Meatless Monday Inspiration: Milk, Menstruation, and the Alternatives

Dairy, dairy…  always so contrary! So we were very excited to see a recent post from Well+Good comparing milk alternatives. But before we get into that, a little (very) personal story…

In the last few months, I’ve been really lazy about my dairy consumption. A broken espresso machine had me drinking my coffee out, so I wasn’t making my usual delicious coconut cappuccinos. Instead, I got into the habit of throwing half-and-half in my to-go coffees (and not even the organic kind). What’s a little cream in my coffee right? But I can put down a lot of joe.

Now, as is the case with many nutrition-related theories, I can’t really prove what I’m about to put forth. But here it is: This past month I had one of the worst, most painful periods that I can recall in recent menstrual history—I’m talking an-unadvisable-amount-of-Advil-plus-an-ice-pack-and-still-no-relief bad. And while I’m sure that stress and other factors played into it, the little vegan on my shoulder—that I’ve been dutifully ignoring of late, in favor of some well-sourced animal protein (aside from the aforementioned cream)—keeps whispering in my ear “dairy, dairy, dairy.”

Could it be that it’s the cause? Obviously, I’m looking for your thoughts in the comments, but given just how finicky hormones are (I could write another ten posts about mine), I think it could be. The good news is the espresso machine has been replaced, and the coconut caps are back in effect.

Which takes me to this awesome post from Well+Good comparing the best cow’s milk alternatives on the market. Personally, the SoDelicious Coconut is my fave for coffee because it doesn’t alter the flavor, but I do like me sugar-free vanilla almond milk as well. Do you have a favorite alternative?

From the post:

If you can’t swallow cow’s milk—because you’re lactose-intolerant, a vegan, or you read The China Study—then you’ve probably stood in the alt-milk aisle considering your nut, soy, and seed options.

Reading the labels, while key, can take longer than milking Bessie. And it’s hard to compare one type of milk with another.

So, we present the pro and cons to know, when it comes to the nutrition facts for each type of milk—from plant-based hemp, soy and coconut to goat and sheep. So you can more easily grab the box or bottle that’s right for you.

Read on for their survey.

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32 Responses to “Meatless Monday Inspiration: Milk, Menstruation, and the Alternatives”
  1. Rebecca says:

    I don’t drink coffee, but I do put my homemade almond milk in my heartier teas. Unbelievably delish in a chai or chocolate flavored tea. Homemade is infinitely better than store bought, so if you’ve not liked almond milk from a package don’t assume you won’t like homemade – even my milk drinking friends love my almond milk. I also make smoothies with it and mix it with juices or pour it over granola cereals.

    If anyone wants to know: Get the best raw almonds you can find/afford, and use a good water source (I use filtered). Soak almonds in water for a least 12 hours and rinse. For every three cups of soaked almonds, use 5 cups of filtered water and blend for 30 seconds or so (I use a Vitamix, other blenders may need more time). Squeeze carefully through a nut milk bag (or a big strainer, though it will take a lot longer). This makes at least a couple of quarts, you can decrease amounts if you are trying it out, or adjust proportions according to how thick you want the milk. I’m not this ambitious, but you can freeze the pulp to save for lots of raw food recipes.

  2. Sarah says:

    Ugh, how awful, sorry to hear you had such a rotten time this past month!

    I’m a coconut milk girl, you guys were part of the reason I became so obsessed with it but going the Paleo diet route (which honestly, you might want to look into if you are grooving on having some “well sourced animal protein” alongside lots of veggies) was the other major reason. I use coconut milk for just about everything these days (smoothies, coffee, baking, drinking straight up, whipping it into submission for “whipped cream” alternative).

    Like you, I can’t substantiate my experiences with data, but I’ve seen a dramatic reduction in skin problems, menses related problems, and fatigue since shifting away from dairy. (But then, I also dramatically cut out sugar.)

    Good luck with trying to get a handle on your dairy intake again! It is the only diet beast that seemed impossible to reign in for me. (Ohh cheddar cheese!)

  3. Rebecca says:

    I completely believe that dairy can cause/exacerbate reproductive health issues for some women (ever read Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christian Northrup?). I think any food sensitivities get magnified when we are off the culprit for a while and then come back to it. I have heard that people drinking raw cow’s milk do not have the health issues that those drinking the processed milk have – but it’s not legal everywhere to sell raw milk, and the larger dairy industry has everyone believing raw milk isn’t safe. I’d say if you love your cow’s milk look into this option and do your research about safety.

