, and cheese form…way too many!  I was also plagued with ear and throat infections, not to mention a horrible case of bronchitis every year.  My friends used to refer to it as “the cough”, and it never failed to show up every winter.  Some years, a week did not go by when I didn’t miss a day of school, and it seems like I was constantly taking one antibiotic or another.

Dairy and I have always had a love/hate relationship.  Back when I was younger and OD’ing on any dairy product I could get my hands on, I suddenly developed lactose intolerance.  Even a half cup of milk would have me doubled over in pain, and I gave up the stuff for 2 years.  I was able to incorporate dairy back into my life and began guzzling down the milk again without a second thought, but looking back I really think my body was trying to tell me something.  I’ve always been a bit stubborn, and of course I didn’t listen.  I wanted my ice-cream, even if it did cause mild stomach discomfort.

I gave up drinking my calories in the form of milk and soda and switched to nothing but water my senior year of college.  My weight plummeted.  I then began walking and started eating better and two years later, you would have never guessed I had been overweight my whole life.  There were so many benefits to losing weight: I had more energy. Taking hikes with my friends was no longer a dreaded task.  Do you know how long I lived in men’s XL sweaters?!?  Shopping in the girls’ clothing section of the GAP was like a dream come true…don’t take this for granted girls!    Gosh, people were just nicer to me in general…but that’s another post for another time.  Anyway, something else I noticed after losing weight was that I rarely got sick anymore.  Yes, I’m sure the weight loss and a healthy diet were factors, but I truly believe that cutting on back on dairy helped me regain my health and wellness!

Fast forward to present.  Milk? No thanks.  Cottage cheese? Yes please.  Greek yogurt? Couldn’t imagine life without it! I won’t lie…my consumption of the latter two has been a bit out of control over the last couple of years.  When I find something I like, I tend to go a little overboard…have ya noticed? :)  Since I don’t eat much meat, I figured cottage cheese and yogurt were the perfect source of protein and calcium. I usually had one or the other at least two or three times a day and just ignored the belly reaction that always followed a few hours later blaming it on something else I ate.  The other day while scarfing down some Greek yogurt, I picked up a book I recently received in the mail:

gdfcover123thin2Well, after reading author, Alisa Fleming’s own history with dairy, I quickly put my yogurt down, and sat there totally engrossed in her book.  I read it in its entirety in one afternoon and then went crazy bookmarking all the great recipes in the back of the book.  Alisa too battled infections all of her life, forcing herself to consume dairy products for calcium, despite not really liking them them.  Even though she had been diagnosed with a milk allergy as a baby, her doctors figured she had outgrown it, constantly telling her she needed dairy products for calcium.  As her health continued on a downward spiral Alisa saw doctor after doctor, finally finding an alternative MD who suggested she give up dairy.  Thinking he was crazy, but desparate to try anything, Alisa gave it a try. After 3 days of no dairy products, all of her symptoms cleared up, and Alisa has remained healthy and dairy free for over 5 years now.

Reading Go Dairy Free caused me to examine my own health history, and although I never get the cough or throat and ear infections anymore, I still struggle with UTI’s, and have all my life.  In fact, when I was 11, I was hospitalized while my doctors tried to figure out what was going on inside my body.  After 2 days of tests I would wish upon no other child, the doctors had nothing to say but give up soda and stop taking bubble baths. Gee, thanks, that was helpful.  Anyway, barely a month goes by that I don’t get at least a mild UTI, and I hate it.  For those of you that have never experienced a bladder infection, they are awful.  I’ve tried all the natural remedies, but when that pain sets in, I’m on the phone with my doctor in tears requesting more antibiotics. Yes, I’m a big advocate of probiotics and take them daily to make sure my good bacteria stays intact, but I’d give anything to never have to take antibiotics again.  As grateful as I am for them sometimes, I just don’t think they’re the answer!   I thought back to last month’s half-ass attempt to give up dairy and noticed that I did not experience one bladder infection symptom.  I quickly emailed Alisa asking her if she’d ever heard of a connection between dairy consumption and UTI’s.

Below is Alisa’s response:

Before I start, I must give that general disclaimer – I am not a physician, so this information is based upon my own opinions and findings, but you should always consult a physician before undergoing any change in diet or where your health is concerned.

I too had chronic ear and sinus infections as a kid, and my parents knew that I had a milk allergy. It saddens me how many infant milk allergies go undiagnosed (leaving those little ones to suffer) as some doctors still insist that infections are not a symptom of food allergies. Even in western medicine a link between the two was proven a long, long time ago.

That said, I am not sure of the exact science behind it, but from what I have read, milk allergies can weaken the immune system allowing infections to take hold. It is also possible that the hormones in milk (natural occurring and possibly synthetic) could somehow play a part too. This makes me wonder since I hear many more cases of infections with milk allergies than with other food allergies. Ear and sinus are the most common it seems, but I had yet to make a correlation between bladder infections. I did some reflecting after I read this email and came to realize that in my early 20’s I was plagued with UTI’s, during my stint of consuming milk, and since then do not have a problem. I chalked it up to that particular age hormonally, but now I am wondering. Especially since I had huge bladder issues as a kid (when the doctors insisted that my parents make sure I get enough dairy).

Logically, an infection is an infection, whether in your ears, sinuses, lungs, or digestive tract. And milk, as a liquid, passes through our bladders, so your suggestions makes sense.  I looked up some information and did in fact find several health websites which suggested a firm link between UTI’s (as well as bronchitis and other infections) and food allergies. Here are just a couple: (also notes chronic bronchitis)

I’ve often wondered if I ever really outgrew my lactose intolerance, but do I have a milk allergy?  Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m willing to give going dairy free a try if it means feeling better and experiencing NO MORE bladder infections! Thanks for reading as I know this was a super long post, but many of you keep asking why I want to cut dairy completely out of my life. Well, now you know.

Many thanks to Alisa for taking the time to answer my questions and for all the research and time she put into Go Dairy Free…it was a huge eye opener for me! Please be sure to check out Alisa’s blog, One Frugal Foodie, and her website, Go Dairy Free for more information.

I’ll leave you with my oat AND dairy free breakfast. :)

Who needs dairy?

Who needs dairy?

Cooked brown Basmati rice blended with water & Sun Warrior vanilla rice protein topped with peanut butter and raw chia pudding. Delicious!

EDITED TO ADD: I’ve added some dairy back into my life, mostly high fat dairy products, low in whey and casein, like butter, ghee, & cream. I used to get UTI’s about once a month, but since cutting back on dairy, I’ve had a total of two infections over the past 2 years. Less dairy has made all the difference for me.