To understand how dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and cheese) affect health, consider these 3 nutrition principles:
1. Foods are much more than negative nutrients.
Yes, dairy foods are typically rich in saturated fat. But consider recent scientific research:
- Dairy foods appear to promote good heart and metabolic health.
- There is little evidence that high-fat dairy foods are unhealthy. Indeed, research finds cheese (the dairy food with the highest density of fat) may actually promote heart health more so than other dairy foods.
- Dairy foods can help to manage weight, and full cream milk does not promote weight gain in comparison to low-fat milk.
The health benefits of dairy, including lower and higher fat ones, makes sense: dairy foods can contain magnesium, calcium, protein, riboflavin, Vitamin B12, conjugated linoleic acid, and fermentation by-products, including probiotics, prebiotics and bioactive peptides, too.
2. Moderation in all things.
The relationship between dairy and health changes according to the amount that is consumed. Consider:
- The relationship between cheese and heart health appears to be somewhat curvilinear, with the healthiest intake around 40 grams.
- Large quantities of dairy may slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer.
3. There is no perfect diet.
Instead, there are many different ways to eat healthily, and no ‘best’ recommendation with regards to dairy. Consider:
- Our body adapts according to what we eat: it has long been known that the absorption of numerous minerals is improved when their intake is low.
- Nutrients are typically found in array of different foods, and dairy is not required for adequate calcium intake (just consume other calcium rich foods), nor is milk required for optimal bone health.
- Dairy is not an essential food group, and the health benefits associated with its consumption can be found from eating a variety of other foods, particularly minimally processed plants.
I’ve heard advice not to eat full cream dairy (it’s high in fat!), not to eat low-fat dairy (it’s high in sugar!), not to eat cheese (it’s high in calories!), not to have cow’s milk (it’s not fermented!), and not to eat any dairy at all (it’s not natural!).
Yet my interpretation of the nutrition research is that all can be compatible with good health; yet none are essential for it.
Eat more from what you do enjoy, and enjoy more from what you do eat.