I am sure you have no doubt been witness to countless diet trends in the media recently including and not limited to gluten-free products, the paleo diet, the raw vegan diet and diets eliminating total food groups such as dairy. It can all be very confusing and contradictory. One of my favourite quotes is “if you’re not confused about nutrition, than you haven’t read enough”. So what are the arguments ‘for’ and ’against’ dairy? What is the recommended, scientifically proven advice to follow?
As published by Nutrition Australia, dairy includes milk, cheese and yoghurt and includes protein, carbohydrate, vitamins (A, B12 and riboflavin) and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and zinc). Nutrition Australia recommends people consume 2-3 servings of dairy a day (mainly reduced fat varieties for those over 2 years of age) depending on age, sex and life stage (http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/dairy-food-myths, April 2009).
It is important to note that while every person’s body is different and may react differently to dairy, the below highlights important general considerations. If required, alternatives to milk, cheese and yoghurt include calcium-enriched soy, rice and oat drinks. Nutritionally incomplete plant-based drinks such as rice, oat, coconut or almond drinks are inappropriate alternatives to breast milk or formula in the first 12 months.
Some wellness coaches/nutritionists advocate diets that eliminate dairy completely. Their reasoning is that the two main proteins found in cow’s milk- casein (87%) and whey promote cancer, referencing a correlation between casein intake and the promotion of cancer cell growth when exposed to carcinogens. They also argue that dairy can be difficult for the stomach to digest. It is believed that dairy promotes excessive mucous that can build on the walls of the intestines and slow down matter in the intestinal tract. In regards to the calcium commonly known to be found in dairy products, it is argued that since the dairy products are extremely acidic to the body, the increased acid load actually causes you to lose calcium from your body. (Celebrity Nutritionist, Kimberly Snyder, “The Beauty Detox Foods, 2013).
In contrast, Nutrition Australia warns that eliminating dairy completely from your diet will put you at risk of missing out on important vitamins and minerals, in particular calcium. A calcium tablet will not suffice, as it will not provide all the other nutrients that dairy products add to your health. As highlighted below, the Australian Dietary Guidelines published in 2013 report that the consumption of dairy is associated with a reduced risk of various types of cancer. Furthermore, Nutrition Australia reports that milk does not cause mucous production. Rather, excess mucous is caused by such things as dehydration, dry air, and infection. Further studies also suggest that including the recommended 2-3 servings of dairy a day may actually help achieve greater weight loss, (rather than prevent weight loss which is a common myth).
Those who have difficulty digesting lactose do not necessarily need to remove dairy from their diet. As Nutrition Australia highlights, most people can drink up to two glasses of milk a day without symptoms of intolerance, if they are consumed at separate meal times. Most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yogurt contains good bacteria that help to digest lactose (http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/dairy-food-myths,).
The Australian Dietary Guidelines (National Health and Medical Research Council, Department of Health and Ageing) published in 2013 reported the following evidence statements regarding dairy:
- Consumption of at least two serves per day of dairy foods is associated with reduced risk of ischemic heart disease and myocardial infarction
- Consumption of two or more serves of dairy foods per day is associated with reduced risk of stroke
- Consumption of three serves of low fat dairy foods is associated with reduced risk of hypertension
- Consumption of more than one serve of dairy foods per day, especially milk, is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer
- Consumption of three or more serves of milk per day is not associated with risk of renal cell cancer
- Consumption of three serves of any milk, cheese or yogurt products per day is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension
- Consumption of two to four serves of dairy foods per day is associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome
- Consumption of at least one and a half serves of dairy foods per day is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- Consumption of more than one serve of milk per day is associated with reduced risk of rectal cancer
- Consumption of dairy products (particularly milk) is associated with improved bone mineral density
- Consumption of dairy foods is not associated with weight change or risk of obesity in adults
- Consumption of milk is not associated with BMI or change in BMI in childhood
On a final note, please remember that our bodies need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function properly. Before deciding to exclude any food group from your diet ensure you consult a medical practitioner to avoid the risk of nutrient deficiency to your health.
Eat well, keep fit and have fun!