Should you give up dairy?
Professor Jane Plant, a leading scientist, recently claimed that breast cancer is linked to the consumption of animal products – is this a cue for us to give up dairy for good? Many of us already lead a dairy-free lifestyle. Whilst you may have been brought up believing milk and yogurt are good for you, the hormones and growth factors in cow's milk may increase your risk of breast cancer as well as ovarian, testicular and prostate cancer. So what's the deal; should you give up dairy?
Cow's milk: the skinny
Did you know that cow's milk contains 35 different hormones and 11 growth factors? This is true even for organic milk. One particular growth factor, IGF-1, has strong links to the development of several cancers. As a general rule, IGF levels are naturally lower in vegans than in vegetarians or meat eaters.
VEGF is another growth factor which could be linked to the spread of cancer. It has been revealed that VEGF has been found at increased levels in cancer patients, and if you're consuming dairy products, the chances are you are also consuming VEGF.
But if all this news about cutting out dairy to reduce your risk of cancer is true, why is is not public knowledge? Cancer Research UK has argued that research linking dairy products to cancer isn't conclusive. Martin Ledwick of Cancer Research UK commented, “There's no good evidence to support avoiding all dairy with the aim of reducing cancer risk. It isn't known if avoiding dairy plays a role in stopping cancer coming back.”
What about calcium?
One of the reasons many people avoid giving up dairy is a worry about where they will get their calcium from. Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, and can help to prevent osteoporosis in later life. But it can actually be found in many plant sources and dairy alternatives, so making the switch to a dairy-free diet could be easier than you might think.
What are the options?
Gone are the days when there were no options available for vegans to choose from when it came to dairy alternatives. Nowadays, there's plenty of choice – dairy-free alternatives to cheese, milk, butter and even ice-cream are all readily available in major supermarkets. Here are a few switches you could make if cutting out dairy is on your horizon.
Swap cow's milk for soya, rice, coconut or almond milk, most of which are readily available in the milk aisle or drinks aisle at your local supermarket.
Almond milk, made from ground almonds, contains no lactose or cholesterol and is lower in saturated fat than cow's milk. Did you know that almonds are also rich in Vitamin E – great for your skin – fibre and a range of other nutrients for good health?
Soy milk, a staple of Asian cuisine, has the same amount of protein as cow's milk, although it contains less calcium. It is a healthier alternative to dairy, with no cholesterol and less saturated fat.
Rice milk has become popular in recent years, and is made from boiled rice, brown rice starch and brown rice syrup. Ideal for anyone who is lactose intolerant, rice milk helps maintain a healthy heart as it contains no cholesterol. It's lighter in calories than cow's milk too! One cup contains around 140 calories, compared to 185 calories per cup of whole cow's milk.
Coconut milk is lactose free and tastes great in milkshakes and smoothies. Coconuts are rich in Vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 as well as containing calcium, selenium, phosphorus and magnesium. They are filled with healthy fats and provide a source of lauric acid, which the body converts into 'monolaurin', an antibacterial, antiviral compound which can help prevent against viruses and infections.
Butter and margarine
Non-dairy spreads are easy to find, such as soya spreads. Other alternatives include home-made preserves, hummus, peanut and other nut butters – almond butter is a protein-packed choice.
Soft cheese can be replaced with hummus, whilst it's easy to find vegan cheese in health food stores and some supermarkets. In sauces, hard cheese can be switched for bean curd or tofu for a similar result. You can get your protein from nuts, seeds and plant-based protein powders.
Whether or not to go dairy-free is a personal choice. Yes, there are claims that the hormones and growth factors in dairy products could be linked to the development of some cancers. At the end of the day, anything we put into our bodies that is not natural could be detrimental to our health. To find out more about the link between dairy products and cancer, Professor Jane Plant's book, “Beat Cancer: The 10-Step Plan to Help you Overcome and Prevent Cancer” is worth reading. Ultimately, it's your choice. A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and regular exercise is key to staying happy and healthy – whether that diet includes dairy or not is up to you!