Q: Are dairy foods essential?
A: Humans have been consuming dairy foods for thousands of years and dairy has been pivotal to nutrition and important to the survival of many populations around the world. Dairy foods including milk, cheese and yoghurt, continue to be an important part of a balanced diet today. They're one of the five food groups recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, along with fruit, vegetables, lean meats and grain (cereal) foods. Consuming a diet with more of these healthy foods and less junk foods, is linked to better health and a lower risk of disease.^
Source: ^National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), 2015, Eat for Health - Five food groups
Q: What is dairy good for?
A: Dairy foods contain a unique package of nutrients such as calcium for strong bones and protein for healthy muscles. A large body of science has continued to show the health benefits of milk, cheese and yoghurt which are linked to a reduced risk of many lifestyle diseases.^ This is supported in the Australian Dietary Guidelines which were developed by Australia's leading independent health authority, the National Health and Medical Research Council.*
Sources: ^NHMRC, 2013, Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra. *NHMRC, 2016, Eat for Health - Guideline Development
Q: Are dairy foods high in sugar?
A: Milk, cheese and yoghurt contain the naturally occurring sugar, lactose. Flavoured milks and yoghurts may also contain added sugar and/or artificial sweetener in differing amounts. There are a variety of products on the market from plain to flavoured so choose the one that best suits you. The best way to reduce added sugars in your diet overall is to cut down on junk foods and drinks which are the main source of free sugar in the Australian diet.^
Source: ^ABS, 2016, Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars
Q: Are dairy foods fattening?
A: Most people think milk is full of fat, when in fact full-cream milk only contains 4% fat. This has led to the belief that dairy foods are fattening. In fact, the science tells the opposite story. Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt are not fattening and when compared to other foods with equal calories, they can actually help with weight loss as part of a healthy diet. Research has also shown milk is good for maintaining lean muscle mass during weight loss.*^
Sources: *NHMRC, 2013, Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra. ^Abargouei AS, Janghorbani M, Salehi-Marzijarani M, Esmaillzadeh A., 2012, Effect of dairy consumption on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes. 36(12):1485-93
Q: Can't I get dairy nutrients from other foods?
A: There are a number of cow's milk alternatives on the market such as soy and nut milks, however, they are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy foods. The beauty of cow's milk is it has one simple, natural ingredient - milk - with well-established health benefits and nutrients that are hard to replicate in a factory.
Other non-dairy sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, canned fish with bones, cereals and almonds, however it is difficult to meet recommended calcium intakes with these alone.Evidence suggests the calcium in these foods is not absorbed as well as the calcium in milk.^ Calcium supplements can be taken however the risk is people miss out on other important nutrients provided by dairy foods (such as protein, potassium and magnesium).
Source: ^Weaver CM, Proulx WR, Heaney R. Choices for achieving adequate dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):543-8S.
Q: I'm lactose intolerant, can I still have dairy?
A: Being diagnosed with lactose intolerance doesn't mean you have to ditch dairy and miss out on the health benefits. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest up to 250ml of milk may be well tolerated if broken up throughout the day and consumed with other foods. Hard cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yoghurt contains good bacteria, which helps to digest lactose. Lactose-free milks are also a great alternative.^
Source: ^NHMRC, 2013, Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra.
Q: Does dairy cause bloating?
A: Digestive problems can be caused by any number of factors such as medications, stress and lack of exercise. Symptom relief is important but people often cut down on dairy foods unnecessarily and risk missing out on important nutrients and health benefits. Some people find it helpful to do dairy differently - by spreading out their intake across the day, having dairy foods with meals and having smaller amounts at a time. If digestive concerns persist, speaking with your health professional can help to determine the underlying cause.