Dairy products have stirred up quite the controversy these days. Gone are the days when they were unequivocally hailed as the single best source for calcium, and hence, strong bones. But it seems as though this innocuous product on which we have relied unquestioningly for centuries, is finally being questioned! In this article, we break down the good and the bad about dairy.
SOME FACTS ABOUT DAIRY
Dairy products are very nutritious.
Cow’s milk contains all the proteins, fatty acids and micronutrients needed to nurture a growing calf.
Given that human muscles, cells and organs are similar to a calf’s, it makes sense that dairy products are also a good source of nutrients for humans.
A single cup (244 grams) of milk contains (6):
- Calcium: 276mg (28% of the RDA).
- Vitamin D: 24% of the RDA.
- Riboflavin (B2): 26% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B12: 18% of the RDA.
- Potassium: 10% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 22% of the RDA.
- It also contains decent amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamins B1 and B6, Selenium, Zinc and Magnesium.
This is coming with 146 calories, 8 grams of fat, 8 grams of high quality animal protein and 13 grams of carbs.
Calorie for calorie, whole milk is actually quite nutritious. It contains a little bit of almost everything we need.
Of course… there are many different types of dairy. Fatty dairy products like cheese and butter have a nutrient composition that is quite different from milk.
The nutrient composition also varies depending on what the cows ate and how they were raised, especially when it comes to the fatty components.
The composition of dairy fat is actually very complex, it consists of hundreds of different fatty acids. Many of the fatty acids are bioactive and can have powerful effects on health.
Cows that are raised on pasture and fed grass have more Omega-3 fatty acids and up to 500% more Conjugated Linoleic Acid.
Grass-fed dairy is also much higher in fat soluble vitamins, especially Vitamin K2, a nutrient that is incredibly important for regulating calcium metabolism and has major benefits for both bone and heart health.
Keep in mind that these healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins are not present in low-fat or skim dairy products, which are often loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of flavor caused by removing the fat.
Bottom Line: Milk is quite nutritious, but the nutrient composition varies between the different types of dairy. Dairy from grass-fed or pasture raised cows contains more fat soluble vitamins and beneficial fatty acids.
When it comes to practical advice, fortunately, the two sides aren’t all that far apart. Consuming a cup or two of milk or equivalent dairy is fine, according to a prominent researcher in the field, “The point isn’t that you have to give up dairy,” he says. “But it’s also important for people to know that they don’t have to drink milk to be healthy.”
People who are lactose intolerant, of course, can’t easily drink milk. For them, and for people who don’t choose to drink milk, it is important to favor other sources of calcium. Examples include lactose-free dairy, and leafy green vegetables such as collards, spinach and bok choy, beans, and calcium-fortified orange juice or soy milk, and vegetables.
It’s also wise to make sure you’re getting adequate potassium, which is abundant in tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables.
Conclusive research has shown that milk does not prevent fractures in any population, a fact that was perpetuated by the milk and dairy industry, that for strong bones you need to consume at least 2 glasses of milk per day. In fact, you can easily derive the equivalent amount of calcium from green, leafy vegetables, which is a healthier alternative for you in the long run as well.
So, although both sides are divisive on this controversial topic of the day, it is always best to make informed choices, especially about food consumption, which plays the most important role in shaping our lives.