When even experts can't agree, it's no wonder the dairy issue is confusing
For decades, dairy boards have invested millions of euro in marketing and effectively taught every mum in Ireland to be a walking reminder of why you have to drink your milk. But, in recent years, many of us have begun to question whether dairy really is such an 'essential' part of a healthy, balanced diet and so the great big milk debate rages on.
Even health experts and nutritionists like myself continuously argue over the pros and cons of milk consumption, which in turn causes consumers more confusion. In fairness, if we in the health industry can't even agree, it's no wonder the average consumer is confused.
So, to help you get a better understanding of the pros and cons of dairy, I've broken it down into the 10 most frequently asked questions I receive in relation to dairy, which should provide you with a balanced view:
Is dairy a nutritious food?
Taken in moderation and as part of a balanced diet, dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt can provide a wide range of benefits to the body as they contain the goodness of a number of essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2 and vitamin B12.
Do we need dairy for healthy bones?
Yes, as the commercial mantra goes, 'them bones them bones' do need calcium. However, the notion that dairy is the only way to ensure adequate calcium intake comes from out-dated food pyramids and guidelines supplied by dairy boards and dairy councils with big commercial agendas.
Are there other food sources of calcium?
Good non-dairy sources of calcium include tinned sardines, nuts, seeds, pulses and green leafy vegetables. However, calcium isn't the only important nutrient. To keep your bones healthy, it's important to eat a balanced diet which is rich in vitamin D and magnesium as well as calcium. Maintaining healthy bones also involves doing regular weight-bearing exercise and avoiding the five 'S' words: smoking, stimulants, sugar, salt and stress.
What are some of the ill effects of regularly consuming dairy?
Though cow's milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, it's not necessarily the best thing for adult human beings. Dairy is pro-inflammatory for many people, and classic symptoms of dairy sensitivity are increased mucus production, sinus congestion, respiratory problems, digestive symptoms (such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea, or constipation) and skin problems.
Does dairy produce contain hormones?
Yes, inorganic dairy produce does contain hormones which could potentially disrupt the balance of reproductive hormones in humans. In fact, it's estimated there are over 60 hormones in an average glass of inorganic milk. If you're going to drink milk, then it's best to drink milk from grass-fed, organic, non-hormone treated cows, especially if you suffer from issues like Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and/or infertility.
How common is dairy intolerance?
The way our milk is produced and processed makes a big difference. The hormones, antibiotics and pasteurisation/homogenisation processes have made cow's milk harder to digest for humans. Also, as we age, we produce less of the enzyme lactase which is needed to digest the lactose present in milk. However, lactose-free dairy products are now readily available.
Are dairy products fattening?
Full-fat dairy products do contain a significant amount of saturated fat and so need to be eaten in moderation. However, all dairy products come in low-fat alternatives nowadays, which means they can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet without leading to weight gain. In fact, dairy is an extremely filling and satisfying food which helps you stay full and satisfied for longer.
What non-dairy alternatives are there to milk?
There are four main nutritious alternatives to dairy milk; they include oat, nut, rice and soy milk. Oat milk is made from oats and has a mild taste. Nut milks, such as almond or coconut milk, tend to have a sweet flavour as does rice milk. Soy milk made from soy beans is probably the most common alternative. It does take a little getting used to. However, improvements have been made to its flavour in the last few years.
How many portions of dairy should we be eating?
Unlike the 'five a day' fruit and vegetable guideline, there is no set amount of dairy that you need to consume for optimal health. There's no question that dairy provides an easy and tasty way to get key nutrients into children and teenagers, so the general consensus is that two to three portions of dairy a day is ideal for them, but this does not necessarily apply to adults, and, it also comes down to individual tolerance levels. A lot of the ill effects associated with dairy consumption relates to over-consumption, so, like anything, it's about balance, portion control and variety.
Elsa Jones is a qualified nutritionist who offers consultations at various GP clinics around Dublin -- www.elsajonesnutrition.ie
Original source Evening Herald