Dairy – Is it bad for you?

I have heard it repeated many times in recent months that dairy is bad for you, as you might have too.

However, when I think about where I heard this, it was always in online chats, articles, and films.

It was never in any scientific journals

So, I just wanted to give you guys a quick post addressing some of the more common accusations.

It is unnatural

The argument usually goes something along the lines of ‘we are the only species that consumes milk as an adult’.

I can’t argue with that logic, but we are also the only species to farm on a large scale, make cinnamon kale smoothies, and fly to the moon.

Our ability to break down dairy is reliant on our ability to produce lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose, the sugar in dairy.

Many of us make enough lactase to feed on breast milk while we are babies but then lose the ability to produce lactase when we reach adulthood.

This is common in people who have family origins in Africa, Asia, and South America, as these populations traditionally consumed less dairy over time.

Those among us with family origins in Northern Europe and America are much less likely to develop an intolerance to lactose.

It is bad for your heart?

Looking at the label of full fat dairy can seem a bit startling when you notice the saturated fat content as we have been told for decades to avoid saturated fat.

Our understanding of saturated fat has been changing over recent years and it is no longer demonised the way it once was.

When it was once thought that saturated fat would ‘clog your arteries’, we now have a much better understand of how saturated fats are essential for the creation of hormones and transport of vitamins.

There have been observational studies in the past which suggest that dairy consumption could be linked to health issues; however, these studies were deemed as being low quality and not very robust.

More and more studies are coming out in recent years which show that dairy at worst has a neutral effect (basically none) or at best could actually be protective.

There is now fairly good evidence suggesting that dairy could reduce our risk of stroke, coronary artery disease, hypertensions and type-2 diabetes.

Why?

The mechanisms for why dairy benefits our health have not been clearly established, but we can use a bit of intuition and background knowledge to suggest why this might be.

Dairy contains high amounts of vitamin K, beneficial for blood and bone health and requiring fats to be transported around the body. Dairy from grass fed sources tends to be higher in vitamin K and some studies have suggested that dairy from grass fed sources could be more beneficial to health.

Dairy is high in vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and other minerals, all of which are important to help our cells send and receive signals as well as create new cells.

Dairy, particularly fermented sources like yoghurt, contains bacteria which are great for our digestion and gut health. Gut health has been shown in recent years to have large effects on our immunity, metabolism, brain health and cardiac function, so the healthier the better.

Extra Benefits

Milk is a cheap and convenient source of very high quality protein.

The protein in dairy is some of the best quality around as it is fast digesting and contains the full range of essential amino acids; therefore, dairy is a great choice for recovery after exercise.

Lactose, the sugar in dairy, is fast digesting, so will help to replenish our energy stores.

Milk also contains casein proteins which are much slower to digest. This gives us more of a steady supply of protein over time, excellent to keep us ticking over between meals and while we sleep.

In case you haven’t guessed, I love dairy.

I eat milk, yoghurt, and cheese on a daily basis and I have nothing but sympathy for those readers who struggle to digest it.

Of course there are more and more dairy alternatives coming on to the market every year, so there is still hope.

However, most of these tend to be lower in protein, calcium, vitamin D, and higher in sugar than real dairy, so it’s not a like for like replacement.

I would recommend 1-2 portions of dairy per day, preferably the full fat kind.

Of course, the higher the fat content, the higher the calories, so be sure to factor this in to your daily energy goals.

Other than that, just enjoy!