Month 6: Minimize Refined Oil and Dairy, Instead try Almond Milk and Vegan Cheese.
Whether or not dairy is a useful addition to our diet is a very hotly debated point among nutritionists. In order to understand whether or not dairy is a good food choice, it is important to understand the business behind the Dairy industry. The Dairy industry is made up of a small handful of multi-million dollar corporations, many of which are located outside of the US. These few corporations are responsible for producing more than half the milk consumed in the United States. These few, very powerful groups of dairy farmers have put a great deal of money and effort into convincing America that dairy products are a critical part of a healthy diet, and without cow’s milk, we are likely to become obese, calcium deficient and develop osteoporosis. A class action suit that was filed in 2005 by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine attacked the Dairy industry’s claim that eating dairy products results in weight loss. The claim that eating dairy is an effective way to lose weight was based on two very small scale, poorly conducted studies that were funded by the Dairy Council. The result of the class action law suit was that the Dairy industry was forced to halt their advertising campaign that claimed that eating a diet rich in dairy resulted in weight loss. However, the effects of this advertising campaign persist and most of the world looks at dairy as an important part of a healthy diet. Unfortunately, it is not, and the less dairy you eat, the more likely you are to lose the weight.
When working with overweight patients who are having difficulty losing weight despite eating what they perceive is a healthy diet, the cause of the poor weight loss is often from too much dairy. Because we’ve been convinced that low fat cheese and low calorie ice cream desserts make good choices, we’ve overeaten these foods without realizing their effect on our waist line. The calories in many dairy products come primarily from fat, rather than protein as you might assume from the way it is labeled. Most cheese gets as much as 90% of its calories from fat, implying that eating cheese is not that much different from eating pure butter. Even the reduced fat varieties of cheese obtain 60% of their calories from fat. Because of the very addictive, rich taste of cheese and the high calorie density, you should minimize your intake of cheese to only 1-2 servings per month. Even reduced fat versions should be viewed with skepticism and not looked at as healthy food choices.
The primary nutritional claim that keeps us shopping in the dairy aisle at the supermarket is its ability to provide calcium for healthy bones. Despite the fact that the United States consumes more dairy than almost any other country, our rate of osteoporosis continues to climb. If you live to the age of 85, you have a 30% chance of suffering a hip fracture at some point in your life which is often due to osteoporosis but are even more closely related to your functional status than they are to bone density.
Contrary to popular belief, you can maintain good bone health without eating dairy. All fruits and vegetables contain calcium, and your current diet of over a pound of vegetables daily and several servings of fruit daily will provide you with all the calcium your bones need. Kale, Bok-Choy, Collard Greens, Sesame seeds, turnip greens and spinach all contain particularly high amounts of calcium – many have more calcium per serving than milk does. There are two other reasons that obtaining your calcium from vegetables is better than getting it from dairy products. First, the calcium in vegetables is more readily absorbable, meaning your intestinal tract is better able to transport the calcium from vegetables into your bloodstream and ultimately into your bones than it is for the calcium found in dairy. Second, a diet rich in animal fat and protein (including dairy) creates an acid load on your kidneys. Your kidneys will use calcium as a means to buffer this acid load, and as a result, you will excrete more calcium in your urine than you will if your diet does not contain large amounts of animal fat and protein. The end result is that your new diet actually lowers your calcium requirements since you’ll be excreting less calcium in your urine.
Before you give up on that milk in your morning coffee, there are some dairy alternatives that are high in calcium, low in calories and just as delicious as cow’s milk. Most supermarkets now offer Rice Milk, Soy Milk and Almond Milk as alternatives to dairy products. Rice milk tends to be high in calories and carbohydrates and should be avoided, however, soy and almonds typically make good choices. Soy milk contains almost as much calcium as Cow’s milk, however, too much soy can inhibit your thyroid function and mimic estrogen which can contribute to weight gain. However, if you limit your soy intake to once per day, you should not experience these harmful effects. The clear winner in the milk alternative race is Almond Milk. It’s high in calcium, low in calories and tastes delicious. It’s available at most grocery stores and should help you to keep your intake of dairy to a minimum. When purchasing almond milk, it’s critical to choose unsweetened varieties.