  4. Avigayil says:

    I don’t agree with Dairy as the cause. My doctor (chinese) has suggested that I up my calcium intake before my period to reduce cramps (I am on prescription meds EVERY month because of them). I have found that increasing my calcium intake whether via supplements or greatly increasing my milk intake indeed does help reduce my cramping. Also eating Bananas help as well. When menstrating we are loosing valuable nutrients and a deficiency is often what causes the muscle cramps. A lack of potassium seems to be the culprit many times. I also have an iron deficency and it doesn’t help that I am vegetarian. >.< I loose too much iron during menstration and that results in me = sick. lol Been going through this for years.

  5. comagirl says:

    I wouldn’t rule out dairy, but caffiene may also be a culprit in the painful menstruation. Of course, I would be the very last person in the world to give up my own cup or three of coffee in the morning, so I’m not suggesting any behavioral changes here, just food for thought.

    Then, there is always the possibility of an ovarian cyst, which I can tell you can be extremely painful, above and beyond the normal Advil ritual. I was told that if an ice pack feels better than a heating pad and the pain is primarily on one side, it is probably an ovarian cyst. They can burst before being detected by ultrasound, so the diagnosed is rather iffy, at best.

    I feel for you, I really do. I’ve had problems with painful periods for years, to the point of hospitalization. I finally allowed my doctor to talk me into going on the pill for a year, just for a break. (I just went off of it last month and am currently awaiting the period from Hell.) I had a poor attitude about going the unnatural route, but it has worked wonders for me. I felt like I had my life back and didn’t realize how much of my life was being dictated by my cycle. But of course, I also felt/feel like that liitle boost of estrogen is a time bomb waiting to go offer later . . .

  6. edna says:

    I have had several 2 weeks stints of work in China this year, and every time I come home I am amazed at how good my body feels when I’m not stuffing it with cheese!! The practically dairy free diet made my body feel so much stronger, fresher and not so sluggish. I love drinking milk and eating cheese, but now am a lot more cognizant of what milk and what cheese is going in. Also helps to not “stuff it” down my throat. Basically as you said, “well sourced” and only enough to get a smile on my face. I find it helps to think about whether it is “worth it” (for my well being, my wallet, the cows, etc.) to be ingesting things so recklessly (I’m referring to my own behavior here, not yours!). Also, I found there is a direct correlation between less caffeine the week prior to menstration and less ibufrofen the week of menstration. Anyway, good thing cheese and coffee do not go well together. Then we’d be in a real pickle! ;)

  7. Rebecca W says:

    I have a condition called dysmenorrhea, meaning excessively, debilitating, nauseatingly painful cramping, so I absolutely feel your pain! I don’t think I buy the correlation between your pain and the milk, although it’s entirely possible I’m wrong,….but here’s why:

    I drank cow’s milk most of my life, from appx age 5 until almost a year and a half ago (I’m 25) when I stopped cold-turkey. I stopped because the mucous was causing a post-natal drip, which in turn caused bronchial spasms that led to the use of an inhaler (which barely helped), along with clogging my liver and potentially exacerbating (if not out-right causing) nerve-pain. So it’s not a lactose-thing……I think. There seems to be confusion about that, but I digress.

    After stopping with the dairy last summer, I saw NO relief or even lessening of my menstrual cramping. It could just be me and my plethora of (too-many-to-be-just-a-coincidence) medical issues, but I WISH I saw a correlation because then I might have the solution to my cramping.

    I have heard that caffeine greatly worsens cramps and there have been times when I’ve been “comfortable,” with my prescription keeping my cramps at bay….until I’ve had even a few sips of coffee and then they’ve wormed their way to the surface; to the point where my prescription becomes essentially ineffective. I try and cut out coffee for a few days leading up to my period, and then the first 24-48 hours into my period. It’s hard to say if it works or not, because it seems I have terrible cramps no matter what, but I also know that sometimes my prescription is working UNTIL I have coffee. If you continue to have pain, maybe try that? If you’re anything like me then that’s asking a LOT but sometimes I switch out the regular coffee for decaff to try and trick my brain! :P

  8. Anita says:

    Hello from Spain! I used to have very very very very painful periods (and when I say very I mean very) and my homeopathic doctor recommended me not to eat any dairy at all. It has been very hard because I can live without cow milk but I cannot imagine my life without cheese :) I have to recognize that my menstruations are different. Less stress, nutritional supplements and other factors may also be a help in the process but right now all I can say is \dairy, no thanks\ :) Soy, almond or rice milk are my favourites!
    Thank you very much for your blog!

