Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.
Wellness Forum Health
I notice that your food pyramid includes animal foods, if organic or wild caught, but specifically calls for the elimination of dairy products. Why is dairy an exception? What would be wrong with allowing 1-2 ounces of cultured yogurt or cheese per day if these foods were also organic? At least one study I’ve read, EPIC-Oxford, showed that people eating less than 3 ounces of meat or fish and less than one ounce of cheese daily were no worse off than vegetarians. Is the reason because of Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s research on rats at Cornell? Outcomes of animal studies are not always predictive of the results in humans.
I have several reasons for the recommendation to eliminate dairy, and they have little to do with Dr. Campbell’s rat research. Our new members are typically not eating 1-2 ounces of cultured yogurt or cheese at the time that they join. They are eating copious amounts of dairy in the form of cheese pizza, cheese and crackers, shredded cheese on salads, grilled cheese, ice cream, etc., and most of the time the serving size is considerably more than one ounce. Those members who eat yogurt usually choose the high-sugar dessert versions, and I think fruit is a better choice. Those who are not yogurt eaters do not need to take up the habit, since I don’t think there is any evidence to support the idea that adding yogurt to the diet improves health in any measurable way. It’s the entirety of the dietary pattern that determines health outcomes.
Cheese is a very calorie-dense food. While we don’t encourage calorie and nutrient counting, two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, so the development of some awareness of the calorie density of foods is important. Cheese, even vegan cheese, is very calorie dense and high in fat. A very small package of cheese contains 10 servings, each approximately 110 calories, with most of those calories from fat. It’s hard to imagine most of our members eating the tiny piece referred to as a “serving” and leaving the rest of the package alone. Most would eat half the package or more, which would mean intake of at least 550 calories, 50 grams of fat, and no fiber. We advise people to remove all calorie-dense foods that are not recommended for daily intake from the house, office, and anywhere else they hang out, so as to not play willpower games with themselves. Most people can’t have foods like chocolate, cheese, nuts, and avocadoes around without overeating them.
Another issue is the estrogen and estrogen metabolites found in all dairy products, including those that are organic, raw, or low-fat. A significant percentage of our female patients have PMS, irregular menstrual periods, infertility, heavy, sometimes bordering on incessant bleeding, fibroids, dysplasia, hot flashes and other conditions resulting from high estrogen levels. Their conditions will not improve unless estrogen levels are lowered. This means discontinuing the consumption of foods containing estrogen and estrogen metabolites, and weight loss since fat cells produce hormones converted to estrogen in the bloodstream. Weight loss is easier when as many calorie-dense foods as possible are removed from the daily diet.
Last but not least, prescriptive communication and rules are an important part of success when helping people to change their ways. “Don’t eat dairy” is easier to understand and to follow than “eat one ounce of cheese on average per day,” particularly since this involves having the food some people love so much in the fridge tempting them to eat more.
I’m familiar with the EPIC study to which you referred, and one of the limitations of this study has to do with definitions. This is an issue in many studies. What is a vegetarian diet? In this case, “vegetarian” referred to people who did not eat meat. These vegetarians could have been eating eggs, dairy, oils, and processed foods, and most of them probably were since these foods are commonly consumed in “vegetarian” diets. Even people trying to adhere to a vegan diet are not always eating optimally. We enroll new members every month who are unhealthy and/or overweight vegans on arrival, in part because they are eating too much fat, and too many processed foods. Our typical member/patient eating animal foods 2-3 times per week while complying with the rest of our recommendations is much healthier than many vegan eaters.
The data from EPIC is further complicated by being self-reported, which negates the findings of many large studies. According to a recent analysis of NHANES self-reported data, there should be no overweight or obese people in the U.S., since almost all surveyed people report eating less than 2,000 calories per day. A growing group of scientists are suggesting that we stop collecting these data because it is worse than useless and it is misleading.
In conclusion, we recommend the elimination of dairy from the diet. Within a few weeks or months people do not miss it, and dairy provides no nutritional advantage.
Archer E, Pavela G, Lavie C. “The Inadmissibility of What We Eat in America and NHANES Dietary Data in Nutrition and Obesity Research and the Scientific Formulation of National Dietary Guidelines.” Mayo Clin Proc July 2015;90(7):911-926
Archer E, Hand G, Blair S. “Validity of U.S. Nutritional Surveillance: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Caloric Energy Intake Data, 1971-2010.” PLoS One October 9, 2013 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076632