I’ve wanted to write this blog for a long time – dairy is a hot topic and everyone has a view on it whether they’re a scientist, an allergy sufferer or a supermodel.
I always remember reading that supermodel Elle Macpherson doesn’t ‘do dairy’ – and that’s fine by me Elle by the way, if you don’t want to ‘do it’ then don’t. But please let’s make sure whatever we do ‘do’ is perhaps backed by a bit of science rather than just opinion and a pretty Instagram feed.
Who shouldn’t do dairy
About 5% of the population has lactose intolerance – this means they lack the enzyme lactase needed to break down the sugar lactose in milk. Too much lactose therefore causes them cramping, bloating and diarrhoea. These are the sort of symptoms you know you’ve got!
Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt have been fermented i.e. the lactose they contain has been partially broken down by bacteria; their lactose contents are therefore lower and they are generally tolerated better up to a certain point.
Europeans have adapted over the last 8,000 years ago to continue to produce lactase which means that milk can stay on the menu and be enjoyed for all the nutrients it gives us, namely protein, iodine, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B2. In fact, we wouldn’t have evolved genetically speaking, to continue to produce lactase if it wasn’t an advantage to us. Mutations of genes that do not confer benefit to the host generally don’t get past on with the same vigour.
Some can’t tolerate the milk protein and are said to have a cow’s milk protein allergy. This occurs in 2-3% of infants and many outgrow this by the time they’re aged 6.
What about the fat debate?
Old research clumped all saturated fats together when assessing their potency for raising cholesterol levels and subsequent heart disease risks. Now research is a little more sophisticated and has looked at particular fatty acids individually, including those in dairy. Fatty acids are all different lengths – e.g. C15, C17… fancy terminology which doesn’t mean much to most of us to be fair. Anyway longer chain fatty acids found in dairy seem to be better for us. Dairy also seems to confer benefit because of its calcium content which facilitates increased fat excretion.
However, there are some that just feel better off it – perhaps they can’t put their finger on it but it just doesn’t suit?
So what’s the big deal, does it matter if I avoid it?
I’m all about keeping life simple when you can and excluding an entire food group can put additional pressure on achieving a nutritionally balanced diet.
Many for example, aren’t aware of the contribution milk makes to iodine in the diet – around 43% to be precise. Iodine is essential in pregnancy to support the foetal brain and neurological development. This nutrient goes under our radar quite a bit – it doesn’t sound as sexy as selenium does it? And yet iodine is worryingly low in young women– and has a scary correlation with those most impressionable about the negativity of milk.
Calcium in milk is also very important to the body when laying down peak bone mass (=the strength of your bones). Once you hit your mid-20s you’ve got what you’ve got quite frankly so don’t fanny around trying to be fashionable.
Survey analysis of dairy free diets shows they can fall short of vitamin B2, iodine and calcium requirements. There is an amazing range of dairy free milks available but these do not represent the same nutrient profile as milk (with the exception of soya) hence intakes of other vital nutrients are lower. Please remember this as you’re guzzling your almond milk (which is basically just nut flavoured water) and turning your nose up at the cheddar.
Dairy is also coming into its own when it comes to providing healthy protein and this protein has also been shown to have an effect on gut hormones and satiety, which is a big area of research.
Science is constantly evolving but in my opinion we should ‘do dairy’ if we can.
For the record can I just say my husband isn’t a dairy farmer and I’m all for making the decision that’s right for you, as long as it’s as informed one!