"Don't spend time worrying about how you are going to die. Worry about how you are going to live today"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What dairy products are safe for me???

Now that I know hormones are an issue for me because of my ER/PR positive breast cancer, what do I eat?  I have been trying to make changes in my diet to help reduce my chances of cancer recurrence but no one really tells you what you should or should not eat.  It's so confusing I just end up not eating things because I am scared and don't know what to do.  I can't live like that the rest of my life!  I love food - I am Italian for God's sake!  So today I am diving into dairy and figuring out what I can and can't have so I know.  So I spent the morning googling and reading and this is what I have come up with as options. 

So from what I have read cheese (when from cows and made from whole milk) can contribute to the risk of breast cancer (although it appears low fat dairy products can help prevent breast cancer).   The milk used to make most cheeses in the US is made from pregnant cows which have higher levels of progesterone and estrogen.  The whole milk from these cows is also full of saturated fat and these cows are given recombinant bovine growth hormones so they can produce more milk, which has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in some studies.  We also don't know the sources of the feed used to feed these cows and have no idea what contaminants are in the feed that could be harmful.  All of this combined can not be good for the body!  This is why I have looked into making changes.  For me the important things will be no hormones, no antibiotics, natural fed animals and low fat products if possible. 

From what I read, it seems like low fat dairy products can be protective for breast cancer which is good.  Now the problem is how do you get low fat dairy products without all of the the hormones and other potential contaminants?  Which dairy products do I choose?  How do I know it is hormone free?  All of these questions are a great mystery and drive me crazy.  I want to know!

So let's start with organic.  What is it?  This link gives a good explanation:  http://www.pickyourown.org/organic.htm  For me personally, I have chosen to switch to organic foods when I can for me and my family.  It is expensive and hard to get exactly what you want sometimes, but I am searching my local stores and finding options.  I can get most things I need but it comes at a price!  Organic is very expensive.  The first week or two shopping it was costing over $200 per week for my family of three to eat!  That's nuts, unless you have an endless money supply, which alas I do not.  Now what.....organic is good but oh so very pricey.  There has to be another way!  I will address the cost of organic in another post as I am trying hard to find the most economical way to eat healthy (so stay tuned). 

So now that we know what organic is, what are the options for dairy?  I have searched Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Meijer and Kroger and found that they all offer some organic dairy options. Whole Foods does have several organic choices, but not really much that is low fat.  They do have low fat cottage cheese which doesn't even taste good in my opinion and is expensive (oh how I miss my Breakstone's 2% Cottage Cheese cups!!!).  So I have not found anything low fat that works for me yet so I settled for some goat cheese which is low fat.  I can get sliced cheeses and brick cheese that is organic but again for a package of shredded organic mozzarella it was $4.99 (ouch!).  I did also check Kroger but they only have New Horizons Organic cheeses - string cheese, and American Cheese (the American Cheese is fine for my son's occasional grilled cheese sandwiches but for a small package it was $3.50).  Meijer did not carry much other than their own brand Meijer Organics in the brick form although they do have organic feta cheese made from cow's milk which is nice.  For brick type cheese, Meijer had colby, cheddar and a few others, but no mozzarella (which is a bummer because we love to make homemade pizza).  Trader Joe's did offer some organic cheeses including shredded mozzarella for a more modest price of $3.99.  They also carried Tillamook which is organic too but not low fat.

I don't eat a lot of dairy these days (my stomach is not too fond of dairy so I had greatly reduced the amount of dairy I eat before getting diagnosed with breast cancer), but my problem is that it's so hard to find other low fat cheeses that I do eat that are organic (feta, goat cheese, parmigiano reggiano, etc....) so now what do I do?  I actually don't eat much cheese other than these types unless I am making my occasional authentic Italian dinners.  So how do I enjoy these low fat cheeses organic or at least hormone free??? 

After doing some research online, I found out that in Europe they are not permitted to use Recombinant bovine somatatropin (rBST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), so you won't find it in cheeses from Italy or anywhere in Europe.  That is good news but leaves me wondering what is wrong with the US for allowing such practices (that's an entire post of it's own on that topic!).  I have also been reading about the differences in pasteurized and raw cheeses.  It appears that there is some benefit to considering raw dairy products to avoid additional hormones and antibiotics used in cows that product pasteurized dairy products.  However, people also worry about getting sick from eating raw cheeses, so that is something to consider. 

Another thing I looked into was Amish dairy products.  I am lucky that we have a local store that carries Amish dairy and meat products from Indiana.  I went there and talked to them at length about how the dairy and meat products are produced.  So I found out that the Amish farm where they get this products has animals that are grass fed but supplemented in the winter with natural grains (grown by the Amish with no chemicals).  These animals are not given any hormones or antibiotics at all.  The same holds true for the chickens, turkeys and cows for beef.  As far as the cheeses, they make the cheese from the hormone free, all natural, antibiotic free milk and yogurt.  So this leaves me some options for dairy.  This particular product line is not "certified organic" but meets most of my requirements which are no hormones, naturally/grass fed, no antibiotics and no chemicals.  The best part about it is their prices are way lower than the certified organic foods I bought from Whole Foods!   So this week I went and bought some chicken, ground turkey, ground chicken and some Parmesan cheese to try.  I had the chicken last night.  It was very tender and had little fat at all (boneless, skinless breasts).  I have not tried the cheese yet but will this week. 

