Ayurveda vs. Veganism: Milk and Dairy

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Ayurveda traditionally recommends milk and dairy to be crucial elements of healthy nutrition. Vegans on the other hand argue that the renouncement of animal products is healthier, more fair and ecologically beneficial. Is Ayurveda and veganism compatible at all?

Milk: a Youth Elixir?

In the original sources of ayurveda, cow milk is praised as a rasayana, a youth elixir. It has an extremely nourishing but also very cooling, mucus-increasing effect (“Kapha-increasing”). This helps building up the so-called dhatus (body tissues of all kinds: muscles, fat, bone aso.), which promotes growth and can slow down the ageing process. Goat milk and goat milk products have similar properties, but their cooling property is not as strong. Ayurveda recommends the use of milk and dairy in moderation to build up the body and keep it young and strong.[1] Milk’s biological purpose is to foster rapid growth in calves. It seems logical that its nutrients also promote the growth of human body cells. However, the problem in our over-civilized Western societies today is not under-, but rather overfeeding. The tons of dairy that are consumed in Western households every year stand in no relation to the moderated consumption ayurveda recommends.

Animal Products and Civilization Diseases

Besides ethical and ecological concerns, vegans argue that dairy is not healthy at all. They are challenging the commonly held belief that the human body needs animal products for a proper and balanced nutrition. This belief goes back to decades of constant promotion by the animal product industries. Studies showing a linkage between animal products and the civilization diseases diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer are answered with tons of counter studies showing that dairy helps to prevent osteoporosis, diabetes and obesity. Already a look at the numbers suggests that’s something foul there. It is probably no coincidence that the countries with the most diabetes and osteoporosis-cases also have the highest consume of dairy (Europe, North America).[2]

The Calcium Irony

Nevertheless, backed up by a million-dollar-industry, the representatives of the dairy lobby unflaggingly argue that cow milk is an essential source of calcium and thus indispensable for strong bones. Ironically, studies have shown that it is just the overconsumption of animal products including dairy that leads to the depletion of bone matter. Animal products (along with other factors such as too much coffee, alcohol, smoking, stress, too little exercise) build acids in the body. If the level of acids in the body becomes too high, the balance between acids and alkalines is disturbed. In order to buffer the over-acidity, the body uses up its calcium reserves, thereby causing the lack of calcium, which results in instable, fracture-prone bones and bad teeth.

There are even studies linking dairy intake to cancer.[3] If the nutrients and hormonal effects of milk help to grow body tissue, it would be not surprising if they can also promote the growth of cancer cells.[4] Many doctors, nutritionists and researchers today recommend a vegan, low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sugar diet for cancer-patients.[5]

Supermarket Milk vs. Fresh from the Udder

Do dairy products have any health benefit at all today? Dr. Amy Lanou, (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, USA) believes that they don’t. „There is a compelling argument that today’s pasteurized milk, in all its guises, has virtually no redeeming features at all, and serves only to cause disease and poor health.“It is true that the highly processed, pasteurized, homogenized milk from the supermarket has little in common with the fresh-from-the-udder-of-the-family-cow milk  the old ayurvedic scriptures praised thousands of years ago. Moreover dairy today is contaminated with hormones, allergens, antibiotics, bacteria, viruses, PCB’s, dioxins and heavy metals.[6]

Food is Medicine, Medicine Food

What is the ayurvedic perspective on all these concerns? It is important to understand that in ayurveda the use of dairy is regulated by a set of rules. For Ayurveda, food is medicine and it is often also prescribed as a medicine. Ayurveda looks at the properties and effects of all foods and accordingly recommends them in specific doses for different seasons and purposes. Following an ayurvedic regime thus prevents disease before it can even manifest.

Sattvic vs. Tamasic

The milk that the old vedic scriptures (e.g. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Charaka Sahimta) praise as sattvic (pure, balanced) is not the same product as the milk in today’s supermarket. The highly processed, pasteurized, homogenized product is rather tamasic (making the mind and body dull and sluggish). Especially the process of homogenization renders the milk difficult to digest and clogs the circulation channels. In addition to that, non-organic milk often contains rBGH, milk production increasing hormones. Organic, non-homogenized milk would be a better choice, though it is still processed and thus not sattvic as raw milk from happy cows.

Consuming Emotions

Speaking of happy cows, Ayurveda stresses that we literally become what we eat. This also means that we consume the emotions of the animal and its products. On the hormonal level this makes some sense: animals in fear and anxiety produce stress hormones, which also affect the consumers of animal products. On the other hand, practized ahimsa (non-violence on all levels including vegetarianism) also has a calming, purifying effect on the quality of the mind.