  9. Breeza says:

    I had the worst period last month too. I think mine was a result of lack of exercise (bad!) and lots of yogurt. Hmm…I’m going to cut down on all dairy and see if this month is better. That and I’m back on the Pill (boo) and I’m hoping that it helps!

  10. Desiree says:

    If you were drinking more coffee or getting more caffeine as a result of getting coffee out, this could also be a factor. According to my uterus AND my doctor.

  11. Alexandra says:

    Interesting, a lot of you think it’s the coffee! I definitely have noticed that coffee can increase cramping, but in the past few years my cramping was SO much better and I drank just as much… That’s why the cream is my chosen culprit. We shall see! Love hearing from everyone. :)

  12. Amber says:

    I like unsweetened almond milk. It’s not great for out right drinking, but it’s tasty in cereal and such.

  13. Dylan says:

    It seems as though dairy, (most likely due to the hormones in it), acts like the pill in terms of effecting cramps – for some people it relieves them and for others it can add to the pain. I would just try both consuming more diary and cutting out dairy to see which your body likes better.
    For me personally, dairy seems like it adds to the pain. About a year ago I heard that dairy can relieve PMS so I drank tons of milk around that time of month for a few months, and my cramps worsened and I got even moodier somehow. But I’m sure for others it can work wonders.

  14. Dylan says:

    Also my skin was horrrrible

  15. Ruth says:

    I don’t drink milk nor coffee, but I’ve read “theories” that milk and eggs, being products of a females reproductive system, can definitely affect the consumer (either positively or negatively). I believe it was in Annemarie Colbin’s very excellent book “Food & Healing”. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend. It’s really good and not at all preachy.

  16. Krisztina says:

    Sorry for the offtopic, but I need your advices:)
    I decided to buy the pai cleanser, toner and moisturizer. I adore all products, however I’m not sure how to use the muslin coth properly. Do you wash it after each use? Or you buy more of them? Do you use it to remove the cleanser at all? Thank you in advance:)

  17. Steffie says:

    Having grown up on a dairy, I can say there is a huge difference between raw and pasteurized cow’s milk. Go here for an explanation of why: If you choose to give it a try, click the link “Where ” on the left. The taste difference is incredible! Like having Reddi Whip for your whole life, and then trying real whipped heavy cream for the first time.

    Personally, I cannot stand pasteurized cow’s milk any longer, and have switched to goat’s milk. Still pasteurized, but less intolerance effects. Similarly, I have issues with use of pasteurized milk for cheeses and get as mine raw from Whole Foods as often as I can. I also like making my own yogurt and cream cheeses.

    Bonus! Goat milk doesn’t affect the mucous membranes during a cold or sinus infection! I like it whole, but folks used to cow milk might want to try a low fat version first. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you! Coconut is my favorite vegan alternate.

  18. Siobhan says:

    I wash mine maybe every fourth day? I have two and that works well for me! Just be sure to rinse it off well, or wash with soap and water in the sink if you feel to, after use. I think once a week in a washing machine is fine.

  19. Krisztina says:

    Thanks Siobhan, 2 of them will be the solution!

  20. ava says:

    I had the same experiences with drinking normal organic milk. I had very heavy mentrual bleeding for the last 8 Years. It was terrible, I couldn’t leave the house for 2 days mostly. I had minor operations and the hormone loop (do you say so?), but nothing helped.

    I don’t know why really – but at the beginning of this year I thought: stop the milk.
    And the result just made me speechless. My menstruation was NORMAL, for the first time in years. I did that for 3 Months (quitting dairy products) and it stayed the same: everything alright : )
    Then i just wanted to see, if the milk was the reason and drank normal milk again for 3 weeks – back to the bad bleeding routine (if you can call it that.. – I’m not a native speaker, sorry… ; )

    The months after that i tried to quit only the Lactose – and drank skim milk – but without lactose (and far less than I used to): the bleeding went back to normal. Just like that.
    It was really hard to believe, because it caused me so much suffering over the years – and nobody ever mentioned , that lactose could be a reason.

    Anyway – at least for me there is a clear connection between heavy mentrual bleeding and not being able to cope with lactose and dairy products. As some of said already: I also feel way better not eating dairy products and only very little meat.

    Just in case anybody has this problem and wants to try it: give it a go. I am really a different person since I figured this out for me. Very happy about that : )

    btw: Love your blog!

  21. L. says:

    I was having terrible PMS this month (especially breast tenderness) as well, and had a similar situation… not with the caffeine, but with the little (but constant) bursts of dairy (AND sugar and grains). I KNOW these things affected my cycle. I found MAJOR relief yesterday after getting acupuncture to help with it, so I would definitely suggest that since you can’t go back and undo all the dairy. I’ve also heard the same thing about caffeine causing bad PMS.

