“Drink your milk so you grow up big and strong.”

I imagine there are not many readers who didn’t hear this at least once or twice when growing up. The need to consume dairy products is ingrained in all of us.

On this blog I talk a lot about how marketing is responsible for many of the beliefs we have about health today. Our obsession with diary for strong bones and teeth is no exception and continues to drive the nutrition messages that are promoted by government and health bodies around the world. The main beneficiary of this is the dairy industry.

Today most of us are convinced we should be opting for semi-skimmed, no-fat or low-fat dairy. And it is no surprise when this is the message fed to us by our government and bodies as trusted as the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service which is the leading and most trusted body on health messages).

“Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and calcium. To make healthier choices, go for lower-fat milk and dairy foods…. much of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated fat. For older children and adults, eating too much fat can contribute to excess energy intakes, leading to becoming overweight.” 1

I am not here to tell you that you should cut all dairy out of your diet and be done with it.

That would be highly hypocritical because my life would be very sad without cheese and food is to be enjoyed as much as it is to nourish us. Instead I want to provide some facts about dairy and get away from the rhetoric that low-fat dairy products are an essential part of our diet.

 

 

In response to the question is dairy good for your, the answer is very much, “it depends.”

For those who can tolerate it, a bit of cheese is a great way to get some quality saturated fat in your diet.

 

Dairy can be a very beneficial food; however, that is very much dependent on the type, source and the individual consuming the food.

In this article and its follow up I will discuss:

  1. Why full-fat dairy can be healthy for some; and
  2. The inflammatory components of dairy products – casein and lactose that make it no so good for others

The usual suspects: the media, industry and government are culpable in promoting these myths about the healthfulness of dairy. It’s time for some unsponsored, balanced advice.

Firstly, including some FULL FAT dairy in your diet can be beneficial

There is a common argument that we have not ‘evolved’ to eat dairy products, because it is a relatively new food in the human diets. Others say that dairy consumption is unnatural because we are the only animals to drink another animal’s milk. However, in my opinion these are not good enough reasons. I would prefer to see some actual science, rather than the claim ‘it’s not natural.’

Like most things relating to nutrition, and indeed life in general, whether dairy works for you is a completely individual thing. Intolerance and allergies to dairy are very real so we can definitely not make a blanket recommendation that everyone should be eating it. The flaw in many of the evolutionary arguments relating to dairy is that while our evolutionary development can act as a great guide or template for our food choices today, we should not being trying to recreate the Palaeolithic era.

Yes, our bodies and digestive systems are very much the same as they were hundreds of thousands of years ago, but there are a lot of environmental differences that we must take into consideration. If we have access to foods that are a healthy, nutrient dense source of healthy fats then ‘we didn’t use to do it’ is simply not a good enough reason to avoid them.

There are a number of studies that have shown the consumption of dairy actually has some widespread health benefits. Only recently the Guardian published this article, with the conclusion that maybe dairy doesn’t cause strokes!

This study showed that a fatty reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. According to Stephen Guyenet, a leading obesity researcher:

“After adjustment for confounding factors, trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with a smaller waist circumference, higher HDL cholesterol, lower serum triglycerides, lower C-reactive protein, lower fasting insulin and lower calculated insulin resistance. Furthermore, people with the highest trans-palmitoleate levels had 1/3 the risk of developing diabetes over the three years volunteers were followed. 2

In summary, there are many health benefits associated with including a bit of full-fat dairy in your diet, if you can tolerate it ok.

It is important to note that because the health benefits were brought about by the fatty acids of dairy, consuming anything other than full-fat products won’t bring about the same benefits.

 

In part II of my “What’s the deal with dairy?”,  series we look at the components n dairy that can be inflammatory and make it a problematic food group for many people.

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