Dairy and health: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Dairy has been a hot topic in health for some time, with veganism on the rise you may be debating whether dairy is healthy or unhealthy. While what you eat is your choice, here we explore some of the pros and cons of including dairy in your diet.

The good: Health benefits of dairy

Milk is nutrient-dense

Milk is naturally nutrient-dense as it is designed by nature to nourish newborns so can be a good addition especially for the elderly or those who do not tolerate eating all the nutrients they need.

A single glass of milk (200ml) will give you calcium, protein, iodine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B2 and B12. Most notable, it offers 72% of our daily needs of Vitamin B12, a vitamin associated with keeping your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. Many people are deficient in Vitamin B12 without realising it, our guide explains common symptoms, causes and preventative measures: What is a vitamin B12 deficiency: symptoms, causes & prevention.

Full-fat dairy consumption may actually help lower obesity risk

Surprisingly, full-fat dairy is linked to a reduced risk of obesity according to a number of studies where it was disproven that it was linked to obesity and in fact the opposite. The same effects were not found to be true of low-fat options so stick with full-fat milk for the best benefits.

Bone health

Osteoporosis is a condition that is thought to affect nearly 3 million people in the UK, but many are unaware of the condition until they break a bone. According to Age UK, about 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over 50 will break a bone (fracture) because of osteoporosis, making it a key concern for this age bracket.

Studies show the protein and calcium in milk may play a critical role in bone health and density, decreasing the risk for osteoporosis so including 2 to 3 servings of dairy per day in your diet could help to keep your bones healthy and strong as you age. Ensuring you are getting enough Vitamin D will aid the calcium absorption to make the most of your dairy intake.

The bad: What are the downsides of consuming dairy?

Intolerances and allergies

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem affecting 1-2 people in every 10. When the body is unable to digest lactose (a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products) it can result in uncomfortable symptoms.

A milk allergy is most common in babies and young children with most growing out of it, although it can carry on into adulthood. In most cases avoiding consuming dairy is a sufficient treatment, ensuring to get the nutrients dairy can provide from alternative sources.

Weight management

The best health benefits come from full-fat dairy products with full-fat milk containing 90 times the amount of omega-3 fats as found in skimmed milk, but if you are trying to lose weight you may want to swap to low-fat versions or alternatives to reduce your daily fat intake through dairy sources.

Increased risk of certain cancers

Studies have also linked high-fat content and hormones in milk, cheese, and other dairy products to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Research funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Cancer Research Fund, found that women’s cow’s milk consumption was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer which grew with their daily consumption. At the top of the daily consumption, 2-3 cups of milk a day were associated with an 80% increased chance of breast cancer.

The ugly: the realities of dairy farming

Environmental Impact and welfare considerations

The environmental impact of dairy farming has long been in question, WWF summarises their concerns for the environment:

“Dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Poor handling of manure and fertilizers can degrade local water resources. And unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to the loss of ecologically important areas, such as prairies, wetlands, and forests.”

There have also been well-documented concerns around the treatment and welfare of cows in dairy farms, as noted by the RSPCA including lameness, mastitis, space requirements for lying down and general welfare conditions. Choosing dairy from an RSPCA Assured dairy producer is a good place to start with ensuring you are supporting ethical dairy production.

By choosing to buy local produce from high welfare, organic farms you can ensure you are supporting farming in a sustainable way with the least environmental impact.

Conclusion

Consuming dairy is a personal choice taking into account dietary requirements, personal preference and opinions on ethics. If you choose to continue consuming dairy

Choose organic to minimise the hormonal impact of dairy.
Full-fat dairy is the most nutrient-dense, providing it is part of a balanced diet, providing the most protein and omega-3 per serving. If your main concern is calcium, there is no drop in calcium when choosing a skimmed milk over whole milk.
If you suspect you have a lactose intolerance or milk allergy, consult with your doctor to best manage your symptoms.

 

Sources