  22. Sophie says:

    kind of off-topic, but what kind of new espresso machine did you get? do you like it? i’m in the market for one. :)

  23. Caralien says:

    Milk is great to prevent cramps after a long hike or while pregnant, as the lactic acid in the milk does something to prevent lactic acid buildup. Chocolate milk is also considered better than Gatorade:

    The only time I’ve cramped has been while pregnant or above my normal weight (yes, I’m one of those women most hate, as I just become moody, but not crampy). Until 2001, I drank at least a dozen cups of coffee daily.

    I too have read numerous times that calcium helps prevent cramps; for as long as I could remember, I’ve eaten a lot of dairy. No major skin, weight, or PMS issues. My older sister, on the other hand, has had PMS issues for decades, and as an adult has claimed to be allergic to everything (including rice, one of the least allergenic foods on the planet).

    If no dairy works for you, great. If you’re northern European, it’s less likely that you’re really lactose intolerant.

  24. Lisli says:

    Calcium does help reduce cramps! I grew up on a dairy farm, and was raised on raw milk. I’m a little disturbed by all of this anti-dairy sentiment. My family swears by raw milk, and my mom cites it as the reason my siblings and I had so few upset stomachs as children. In fact, after I moved off the farm and had restricted access to raw milk, I felt like a totally different person. I had much more nausea than I had ever experienced in my life. It’s been a few years now, so my body is now adjusting, but I still try to drink as much of it as I can when I go home to visit.

    I have also heard that caffeine can worsen cramps.

    As someone who grew up on a family dairy farm, it is frustrating and disappointing that people seem quick to blame dairy for these types of problems. I’ve also seen a couple things claiming that The China Study is not totally reliable. Sometimes I wonder if blaming dairy is just the trendy thing to do. I’m sure that for some people, especially those with lactose issues, it really is detrimental. But I question the idea that all dairy is bad for all (or even most) people. I’m sure there is also a huge difference between raw and processed milk, as I mentioned.

  25. heath alysa says:

    I’m lactose intolerant, and I’ve never experienced the weird PMS hormones and cramps. Maybe I’m just lucky, or maybe it’s the alt milk!

  26. Sarah says:

    I drink rice milk due to a mild lactose intolerance, plus factory farms freak me out and I can’t really afford the organic, free-range, blah blah blah milk. I do put a little (organic!) half and half in my coffee though… rice milk just makes coffee kinda watery.

  27. Lucy says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your pain. I hope that by now you have found relief. I’m absolutely starting to think/feel that consuming dairy contributes to experiencing the worst period pain. Some months I decide to eliminate dairy, as I notice my skin improves when I do. The last month however I decided to kick the bucket and imbibe as much organic cows milk as I wanted. Today I am certainly paying the price (if my instincts are to be believed). My cramps have been off the scale coupled with terrible bowels too. Next month I’m paying close attention to eliminating milk *and * coffee as I think I might have been overindulging a little there too.

  28. April says:

    Well I have to tell you the craziest story ever! I went gluten free two years ago this month. 6 or so weeks ago I decided to add Dairy free to further my health. I rid my self of all cows milk products and I mean all (except butter on occasion). I have a lot of self control so when I eliminated cows milk I realllly did it pretty well. Anyways….three weeks later there was a tiny bit of blood on my paper when I went to the bathroom and I realized by the calander I should be on my mensus but for three days I only had a little on the paper here and there when I went to the restroom. I was worried ofcourse and went to my OB the next day for a full pap and blood work to check all of my hormone levels. I had ovarian cysts in the past so this was very important to get checked out thouroghly. long story longer…..she told me I was on my period!!!! and all was perfectly normal, infact better than my previous labs that had unhealthy levels of hormone. I was shocked that this was a normal period for me and that all these years of painful PMDD and heavy flow was infact not the period that was meant for me all along! To top off this story…I cheated for my sons birthday lastnight and had cheese on some pizza and a pudding pie with whip cream. Way overloaded the dairy after over six weeks of none. Needless to say I woke up this morning with spotting! something I have never had in my life, until last month I have always bled every 27 days for 7 days very heavy with horrid mood swings and sweating. Ummm yeah, this girl will never eat or dring cows milk products again!!!

  29. Tiggerton says:

    I’m also here off of a google search to try and figure out if I’m really sick, or if dairy has changed my periods.

