• Kerry McLeod RD

Dairy - it's not so scary!

I'm glad someone requested that I write a blog post on dairy! It's a hot topic which has long been debated! I remember sitting in a classroom as a teenager and being told to stop eating dairy products for health reasons. At the time, I was a curious, health conscious teenager and I assumed that my teacher was right. To cut a long story short, he was in fact wrong. As a Dietitian, it worries me that young, curious minds are subjected to inaccurate nutritional information. Read on and you'll find out why this particular comment makes me cringe...


Dairy products provide a wealth of important nutrients. Yes, there are certainly valid arguments about the negative impact of dairy on the environment, and some may choose to avoid dairy for ethical reasons, however, many of the messages we hear about it's adverse impact on health don't have any scientific backing - they're often based on opinion rather than facts. Some people can be very convincing, particularly those with a large social media following, supermodels, celebrities, or those with a position of authority. Watch out - eliminating this food group (or any food group for that matter) from your diet could actually do harm!

Examples of dairy products

Milk, cheese, yogurt, quark, fromage frais, creme fraiche


Important nutrients found in dairy - all needed for optimal health

Calcium

Protein

Iodine

Phosphorus

Vitamin B12

Riboflavin


Often when I discuss dairy products with a client, calcium is the first nutrient that pops in to their mind - and there's a good reason for that! Calcium is an important mineral in the building and maintenance of healthy, strong bones. Think of childhood and early adulthood as the bone building period. Around 25-30 years old, we reach peak bone mass - put simply, you've got what you've got. It's really important to nourish your bones during the bone building period to reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis in the future.


If you're worried you're not getting enough calcium, read more here.

One of the common misconceptions about dairy products is that they're all high in fat. The tables below help us determine whether a food or drink is high in fat, salt and/or sugar:

Table 1: Criteria for foods. Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/566251/FoP_Nutrition_labelling_UK_guidance.pdf

Table 2: Criteria for drinks. Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/566251/FoP_Nutrition_labelling_UK_guidance.pdf

Take whole (blue top) milk for example (the extra creamy and tasty one in my opinion), it contains about 3.6g fat (2.3g saturated fat) per 100ml, putting it in the medium fat category. Pretty interesting considering many people believe "it's fattening" or "contains lots of fat". Cheddar cheese contains around 34.9g fat (21.7g saturated fat) per 100g putting it in the high fat category. That doesn't make cheese "bad". Remember, you don't get good and bad foods and you actually need some fat in your diet. There are many beneficial nutrients in cheese, and it's really tasty (in my opinion), so there's definitely no need to go cold turkey. If you're concerned about your weight, watching your portion sizes and/or choosing reduced fat dairy products will allow you to reap the nutritional benefits and enjoy the delicious flavour of dairy products, whilst watching your waist line. When it comes to cheese, using one with a stronger flavour (i.e. parmesan) means you don't need to use as much to get that delicious cheesy flavour.


Queue the "...aren't reduced fat products packed with sugar?". Taking yogurt as an example, sugar content will vary between types, flavours and brands. Naturally, dairy contains a sugar called lactose. This is not a sugar we should be concerned about as it comes with other beneficial nutrients. Some flavoured yogurts have free sugars added to them. Reading food labels and comparing products will allow you to make more informed dietary choices. The tables above can be used to help you determine if products are low, medium or high in sugar.

You can find out more about sugars here.

Sweeten plain yogurt with fresh fruit to add not only sweetness, but extra vitamins, minerals and fibre too - a delicious and nutritious satisfying snack!

There are many other accusations about dairy products out there - I've just scraped the surface - but today's take home message:

Dairy products provide important nutrients required for optimal health.

If you're considering avoiding or reducing your intake of dairy products, be sure to consider the nutrients that you will need to replace. A Registered Dietitian can support you to ensure your diet is balanced and nutritionally adequate.


The information given on this website is aimed at the adult general public and should not be used as an alternative to personally tailored advice given by your own dietitian or health care professional.

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