Is Dairy Good Or Bad For You

Whereas people tend to accept that vegetables & fruits are healthy options, but they seem to have conflicting opinions about dairy, and so the dairy products set off more discussion – Is Dairy Bad Or Good For You? 

As per the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations, adults should intake three servings of dairy products a day. Children should intake about two or 2.5 servings a day, depending on their age. (Source: Choose My Plate)

Here are some examples of typical servings of dairy:

(i) One cup of milk

(ii) One cup of yogurt

(iii) ½ cup of cottage cheese

(iv) One oz. of hard cheese, such as cheddar

For decades, the USDA have recommended that people should intake milk every day. Yet, some health professionals advise that people don’t have to intake dairy to be healthy. Few others advise that dairy, when consumed in higher amounts, may even be bad for your health.

These conflicting recommendations are very confusing. In this article, we will share with you the evidence-based facts about dairy so as to enable you decide whether the dairy products are good or bad for you.

Milk and Bone Health

Calcium is an essential mineral. It is needed for building strong bones and is necessary for many other functions, such as nerve transmission & muscle contraction.

Dairy products contain high amount of calcium, and this is one of the main reasons why the National Institutes of Health (NIH) & the USDA recommend that people intake dairy products every day.

Dairy products also contain other necessary nutrients for bone health, like phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and protein.

Deficiency of calcium in your body exposes you to the risk of osteoporosis. This disease causes weakening of bones and can make your bones prone to breaking. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, people require adequate calcium and vitamin D to avert bone loss & osteoporosis. (Source)

Though dairy may have more calcium as compared to many other foods, evidence suggesting that consuming dairy products can avert bone fractures seems conflicting.

For instance, one systematic review and meta-analysis study found that as dairy consumption increases, the risk of osteoporosis & hip fracture reduces in some studies. But, this was not so in all of the studies included in the analysis. (Source)

It is pertinent to note here that various other factors also affect bone health, such as exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and changes in the hormone levels during ageing.

One long term Swedish Study in which more than 61,000 women and 45,000 men participated suggested a possible link between higher milk consumption and higher mortality & higher incidence of bone fractures.

But, this study did not consider a “cause & effect” relationship. For instance, the women who had hip fractures and higher milk consumption may have been drinking more milk because they were already at the risk of hip fractures.

This particular study did not take into consideration many other lifestyle factors and health conditions, so its results cannot be taken as conclusive. (Source

In another long-term study in which 94,980 Japanese people participated, opposite relationship was found – that is increased milk consumption leading to a lower risk of mortality. (Source

Majority of research studies on dairy products indicate that milk is good for bone health & cardiovascular health.

There are sufficient amount of evidence that calcium & the other nutrients that milk offers are essential for bone health.

And in case you cannot or opt not to consume dairy products, you should intake other calcium-rich foods or speak to your doctor about whether you need a calcium supplement

Read here for “Guide to Calcium Rich Foods”.

Dairy, Saturated Fat, and Heart Health

The full fat dairy such as whole milk, cream & butter contain saturated fat. And the lower fat dairy such as 1% milk also contain saturated fat, but to a lower extent.

Saturated fat is also present in meat, most processed foods, coconut oil, & palm oil.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), saturated fat can cause high cholesterol and heart disease. This explains, why many full fat dairy products do not find a place in heart-healthy diet charts.

The AHA recommends fat free or low fat dairy products to obtain calcium without the saturated fat.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute  also advise opting for low fat or fat free dairy products as part of a healthy diet.

However, recent studies observed that the link between saturated fat and heart disease is not as strong as it was once believed. One Such Review  reported that some people have overstated the role of saturated fat in heart disease. Actually, several other lifestyle factors are responsible when it comes to evaluating heart disease risk.