    I’m currently considering a hysterectomy due to my horrible periods, and fibroids so large my uterus is the size of a 5 month pregnancy (and my poor bladder suffers). Things have gotten so bad starting about 5 months ago I’m housebound for a couple days per month and wearing adult diapers. Anemic, cramps, all sort of other issues. It’s bad.

    After researching the amount of estrogen in dairy, that are feeding my fibroids, I decided to quit. My problems became really bad not long after I started a low-carb diet that ended up increasing my dairy (organic) consumption. Fibroids grew or the dairy caused the worsening of the periods.

    Get this – I quit dairy, and I’ve had the first normal period of my life. Or what I hear is normal (for me this is “spotting” but for others I reckon it’s normal). It could be coincidence, something else is wrong, but I just wanted to also raise my hand with the others that I’ve noticed a tremendous difference in that area after quitting dairy. There’s a lot of estrogen in dairy as the cows are generally pregnant when milked, so it makes sense there could be a connection.

  30. Debbie says:

    I have had back pains on and off for a few years. Then I started noticing the pain was getting worse and coinciding with my periods. My periods were very heavy with horrible cramps and then the added back pain for up to 10 days at a time. I had a back X-ray and an internal pelvic exam. Everything was normal besides a small fybroid tumor (benign). I have also been experiencing very bad bloating on and off for a few years. Well one day, I shared a milkshake with my husband and was so bloated afterwards and extremely uncomfortable. I looked 5 months pregnant and I am NOT exaggerating! I started thinking maybe I am lactose intolerant so I started cutting out milk and foods with milk by products. My next period was lighter, with less cramps and almost no back pain! I am convinced now that all these health issues have been related and due to the lactose intolerance!

  31. swissgirl says:

    I am 41 years old, a cow milk drinker since I remember me being on this planet.
    Since my 13th year I am having exteme menstrual blood flows.. which I many years believed might be nomal. Having a lack of iron which i treated with iron infusions. 4 years ago I went to Cuba for holidays, where there was almost no supply of cow milk and i got pregnant there (not because of no cow milk supply :-) ) . Within the first week of my pregnancy (I was back in Switzerland) I instantly was not able to even smell cow milk. I thought this are the pregnancy symptoms. but no, during the whole pregnancy I rejected smelling and drinking/eating anything with cow milk. I felt very good during the time of pregnancy and no problems with lack of iron. Baby arrived, I was breast feeding him for a long time. During 1,5years of breast feeding him I did not have menstruation. I started drinking cow milk again 1 year after baby boy arrived.
    When menstruation came back the menstrual blood flow was extemely high as before.
    And here what lead me to a change:
    I thought about the fact, that we humans drink animal milk (cow milk) the milk a cow “mother” delivers for her “Baby”, like I, human mother, did for my human son. And I asked myself why my body rejected cow milk from the very start of my pregnancy. Was it because my body said to me.. hey woman, all the years I was fighting the side effects of your cow milk drinkings but now I have something important to fulfill .. it is the baby which is more important than anything else.. this lead me to try an experiment and I said to me: for 30 days I will not drink cow milk anymore and see what happens. (this is from today ca. 3,5 months ago)
    The first 2 weeks I had trouble to resist.. I was always hungry although I ate normal meals as usual. I was hungry even at night when I should sleep. I replaced the cow milk with soya milk . the first menstruation came and: the blood flow was ca. a quarter less than my known standard.. a pemiere in my life!.. It is amazin!g now I am in the 3th menstruation since I stopped drinking cow milk .. and the same result: exreme less menstrual blood flow.. How is this possible?????? I still think maybe this is a coincidence, but no , the 3th menstruation still the same change.
    Amazing… i will follow the changes of my body and see what is going to happen in future.

    My son is now 3,4 years old. a happy, very healthy boy who loves soya, spelt, almond drinks.. :-)

    I still hope that this is not just an imagination but a real fact

    Love you all…

  32. Heather says:

    Can someone answer a question? I am 40 and have been drinking milk and eating dairy all my life. I gave up dairy about 3 weeks ago, and now I’m spotting between periods. I’m worried, because it’s been several days now. I also bled down there a couple of times after going #2 in the bathroom. Is this spotting something that has to do with giving up the milk and dairy? It’s known that cows have growth hormones injected into them. Could the fact that I gave this up be driving my own hormones crazy? I can say I’ve had a little spotting for the past few months, but it’s gotten worse since I’ve given up dairy? Could it be that? Perhaps perimenopause? I’d like to know if anyone else has had this experience after giving up dairy and what the cause was.

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