Milk and Dairy Alternatives

Dairy is highly Kapha-increasing. Its nourishing and building qualities are very important for people with Vata-imbalances. According to the original Ayurveda, no other food has the exact same qualities of milk; thus milk cannot be substituted. However, regarding today’s situation of milk-intolerances, contamination, wrong and over-consumption, alternatives have to be considered. Milk and dairy made from almonds, soy, oats, coconut or rice are heavy, cooling and nourishing as well and thus have similar qualities.

Individual and Seasonal Recommendations

The mucus-increasing quality of cow milk and dairy becomes maleficent whenever there is already too much mucus or the so-called ama (toxins of any kind) in the body. The concept of ama also includes over-acidity. Animal products increase the level of acidity in the body. Kapha-diseases are diseases that are caused by too much mucus: allergies, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, asthma, colds, sinuses and chest infections, all kinds of fluid collections, swellings and tumors. The problems mentioned correspond identically to the problems that are found in dairy and animal products by the Western scientists. According to ayurveda, people who suffer from these problems should avoid dairy products for the time of their ailment.

How to Consume Milk

However, according to Ayurveda, it is not only about WHAT to consume, it is also important HOW to consume it. In the West it is pretty common to consume chilled, out-of-the-fridge milk and dairy. This is not a good idea. In Ayurveda, the (raw) cow milk is always boiled before consumption. This changes its molecular structure, reduces its Kapha-increasing effect and thus makes it lighter and easier to digest. The heavyness and coldness of milk can also be reduced by adding (or boiling it with) heating spices such as turmeric, nutmeg, black pepper, cinnamon and ginger.

The advice ayurveda gives differs from season to season: For instance in spring, it is recommended to avoid all kinds of dairy. The body tends to accumulate mucus during the cold season that is expelled when it is getting warmer outside. Therefore, allergies typically peak in spring. Especially, yoghurt is known for its blocking effect on tissues and fluids in the body and should therefore not be consumed in spring when Kapha is high.

Bad Food Combinations

There is another ayurvedic rule system called “opposite foods” that also limits the intake of animal products. Opposite foods are foods that must not be consumed together. Most of these bad food pairs contain one or two dairy agents. For instance, milk and yoghurt must not be consumed together. Milk and fish are also a no-go,[7] just as the popular combination of yoghurt and mango or even any fruit with dairy. Most of the bad pairs are foods that differ strongly in the time the body needs to digest them. The body cannot digest them at the same time, which dramatically slows down the digestion. A bad digestion though, according to Ayurveda is the root of all disease. Unfortunately, the list of opposite foods is long and needs to be learned by rote. It is in fact easier to just avoid dairy more or less at all in favor for plant-based alternatives.

To conclude, certainly the circumstances today differ from the situation during the time of the vedas. The environment and the contaminating factors have changed, so have the predominant diseases and problems. Nevertheless, ayurveda and veganism are compatible for a healthy approach to lifestyle and nutrition today. It is possible to live according to ayurvedic principles without dairy. It is also possible to live on a plant-based, vegan diet and occasionally consume an organic dairy product without risking bad health. The traditional Ayurveda even recommends meat in certain occasions, though for medicinal rather than dietary purposes.

After all, maybe the most important thing ayurveda can teach us today is to listen to our bodies – and to be a little easier on ourselves. From a moral, ethical point of view however, the vegan lifestyle is the one that does least harm to the animals and to our plant.

Sources

[1]Dr. Arun Sharma, Ayuskama Ayurveda, Bhagsunag, with whom I studied Ayurveda between april and august 2013

[2]Johnell O and Kanis JA (2006) An estimate of the worldwide prevalence and disability associated with osteoporotic fractures. Osteoporos Int 17:1726. Compare: http://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics

[3]http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/04/animal-protein-diets-smoking-meat-eggs-dairy, 05.06.14

[4]http://www.news-medical.net/news/2004/12/06/6697.aspx, 05.06.14

[5]http://www.news-medical.net/news/2006/07/30/19125.aspx, 05.06.14

See also Dr. Nadita Shah: http://international-web.com/nandita-hom/wordpress/, 05.06.14

Dr. Vikki Peterson: http://www.healthnowmedical.com and their Youtube talks

[6]„The milk imperative“, Russell Eaton, 2005

[7] The combination may seem a little off at first, but makes sense considering the fact that many fish-eating Indians tend to enjoy their milk-chai with their meal.

Photo Credit:Vermin Inc via Compfight cc

 

 

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