health

We bust four myths and misconceptions about dairy.

Dairy Australia
Thanks to our brand partner, Dairy Australia

This year I made a resolution to get healthier and I actually stuck to it. It’s very clichéd to admit, I know, but it’s something that I’m quite proud of achieving.

A big part of this lifestyle change has been learning about nutrition and the effect that different foods have on my body. As a 24-year-old woman, you’d think that’s something I should have a good grip on – and generally I do, but there’s one area of nutrition that’s left me completely stumped: Dairy.

There’s no doubt it’s delicious, but what does it actually do? Is it good or bad for me? Is it a food I should avoid if I’m trying to be healthy, or is it actually a healthy food option?

I took the question to the Mamamia office, and it seems that most women out here are in the same boat: we are just plain confused.

Here are four of the burning questions and queries we have about dairy, and I’ve made it my personal mission to get to the bottom of this milk-fuelled fiasco.

1. Is dairy really good for health?

It’s a very big and simple, yes. Most people know dairy based-foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are fantastic sources of calcium – in fact, very few other foods in the Australian diet contain as much of this important nutrient. They are also a good source of other key nutrients including protein, iodine, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Dairy foods have long been known for their bone health benefits, but research has shown that they play a role in preventing heart disease and strokes, reduce our risk of high blood pressure and some cancers and may reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes.

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"Dairy based-foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are fantastic sources of calcium." Image via iStock.

Health groups are going bananas about whey protein, the type of protein found in dairy, due to the benefits to muscle growth and repair. Australian whey is among the best quality in the world, which speaks volumes about our dairy industry.

Obviously health is a complex issue that varies depending on who you are, how your body works, and your family and medical history, but excluding a major food group from your diet without advice from a General Practitioner or Accredited Practising Dietitian can result in nutrient deficiencies and may put your health at risk.

2. What’s the difference between full-cream milk and skim milk?

The main difference between skim milk and full-cream milk is that skim milk has had the fat removed from it. In the past, this was done by letting the milk settle, and then “skimming” the fat off of the top - hence the name. As a result, skim milk has far less calories than full-cream milk, and contains a higher percentage of calcium per millilitre, just as a result of the relative change in composition of the other nutrients in the milk after the removal of the fat.

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 "Is there really a big difference between skim and full-cream milk?" Image via iStock.

So imagine you have two identical glasses of full-cream milk: if we take the fat out of one of the glasses in order to make skim milk, the amount of liquid in that glass goes down.

In order to fill it up to match the level of the full-cream glass, it's filled with all of the other nutrients left in the glass (ie. regular milk minus the fat). So technically, skim milk is more nutrient-dense than full cream milk, and as a result will have a higher percentage of calcium when we compare it to a full-cream version of the same quantity. However, the difference isn’t that significant.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recognise milks of all fat levels as being associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. While it’s advisable to get about half your daily dairy consumption from reduced-fat products, we do actually require some fats in our diets. The fat found in full-cream milk can keep us fuller for longer and give us energy that we need for the day, so it’s good to consume it at breakfast time.

3. Does dairy cause pimples?

As someone who still suffers from breakouts almost a decade after puberty, this is something that troubles me on the regular. The debate between acne and diet has been controversial, but a study published in the Journal of Clinics in Dermatology in 2010 concluded that due to the lack of concrete evidence on the subject of dairy and acne, and major design limitations in studies undertaken up until that point, “the association between dairy intake and development of acne is slim.”*

I was pleased (and surprised) to learn that there’s not a strong link between dairy consumption and acne. While eating a balanced diet will help give your skin the nutrients it needs to stay healthy, skin type, genetics, hormones and exposure to pollutants are more likely to be determinants of acne than dairy.  Furthermore a healthy balanced diet, including dairy foods, will help give your skins the nutrients it needs.

 4. Is eating dairy bad for you if you have lactose intolerance?

Again, everyone is different and bodies can react differently to all foods, and you should seek advice from your doctor if you suspect an allergy or intolerance to any foods.

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The wide variety of dairy available means there is a product to suit everyone’s needs. Image via iStock.

However, dairy foods don’t necessarily need to be eliminated from the diet if you have difficulty digesting lactose. While there are many milk alternatives available nowadays like soy and almond milk, they don’t actually have the same nutritional value as milk.

If you have lactose intolerance, the Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest up to 250 ml of milk may be well tolerated if its eaten with other foods, or throughout the day, so there are a few options to try before cutting it out of your diet altogether. For example, yogurt contains good bacteria that can actually help with lactose digestion, and for lovers of milk, there are low-lactose and lactose-free milks available on the market that might be more suitable for you.

In regards to the difference between milk and cheese for those who suffer intolerance, most cheeses contain virtually no lactose, which is why many people might not suffer any symptoms after eating cheese.

*Davidovici B, Wolf R. "The role of diet in acne: facts and controversies." Clinics in Dermatology. 2010 Jan-Feb; 28(1): 16-6.

What burning questions do you have about dairy?

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