Eliminating cheese is often one of the most difficult tasks for those who are changing their eating toward the Pound of Cure plan. Thankfully, vegan cheese is easy to make and delicious. There is a growing number of vegan cheese options available in most grocery stores, or you can make your own without much difficulty.
The popularity of the Mediterranean diet has tricked many of us into believing that olive oil is a healthy addition to our diet. Other oils such as coconut and palm oil have also been touted as “healthy” oils and their sales have sky rocketed as Americans search for a way to continue to eat rich, greasy foods with a clean conscience. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “healthy” oil, just varying levels of unhealthy. All oils are equally fattening since they are metabolized in a very similar fashion and contain nearly an equal number of calories.
The benefits to your health of a strict no fat diet are tremendous and have been touted by several influential physician-nutritionists such as Dean Ornish, MD and John McDougall, MD who advocate a strict vegan no fat diet as the best method for weight loss and cardiovascular disease prevention. While their eating program does result in excellent weight loss and is very effective for preventing and even reversing heart disease, many people have difficulty practicing this extremely strict eating style. Nonetheless, the health benefits of avoiding any and all refined oils are significant and, if possible, should be practiced.
However, there is still hope for those of us who find it too difficult to eliminate all refined oils completely from our diet. By eating a vegetable rich diet and limiting oil intake to 1-2 tablespoons daily, most of us can still achieve significant weight loss and cardiovascular disease prevention.
When choosing an oil, one critical piece of information is necessary – whether or not the oil will be heated. Heating most oils causes significant degradation of the otherwise healthy mono and polyunsaturated components. In fact, many oils break down and form dangerous trans-fats (hydrogenated oils) when they are heated. This fact further confuses our understanding of the health benefits and dangers of oils since we’ve been told how dangerous saturated fats are and how healthy mono and polyunsaturated oils (like olive oil and canola oil) are. The end result is that olive oil and other poly and monounsaturated fats may be the best choice if served uncooked, while saturated fats like butter and coconut oil make better choices for cooking.
At this point in the program, there are likely three different ways that you continue to consume refined oils:
- As a salad dressing
- In processed foods
- As a cooking ingredient, typically while roasting vegetables or preparing animal proteins
Let’s look at each individually and identify ways to further minimize oil consumption.
Oil and vinegar is believed by most to be a very healthy salad dressing because the oil is almost always olive oil which is a “healthy oil.” Although selecting an oil and vinegar salad dressing is better than most of the commercially available salad dressings, the olive oil still contributes an unnecessary amount of calories to the salad. There are several better options than olive oil and vinegar salad dressing. Ultimately, you will be able to eliminate oil completely as a topping for your salad.
- Eat the salad raw, using raw nuts and seeds as the flavor enhancer
- Use just the vinegar component (balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar or a flavored vinegar)
- Create your own salad dressing using one of our oil free recipes. These dressings use blended raw nuts and seeds as the primary component of the dressing instead of refined oils.
Unfortunately, refined oils are present in most processed foods, even healthy, reduced calorie and organic selections. All processed foods must be able to have a long shelf life and oils are a very effective and inexpensive means for achieving this. Nonetheless, you have already limited your intake of processed foods significantly, so it’s unlikely that you’re receiving a large amount of oils from them.
Roasting vegetables and animal proteins
This is the most difficult place to completely eliminate oils from your diet and is the best place to use your 1-2 tablespoons per day. Nonetheless, there is still room for improvement in minimizing the amount of oils used for cooking. When cooking vegetables, first ask whether or not it is necessary that the vegetable be roasted – steaming vegetables is an excellent method of preparation and can be done very easily with the help of a dedicated steamer. You may find that steamed vegetables with added herbs and spices can be as delicious as vegetables roasted with oil. Also water sautéing or “sweating” vegetables can also be used in lieu of sautéing them in butter. If you must use oil, place it in a spray bottle so that the oil can be dispersed evenly over the vegetables and roast the vegetables on parchment paper. Finally, animal proteins frequently require very little oil when cooking. Experiment with poached and baked preparations of eggs and fish.