A dairy-free diet is hailed by stars as a fast track to slimming
success, but don't we need the white stuff in our lives?
Tanya Sweeney finds out just how essential milk products are.
In a world where new celebrity mums routinely boast more va-va-voom than should be allowed, Megan Fox takes some beating.
Just three months after giving birth to her son Noah, the 'Transformers' star bouced back to her pre-pregnancy figure and has looked positively red-carpet ready in recent weeks.
Not that she had much weight to lose; after all, Megan only gained 10kg during pregnancy thanks to the tutelage of renowned trainer Harley Pasternak.
However, she puts her success down to a surprising revelation: "I'm not eating dairy, that's my biggest secret," she said.
"It's really hard on your hormones and it's not good. If you want to gain weight, eat dairy. If you don't, don't eat it."
In Ireland, dairy has been a diet staple, yet headlines abound about the pros and cons of a milky diet. Where one school of thought cites a link between breast cancer and dairy intake, another advises that detoxers should steer clear of milk.
Then the Weight-control Information Network (WIN) has claimed that dairy can be included in a healthy diet, although it should be low in fat.
Amid the baffling and often contradictory information, who is right?
Some experts advise that we give our bodies a rest from dairy to restore itself. In any detox regime, the body becomes more adept at ridding itself of toxins and boosting metabolism. This goes some way to explaining why we might feel less sluggish and bloated on a detox diet.
Alas – and look away now, Megan – there is no truth that cutting out dairy is conducive to a healthier, slimmer body.
"Young women avoid dairy as they think, erroneously, that it'll help their weight," explains Dan McCartney, lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at DIT. "The weight of evidence suggests it won't. In fact, drinking milk will keep you slimmer around the middle."
"Many observational studies show that milk drinkers tend to have lower BMI (Body Mass Index) and may have less fat accumulation around the middle," he adds.
"Calcium often combines with fat in the gut, and calcium then gets passed through the gut.
"If you can't absorb the fat, it can't contribute to weight. Other studies show that high milk intake improves satiety (a feeling of fullness) and fat burning can be stimulated by dairy products, but it hasn't been proven sufficiently yet."
Some non-dairy disciples believe that the body burns alcohol calories first, then dairy carbs, before it burns any other type of calorie.
Not true, according to McCartney: "This is true of alcohol, but usually there's no real difference between dairy and other foods."
In fact, a recent study has proven that eating three to four daily servings of dairy may help burn more fat, by shifting energy stored in fat cells to working muscles.
"The peptides in dairy help in the slimming process, while calcium is beneficial for blood pressure management," says consultant dietician Richelle Flanagan.
"Women worry about weight gain when they drink milk, but it's more to do with the fat element of certain foods, like cheese. Full-fat milk is only 4pc fat, after all."
Several people assert that they have an allergy to dairy, but in reality the instances are rare.
"Around 1pc of the population are allergic to dairy, and most of those cases are children," notes Richelle.
While people are allergic to the proteins found in food, the sugars in food cause intolerances. Intolerance to the sugar found in milk, lactose, affects around 15pc of the population. Regardless, many people decide to go dairy-free for a number of reasons, and soy products are often credited with minimising the risk of breast and bowel cancer.
'If you plan to remove dairy, look for non-dairy calcium sources," says Richelle. "Be aware than non-dairy calcium is not absorbed as well, and in terms of your main source of calcium, choose soy milkbut make sure it's fortified with high levels of calcium, as non-fortified soy products are naturally very low in calcium. 800mg of calcium is needed by women every day, while a glass of enriched soya milk has around 260mg."
For now, the debate about the merits of the white stuff rages on. Few can dispute that Megan Fox is a walking advert for healthy living. Yet something tells us that a night nanny, personal trainer and millions in the bank may well have played their part, too ...