Milk, Mucus & Inflammation

Many styles of yoga encourage a traditional Indian vegetarian diet that is meat-free but includes copious amounts of milk, cheese, and yogurt. Unfortunately, for most people, this is a disaster for your health and your yoga practices. Yoga students get angry when I bring up the obvious problems with dairy, but I feel it's important to look at the data and experiment on yourself to be sure that your beloved morning milk and yogurt are not throwing a wrench in your gears.

Top Problems with Dairy

  • Almost all dairy is highly processed: pasteurized, homogenized, deodorized, bleached, and often skimmed—it's not a whole food
  • The milk protein, casein, is extremely carcinogenic
  • Milk is mucus-forming and can leave you feeling stiff and sluggish during yoga
  • 40-80% of adults are intolerant to the milk sugar, lactose
  • The dairy industry is arguably one of the cruelest in the world, certainly crueler than the meat industry
  • Most dairy cows are raised in terrible conditions, injected with hormones and antibiotics, and their milk contains these chemicals
  • Dairy production is an environmental disaster with local air quality in and around dairy farms as bad as or worse than the air quality in large cities

Common Health Problems Caused by Dairy

  • Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Chronic, low-grade inflammation of the gut
  • Autoimmune-like symptoms
  • Excessive mucus and phlegm, often most noticed by yoga students doing breath work

Have You Considered Reverse Vegetarianism?

For both health and ethical vegetarians, I always recommend vegetarians consider switching to "reverse vegetarianism." Reverse vegetarianism is a term I came up with to describe people who give up dairy but continue to eat meat. Though counter-intuitive, reverse vegetarianism is a superior choice from a health, ethical, and even an environmental standpoint. This is an inconvenient truth and far less ideal, but it's also the realistically better choice if you're seriously weighing your options.

When Dairy Might Be a Good Choice

Organic, grassfed butter is a unique dairy product that is extremely well-tolerated by most people (even many with lactose sensitivities) and can be nutritious and healthful. Also, if you are of Northern European decent and have access to grassfed dairy and safe, unpasteurized milk products, it's possible that dairy could be a great food for you. Just keep in mind that a gamey, yellow-colored, lumpy glass of milk from a healthy cow, goat or sheep from Northern Europe is very different than the bland, perfectly white glass of "milk" most people drink with the best of intentions. Can dairy be a great food? For some people, sometimes, yes; but these days, it's the exception rather than the rule.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have the utmost respect for people of all dietary preferences. I am both a vegetarian and vegan myself, but long ago realized that these labels are not the elegant solutions we wish them to be. Instead, eating, nourishing your body, and attempting not to destroy the planet in the process is a balancing act that requires constant re-evaluation.

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