The Dairy Debate

Is dairy a friend or foe? We put an end to the long-standing debate once and for all

A question that has divided medical and nutritional communities for years: is dairy good for our bodies? With various educators supporting opposite ends of the argument, it can be difficult to know what to believe. We analyse the facts on dairy and present you with both cases: for and against. 

Although dairy is a single food category, different items within it have separate nutritional values. Certain dairy products can be eaten regularly while others only occasionally. The NHS Eatwell Guide recommends that, in order to maintain a healthy diet, eight percent of our daily food intake should consist of milk or dairy products. Milk, yoghurts and small amounts of cheese should be favoured in your diet over butters and creams—which have higher amounts of saturated fat. Low fat options can, and should, be chosen if necessary.

People who are lactose intolerant or vegan can turn to dairy alternatives including soy-based drinks, almond milk, rice milk and oat milk. These are often fortified with calcium and vitamins. Those who are lactose intolerant are usually able to eat aged cheeses such as parmesan, Cheddar, Brie and Camembert. This is simply because the lactose levels in these varieties are much lower than those of others, making them easier to digest. 

As part of a balanced diet—balanced being the operative word—dairy is very important. Consuming too much can negatively impact your health. By following the NHS guidelines and limiting the amount of dairy with high levels of saturated fat in your diet, you can reap the benefits of this delicious food group without harming your wellbeing.

FOR:

Dairy products contain nutrients and vitamins that keep us healthy.  Examples of these include protein (for growth and repair), calcium (for strengthening bones—especially in childhood), vitamin A (for good eye health), vitamin B12 (for healthy nerve and blood cells), riboflavin (for digestion and skin conditioning) and iodine (for regulating metabolism and the thyroid). 

Reduced-fat options are now widely available in supermarkets. Hard cheeses and reduced-fat cottage cheese or quark can contain as little as three grams of fat per every 100-gram serving. Likewise, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk contain all the nutrients and benefits of whole milk—but with less fat. 

From the ages of one to five the NHS advises the consumption of whole milk and dairy products to boost calorie and vitamin intake. This period is vital for youngsters; whole dairy is considered a necessity in this early stage of growth. 

Milk is extremely hydrating. In fact, a specific study in the journal for Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism by Ben Desbrow et al. in 2014 stated that it was more effective in rehydration than the majority of carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drinks. Various other studies have since made similar conclusions, claiming that it replenishes sodium levels more quickly than water. 

AGAINST:

A lot of the fat in milk and other dairy products is saturated. Too much saturated fat in your diet can lead to excess energy intake or eventual weight problems. 

Dairy can raise insulin levels in the body. Dairy (especially low fat milk) has been known to cause a spike in insulin. This rise in blood sugar is caused by a degree of lactose proteins; but these appear less frequently in high fat dairy products. Dairy’s insulinogenic properties can be negative, especially for those who are resistant to insulin. 

Cheese is naturally high in salt. High levels of salt pose a health problem as excessive amounts can contribute to elevated blood pressure. Most regular cheeses such as Brie, Cheddar and Stilton can contain between 20 and 40 grams of salt per 100 grams. More than 1.5 grams of salt in 100 grams of product is considered high. 

Dairy has often been reported to aggravate acne. While this has been subject to debate, various sources point to dairy (milk in particular) worsening acne in sensitive individuals. One such example is Spencer EH et al. 2009, who found that higher milk intake was linked to acne. However, it’s important to keep in mind that various external factors can influence skin health; more research is needed on the topic. 

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