There is a lot of controversy regarding the consumption of dairy products. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a moderate intake of reduced fat milk, yogurt and cheese. The Canadian Food Guide suggests 2-4 servings per day depending on age. At the same time other health professionals are saying that milk is unhealthy. So how does this affect you?
Government guidelines are based on the idea that cow’s milk contains a lot of calcium so we should consume it to strengthen bones in growing children and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures as we get older. Unfortunately, data from the Nurses’ Health Study has shown that there may actually be an increased risk of not only fractures but some cancers and obesity. Cow’s milk may contain lots of calcium, but it is made for growing baby cows and is difficult for humans to absorb. Human babies should not consume dairy until at least 1 to 2 years of age. After this age, you can introduce dairy if you choose, but it is not something they need to be healthy and should not make up the majority of their calories.
The Australian dietary guidelines also say that there is an association between milk consumption and decreased risk of heart disease and some cancers. But research also shows that milk consumption is associated with an increased risk of prostate and possibly ovarian cancer.
And then there is the issue with low fat vs high fat. People have long believed that the consumption of fat is unhealthy for you. This was flawed research, which has since been proven false. In fact, eating or drinking low fat products (including milk) can actually lead to weight gain as it does not fill you up so you then consume more calories. It also contains more sugar in the form of lactose, and as we all now know, it is sugar, not fat, that leads to weight gain. There is a lot of research out these days about fats (including saturated) being healthy while sugar is the culprit for many health issues. Please check out this post to read more on the Truth About Fats.
It is estimated that 50-60% of people have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, most of which is undiagnosed. This can manifest as many symptoms including seasonal or other food allergies, eczema, constipation, acne, and irritable bowel syndrome. If you want to know if you have an issue with dairy, take a break for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. If symptoms return when you eat it again, you have your answer!
And finally we also need to question government dietary guidelines. In 1992, the Canadian government tried to decrease the recommended servings of dairy and meat in their food guide based on research at the time. Due to complaints from the Canadian Meat Council and Dairy Bureau of Canada, the serving suggestions were increased. Are food guides really for our health, or the pocket book of business?
Supplementation of calcium is not recommended as this may increase the risk of kidney stones and does not take into consideration the other nutrients such as Vitamin D and K2 needed for calcium absorption. Eating whole foods rich in calcium is best for bone health and can actually help prevent kidney stones. The best way to get your daily calcium is by having a diet rich in nuts, seeds, broccoli, dark leafy greens and small fish (with bones).
Don’t get me wrong, dairy is delicious! But it seems that it isn’t as healthy for us as we once thought. If you have any questions about diary, talk to your local naturopath. If you are looking to avoid osteoporosis and fractures, the best thing to do is weight-bearing exercise (you knew I was going to say that!).