A team of cardiologists put together a report asserting that eating foods with saturated fat does not clog the arteries, as it’s believed. They contended that in fact the “fat free” movement caused higher intakes of carbohydrate foods, including sugars. This can be the reason why rates of heart disease have increased. (Source)

Another article claims that various analyses & reviews don’t uphold the belief that eating saturated fat is associated with heart disease. The article further states that saturated fat could lower the risk of obesity-related diabetes in some cases. (Source)

Though the relationship between full fat dairy & heart disease are no longer clear, there are other things we can do to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, such as:

(i) Eating plenty of vegetables & fruits

(ii) Exercising regularly

(iii) Not smoking

(iv) Limiting alcohol intake

(v) Getting enough amounts of sleep

(v) Controlling blood sugar levels, in case diabetic persons

We should also consult with a doctor about how often we require blood pressure checks, cholesterol & glucose tests, and other important measures that can determine heart disease risk.

Diabetes and Dairy

Diabetes is a common medical condition. More than 100 million people are affected in the U.S only with diabetes and pre-diabetes. (Source)

Though diet is one important factor that influences whether or not a person will develop diabetes, but there are also many other important factors.

The American Diabetes Association advises a “Mediterranean diet” for a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes and for controlling A1C levels, which are an important indicator of blood sugar control.

The “Mediterranean diet” put emphasis on the consumption of healthy fats from fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and moderate amounts of dairy.

On the other hand, a meta-analysis study observed that consuming dairy products, especially yogurt, could have a protective effect against type-2 diabetes. Another study observed that the persons who consumed the most high fat dairy products (8 or more portions per day) had a 23% less risk of developing type 2 diabetes as compared to those with the lowest consumption -one or less per day. Sources: (1) & (2)

A Diet including dairy products may fit into a healthy diet for many persons who have type-2 diabetes. As each individual is different, it is best for you to consult a doctor or health professional about diet recommendations for management of diabetes & blood glucose control.

Milk Nutrient Facts

Milk has many nutrients that are beneficial for your health. It offers a complete protein, meaning it provides all the amino acids that are necessary for a healthy life. It also has several vitamins & minerals that other foods offer limited amounts of.

One cup of fortified whole milk provides (Source)

(i) Calories: 149

(ii) Protein: 7.69 grams (g)

(iii) Carbohydrate: 11.7 g

(iv) Fat: 7.93 g

(v) Calcium: 276 milligrams (mg)

(vi) Vitamin D: 3.7 international units (IU)

(vii) Vitamin B-12: 1.1 mcg

(viii) Vitamin A: 112 IU

(ix) Magnesium: 24.4 mg

(x) Potassium: 322 mg

(xi) Folate: 12.2 IU

(xii) Phosphorus: 205 mg

Many milk manufacturers fortify their products by adding vitamins A and D. A person can check whether milk is fortified by reading the list of ingredients given on label. The label will mention the added vitamins, like vitamin A and vitamin D-3, as ingredients.

Milk is a nutrient-rich drink. It provides a number of nutrients that other beverages like sports drinks, sodas, & other nondairy milk options are deficient.

Lactose intolerance

Dairy products contain a sugar type, known as lactose. To digest lactose, your small intestine must produce an enzyme, known as lactase.

Without enough lactase, one cannot digest dairy products that contain lactose. This results in to symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as:

(i) Bloating

(ii) Stomach pain

(iii) Diarrhea

(iv) Nausea

Human breast milk also contains lactose. Most babies are able to digest it without problem. Actually, lactose intolerance in infancy stage is a rare disorder.

But as we age, the production of lactose starts slowing down, so many people become lactose sensitive in the later years. Approximately 65 percent of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. (Source)

Certain dairy products that are fermented, like yogurt & some hard cheeses, contain lesser amounts of lactose as compared to a glass of milk. These kinds of fermented dairy products may be suitable choices for some people who are intolerant to lactose.

However, some people cannot tolerate almost any amount of dairy.

People who are unable to digest dairy may want to intake lactose reduced dairy milk or opt for fortified soymilk alternatives. But the other nondairy milk alternatives don’t offer similar nutrition.

Summary

As per majority of reliable evidences, dairy can be an important nutrient-rich source for a healthy diet. However, it depends on individual’s condition & preference whether or not to consume dairy.

People who do not want to or cannot consume dairy products should aim to obtain calcium from other alternatives, like fortified nondairy soymilk, leafy green vegetables, & other calcium-rich foods. They may also consult a health professional about their dietary requirements in accordance with their health history & lifestyle.

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