When it comes to weight management, many foods seem to have a bad reputation. Unfortunately, dairy is frequently one of them. However, milk and dairy products are highly nutritious foods that have rightfully earned their place in a healthy, balanced diet. In fact, the British Dietetic Association recommends three portions of dairy per day as part of their healthy eating guidelines. To put this into context, one portion of dairy could be a third of a pint of milk, a small pot of yoghurt or a matchbox size piece of cheese. So, while your neighbour’s aunt’s friend might be telling you that cutting out dairy is a great idea, the experts are advising otherwise!
Despite this, many people feel the need to restrict dairy in their diet or eliminate it altogether. Not only is this removing a source of many important nutrients in the diet, it also eliminates the opportunity to enjoy many delicious dishes, as dairy plays a huge role in nutritional and culinary aspects of our lives.
Why are there so many myths, misconceptions and negative associations surrounding this food group? Read below to understand the truth about these myths and why these foods do not need to be eliminated from a healthy, balanced diet.
What is the nutritional value of dairy?
First and foremost, milk and dairy products are excellent sources of a number of nutrients. You may know that dairy products are a source of calcium, which is important for healthy bones and teeth. But did you know that they also provide protein and phosphorus, which are involved in bone growth and maintenance? This is especially important for middle-aged women, to help to maintain strong bones which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in years to come.
Milk is also a source of a number of other vitamins and minerals which carry out vital roles in the body. These include iodine, potassium, and vitamins B2, B5 and B12. These B vitamins contribute to energy metabolism and help us to feel less tired. Vitamin B12 also helps to benefit our immune system.
Dairy is one of the main sources of iodine in diets in the UK, which is an important mineral for a number of different reasons. Iodine makes up part of the thyroid hormones which help to release energy from food. It is also involved in brain function and the maintenance of skin. Meanwhile, the potassium provided by dairy products can help to maintain normal blood pressure.
With all of these valuable nutrients and the roles that they play in our health, it can be hard to understand why dairy can have such a bad reputation!
Do dairy alternatives provide the same nutrients as milk?
Dairy alternatives, such as plant milks, do not naturally contain the same nutrients as milk. Some (but not all!) are fortified with certain nutrients to counteract this. However, the form of calcium used to fortify these drinks may be less bioavailable than the form of calcium found in dairy, meaning that it could be more difficult for our bodies to absorb and use it. The quality of the protein present in plant milks is also different to that of dairy. With the exception of soya milk, most plant milks contain low biological value protein, while dairy contains high biological value protein. This means that diary provides more essential amino acids, which are needed for different roles in the body.
Is dairy “fattening”?
This is a common misconception surrounding dairy, which may encourage some people to exclude it from their diet. The language used surrounding dairy can often be misleading. For example, if the label on a carton of milk reads “full-fat”, it does not mean that it is full of fat, but rather that it does not have a reduced amount of fat in it. In fact, “full-fat” or “whole” milk only contains about 3.5% fat!
If you are trying to reduce the calories in your diet, low-fat dairy products could be chosen, which provide similar amounts of vitamins and minerals as full-fat versions. A large variety of low-fat versions of milk, yogurt and cheese are widely available if desired.
Does dairy consumption cause high cholesterol?
As dairy contains some saturated fat, there is sometimes the misconception that it can cause high cholesterol. This is not the case, however, as research does not show an adverse effect of dairy consumption on cholesterol levels. Dairy products such as butter and cream which contain higher levels of fat should be used sparingly, but there is no need to eliminate dairy from your diet entirely.
Does lactose make milk difficult to digest?
Lactose is a sugar found in milk which some people cannot digest due to their genetic makeup. This is known as lactose intolerance. However, only about 5% of the British population are affected by lactose intolerance and those who are not affected can digest it without any issues. Those who are affected may need to reduce their consumption of products containing lactose, but this does not mean that that dairy products need to be entirely eliminated from the diet. For example, hard cheeses such as cheddar contain very small amounts of lactose and can be enjoyed by those with lactose intolerance and lactose-free milks are widely available.
Are other substances found in milk?
This is another myth which surrounds dairy! Despite what some people may think, antibiotics, hormones or other substances are not present in milk and strict regulations are in place to ensure that it is safe to consume.
So, as is the case with many foods, dairy should be enjoyed in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. There is no need to cut these foods out of your life as a result of myths or misconceptions! Instead, consider the nutrients it has to offer and the great taste it can provide as part of many lovely dishes that you can enjoy!
Written by Katie Kelly