Tag Archives: dairy

Turning… Vegetarian?

Uh oh. I feel like a bit of a fraud. I’ve been eating a lot of cheese lately. It’s just so easy. And cheesy!

My first step in turning vegan was to quit dairy. This was not difficult at all, especially when I saw non-dairy on the label of my coffee creamer. I was never a big fan of milk or sour cream, I could live without cream cheese, and dropping butter wasn’t so hard. Since I was still eating meat, it was easy to avoid cheese options.

As I transitioned into dropping meat from my diet, I still found it easy. I started drinking my coffee with just a bit of sweetener, I frequented the salad bar at work, and the worst thing I ate was a french fry to satisfy my craving for something deep-fried. I did let myself have two non-vegan food items, guilt-free: a slice of pizza once a week, and a Snickers bar.

The blog has helped me be an honest vegan in that it has motivated me to cook, veganize my favorites, and try out new foods. But, sometimes, being a vegan really sucks. Don’t get me wrong: I feel great and I don’t miss meat. It can just be really frustrating when I go to a restaurant (even a vegetarian restaurant) where my only options are steamed broccoli or a plain baked potato. Even Red Robin is more vegan-friendly than some other “healthy” spots I have visited.

The kicker came this past weekend when I was out of town. I was lucky. My hosts graciously accommodated me by making sure there were tofu and veggies for me to eat. But when we went out… there’s nothing worse than craving pho or Chinese noodle soup and knowing that, even if I get it without meat, it won’t be vegan. It also sucks to go to a really expansive buffet and have no vegan options besides raw veggies, fruit, and olives. I ended up having some very delicious and cheesy tortellini instead. I could say I felt guilty, but I honestly felt like somewhat of a rebel. Also, I was fricken hungry.

I’ve always been casual about being vegan in that I will still eat white bread or any breads that contain eggs, I won’t give myself too much of a hard time about something that’s in a meat-based broth, and I’ll let myself have ice cream or frozen yogurt when I’m out and about and want a treat. My behavior seems to raise the eyebrows of both vegans and non-vegans: I’m either vegan or I’m not. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. I just don’t want to ever feel like I’m depriving myself. And I especially don’t want to starve myself or eat something gross when I’m in a tight spot and have little to no vegan options.

So, what’s the solution? I can label myself as a vegetarian instead of a vegan. But I don’t want to do that, either. I guess all I can say is that I’m still turning veganese. I’m not totally there yet, I’m trying to figure it out. Should I bring vegan snacks with me at all times? Should I assign someone to play the role of my food conscience and stop me from cheating? Do I need to step up and declare my vegan-ness every time I step into a restaurant? I don’t know. In the end, I may decide that I’ll never be 100% vegan, and that has to be OK. Anyone who isn’t OK with that is just not cool. Oh, dairy cheese… why can’t I quit you?!

What’s your one non-vegan food that you can’t seem to quit? Anything? I’d love it if you would confess your non-vegan cravings and share how you overcame them. –Melissa

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Isoflavones vs. Steroids. Vegetables vs. Animals.

“Doesn’t soy contain estrogen?” People ask me this question a lot, especially when I mention that I don’t eat dairy. I call this “the milk talk”.
I’ll apologize in advance – I’m a biochemist so that will color my explanation… or maybe make it so colorless that you fall asleep. Anyways, what people are talking about when they say soy has estrogen in it is that soy contains compounds called isoflavones and flavones. All plants have them. These compounds are ‘estrogen-like’. This is what isoflavones and flavones look like in a simple chemist’s line drawing (think: stick figures for molecules, they don’t actually look like that). You don’t need to know what any of this means, just note the similarities and differences between all 4 drawings in this post.

Isoflavones and flavones aren’t one specific compound: they’re a group of compounds with similar structures, not unlike the group called steroid hormones. Estrogen and testosterone are both steroids.
 
I hope you’ll notice that estrogen and testosterone are much more similar to one another than to the flavone or it’s isomer (OMG you just learned some organic chemistry!). You might also know that estrogen and testosterone have very different effects on the human body: one makes you grow muscles and chest hair and the other makes you grow breasts and smooth skin. If you surmise that flavones and isoflavones have different effects too, then you’re correct: there is interest from the scientific community in flavones and isoflavones as treatments for cancer (and heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis). Research suggests that various compounds in the group of known isoflavones and flavones are effective for treating and preventing the very cancers that estrogen and testosterone are known to promote.
Additional fun fact: withdrawal from estrogen causes PMS. Withdrawal from testosterone causes ‘roid rage. Withdrawal from isoflavones and flavones has no documented symptom.
So you might be asking yourself, “Why is she going on about estrogen?” or maybe even. “well, dairy milk doesn’t have any hormones in it. I buy organic.” Really? Are you sure about that?
Where do you think dairy comes from? Cows.
All cows: male, female, young, old? Female cows.
How do you get a lady cow to make milk: motivational posters? Nope, you impregnate them.Then their levels of estrogen skyrocket, but not just estrogen. Progesterone and eventually prolactin will also show up in a pregnant cow’s secretions: from urine to (you guessed it) milk.
But there isn’t very much hormone in dairy milk, right? The concentration doesn’t matter, you don’t need a lot.
Why? Steroids (and all hormones) operate in something scientists call “signal cascade”. I would describe it as chemical chain letters: each cell that gets the signal (1 hormone molecule), sends copies to all of it’s closest friends and a few not-so-close friends.
If you’re really thinking, you might ask yourself, “Doesn’t pasteurization destroy it?” Well, pasteurization occurs a no more than 72C/160F (Wikipedia). Dessicated estrol begins to break down at 245C/473F (according to my Merck manual). Just throwing that out there.
This is what I’m really getting at: if you’re worried about the estrogen-LIKE compounds in soy, why haven’t you considered the actual estrogen (and progesterone) secreted by the [recently] pregnant cow whose milk you’re drinking? Anyways, I prefer almond milk – fewer calories.
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