I also love goat cheese and feta cheese which are naturally lower in fat, but how do I find it without hormones, free of chemicals and from grass fed goats and sheep?  I think the best way to solve this problem is to look for imported cheeses that have labeling that says "grass fed" animals on it if possible.  If the cheeses are imported from Europe, they will not have any hormones as it's not allowed there.  So for now I will use this as an option or look for certified organic versions of feta from cows that is US made.  Ricotta cheese is usually made from sheep's milk in Italy but in the states is often made from cow's milk.  Again I will look for imported ricotta cheese to avoid the hormones.  I have also found certified organic ricotta at Whole Foods, but it was not low fat.  I will continue to search for some low fat options and even check my favorite Italian import store I frequent on the east side of town to see what they have. 

As far as eggs and milk, it's the same process for finding safe foods that are hormone free.  I also like to look for free range organic eggs as those animals are not cage raised and are raised free to roam.  They have opportunity to eat natural foods vs. just feed provided in a cage.  These are all things to consider when selecting dairy products.

So moving forward I have some options here.  I now have to spend more time in my local markets reading labels and checking prices and trying to see what's available. I think it's a good idea to ask the person that orders food for the dairy department in the local markets about what products are available in the store that meet your needs.  At my local Kroger store they said they would order whatever I wanted....that was surprising to me! 

As I indicated earlier, there are things available in the stores but some of it gets really expensive.  I am working on finding the best healthy, organic, hormone free, chemical free foods and comparing prices so stay tuned for some bargain shopping advice soon!  I will post it when I am done comparing everything. 

Here are some links that may be helpful regarding healthy dairy options:



  1. Your article is very informative and your referral links are also good !!

  2. Thank you for the information, especially on cheeses. I'm in the same situation as you, and was wondering about hormones in feta cheese.

  3. As far as what I know about feta cheese, it can be made from goat's milk or cow's milk. I believe only some of the US producers of Feta use cow's milk. I try to by organic or imported Feta....no hormones allowed in Europe. Wish the US would do that! Good luck!

  4. I don't know if there is a maximized living health center in your area but I recommend doing some research into it. They will teach you how to live a maximized health style. Your genes do not define you!

  5. Hi, I am of Greek background and, like you, have become VERY concerned about the food supply in the U.S. Whenever I visit family in Greece, the food tastes so good and healthy--and now I know why--it is healthy! Anyway, back to the U.S.--feta has never been a cheese made from cow's milk. That is an American bastardization of it. It is made form only sheep's milk, and thus, real feta has a tangy flavor compared to the salty flavor of supermarket (cow) feta. Fortunately, for this feta purist (lol), there is Costco and Trader Jo's: they both have feta in a square plastic tub IMPORTED from Greece, (thus-no Bovine growth hormone or antibiotics to worry about)...and they are delicious and not expensive! I have seen two manufacturer's from Greece carried in Costco, depending on the state. Both are equally delicious, and big sellers in Greece. At Trader Jo's, they have their own label on the square tub, but it is imported for their label from Greece, and is authentic sheep's milk. Trader Jo's is awesome, and is also about two dollars cheaper for the same amount than Costco's. If you live in an area with a Greek or Middle Eastern market, they could also be another option--
    I wish you good health and happiness. God bless! :-)

  6. Hi,
    just to help you out- rBGH and rBST, those hormones that increase milk production are forbidden in Canada, Europe and Israel so any dairy that is imported from there is safe in that perspective. I'm Israeli who lives in California and finding those fresh and healthy products I'm used to was a struggle at the beginning. ALL of trader joe's dairy and additional products are hormone free and not expensive ! also, in Costco you can find a lot of imported cheese and of course in whole foods but then it's more expensive. It requires a bit of learning and searching for the information on the label but once you find an item it's easy later on.
    wish you well!

  7. Thanks for the comments. I knew that Europe was hormone free but I did not know Canada was. That helps! I do shop Costco for imported cheeses and TJ's all the time! So glad I have these stores near me for good, healthy options!

  8. Supremo brand queso fresco and queso chihuahua are rgbh free, and u can find hormone free milk n eggs at Aldi's.

  9. Supremo brand queso fresco and queso chihuahua are rgbh free, and u can find hormone free milk n eggs at Aldi's.

  10. Hi
    have you found any research on sheep or goat dairy products linked to BC? A recent study was found the there is a link between Bovine Leukemia Virus and BC. I have really altered my diet except for the cheese! Looking for options. t_racer007@yahoo.com

  11. Cows, whether fed synthetic hormones or not, are milked when they are pregnant. Pregnant cows make about 30 times more hormones naturally. Organic cows are milked the same way. Unfortunately I don’t think choosing organic will help you avoid hormones in milk. If you know the farm you are getting your milk from you may be lucky enough to be confident that you are getting milk from cows that are not pregnant. It is my understanding that goat and sheep milk tends to have lower hormone levels. But I don’t know this to be reliably true. Personally, I like getting my food the way Mother Nature made it—I prefer whole foods, not low fat foods that have been altered.