Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Should we be eating Dairy?
With the rise of veganism and plant-based eating, dairy has gained a bad reputation in the world of health for both environmental, sustainable and diet related reasons. With more people swapping for plant-based alternatives, coconut yoghurts replacing full-fat Greek yoghurt and cheese becoming increasingly unfashionable, I am questioning whether we need and should give it up for good.
Evolution of Dairy
Humans have been consuming milk for 7,500 years; milk was first consumed in Western Europe and over time we have evolved to become lactose persistent. Lactose is a milk sugar broken down by the digestive enzyme lactase. Although we have evolved and developed to become lactose persistent a number of people worldwide suffer from lactose intolerance. Primary lactose intolerance is where overtime as people age, the number of lactase enzymes decline and we are unable to digest lactose into its constituents, glucose and galactose. The decline in lactase enzymes begins from childhood and is usually a hereditary cause. It is estimated that 65% of the worldwide population are lactose intolerant, those who are intolerant should avoid dairy. With a rise in veganism and with the need to create a more sustainable environment, many people believe that consuming cow’s milk is unsustainable and could contribute to the rise in inflammatory related conditions.
Health Benefits of Dairy
Dairy has a number of health benefits which from a nutrition perspective we cannot ignore.
Milk contains a mineral called iodine which is essential for the growth of a baby, it is required to make thyroid hormones, for regulating metabolism and is an important mineral for overall health. According to The Association of UK Dieticians an adult requires 150 (mcg) per day and for breastfeeding and pregnant women they will need a little more. Milk and dairy are the main sources of iodine; however, we can consume iodine through seaweed, kelp and some white sources of fish, the concentrations will be much lower than dairy sources. Iodine deficiency is on the rise especially with pregnant women, it may be something to consider when reducing your dairy intake and try to ensure you are receiving adequate amounts from other sources or supplementation.
Milk and other dairy products are a rich source of a wide range of essential nutrients such as B vitamins, B2 (riboflavin), B12, B6 as well as calcium and zinc. B vitamins are important for metabolic function and energy production. There are plenty of non-dairy alternatives that contain these essential nutrients, however B12 is unable to be consumed through plant-based dietary sources.
Dairy alongside essential vitamins and minerals can contain gut-friendly probiotics proving beneficial in supporting digestive health. Fermented dairy products such as kefir contain probiotics, live microorganisms that benefit and improve the survival of our gut microflora. Non-dairy probiotics are currently being researched to see whether they can contain beneficial gut-friendly bacteria such as fermented dairy. For now, fermented dairy contains far more beneficial gut-friendly bacteria than that of non-dairy alternatives.
Why should we reduce dairy consumption?
The vegan trend has catapulted a rise in non-dairy milk alternatives such as oat, hemp, pea, almond, soy and coconut. Vegan activists have hit our headlines, protesting outside dairy farms for ethical and environmental reasons. Vegan or not we are becoming more food savvy, we want to know where our food comes from, looking beyond the supermarket shelves and back to its roots. Sustainable living and eating is a priority and we should be more aware of the impact our dietary choices are having. The demand for dairy products is growing due to population increases, a rise in popularity of westernised diets and urbanization. Dairy cows produce greenhouse gas emissions, they can contribute to the degradation of water sources which contributes to climate change. Reducing dairy could therefore be beneficial in preventing climate change.
There has been strong evidence to suggest that common digestive issues such as IBS could be triggered by food intolerances to dairy and lactose intolerances. If you are suffering with digestive disorders such as IBS, IBD or Chron’s disease, eliminating particular foods such as dairy could be beneficial. Elimination and dietary allergens in relation to IBS should be discussed with a registered nutritionist or health care practitioner before immediately eliminating from the diet.
Although the link between acne and dairy is still unclear and we cannot necessarily draw a direct link between the two, recent studies have looked at the correlation between increased acne prevalence in westernised societies where higher quantities of dairy are consumed. Milk contains hormones from dairy cows which contain insulin-like growth factor -1 (IGF-1). Increased consumption of dairy containing (IGF-1) could contribute to the proliferation of sebaceous glands that causes acne lesions. Studies are still identifying whether there is a direct link between acne and dairy, some studies have suggested that skimmed/low fat milk in higher consumptions has a greater likelihood of contributing to acne lesions than full fat/whole milk. If you are suffering from acne, try reducing dairy to see if its beneficial for you.
* Eliminating Dairy is not necessarily essential for everyone and contains key nutrients which are vital for the health of some individuals.
* Intolerances to lactose and dairy are common and therefore suggests we should eliminate and reduce our consumption to best support our overall health.
* Plant-based living is a great way of increasing healthy, nutritious fruits and vegetables whilst reducing our dairy intake to help protect the environment.
* Why not read my next article on VEGANUARY if you are interested in becoming plant-based or looking for some great dairy free alternative options!
* In my opinion a little dairy from time to time will do no harm if it is something you really enjoy to eat! Look for quality over quantity!