Why Australian women need to stop avoiding milk.

According to new research published in this month’s Public Health Nutrition journal, one in six Aussies is avoiding milk or dairy products despite have no medical reason to do so.

With dairy regarded as the best source of calcium for bone and dental health as well as a rich source of protein, the results have experts more than a little concerned – particularly for women.

“The scale of people restricting their diet without a medical reason is very concerning in terms of the public health implications, especially for women,” says CSIRO’s Bella Yantcheva.

“It means there is potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, or the risk that an underlying health condition could be going untreated.”

Watch: Do you know how much sugar is really in your favourite drink? Post continues after video.

This is because women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis compared to men and have higher requirements of calcium during pregnancy and lactation.

The majority of the 1200 Australians surveyed by the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO for the study said they were making this choice to relieve adverse gastrointestinal symptoms such as cramps, bloating or wind.

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And many did so thanks to the influence of of celebs, fad diets, friends or alternative health practitioners, rather than, you know, properly qualified experts.

“When people cut out core food groups on the advice of celebrities with no nutritional qualifications, it does concern me as I have seen firsthand the implications of people following fad diets and the damage that it can do,” says Melanie McGrice, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Drink the milk, ladies. Image: iStock

"You wouldn’t allow a celebrity to operate on you or diagnose your cancer, so why would you trust them to provide you with dietary advice that can have just as significant impact on your health? If someone feels that they have a food intolerance, I’d encourage them to see an Accredited Practising Dietitian for comprehensive dietary advice."

Disbelief that people would voluntarily not eat the wonder that is cheese aside, cutting it out completely when it's not necessary carries a risk of adverse mental and physical effects in certain people.

"It can venture into the restrictive diet realm, resulting in disorders with an unhealthy relationship with food, as well as pyschological stress and of course, you're losing out on certain necessary nutrients which can be quite dangerous for certain groups," says dietitian Gabrielle Maston.

Australian dietary guidelines currently recommend people consume at least two to three serves (one cup or 250 ml) of dairy a day. (Post continues after gallery.)

Dairy products are an almost unmatched source of many nutrients including calcium, protein and vitamins A, D and B12 and zinc, which are important for healthy blood and immune systems, eyesight, muscle and nerve function, healthy skin, energy and growth and repair in all parts of your body, to name just a few.

"There are alternatives such as goat's milk, almond milk, oat milk or rice milk. They're not as good as cow's milk, but they are fortified in calcium so are similar. If you're vegan, it's is so important to fill the gap in your diet with these replacements" says Maston.

The report found that common misconceptions about dairy (including it being responsible for weight gain) are another reason for the decline in consumption.

"Research has found that those with higher intakes of dairy in their diet are actually more likely to maintain their weight. High levels of protein make you feel satisfied and the fat in things like full cream milk make you feel fuller for longer," says Maston.

Mmm cheeeese. Image: iStock

"Others who complain it causes mucus, asthma or adverse effects to the skin - none of those links with dairy have been proven."

Another myth experts are keen to dispel is that you have to give up dairy completely if you're lactose intolerant.

"Even if someone has lactose intolerance, completely cutting lactose out of your diet can make the intolerance worse. Cheese contains very little lactose (0.1mg lactose per 40g serve) so is a good source of dairy for someone who has a lactose intolerance," says McGrice.

While dark green leafy vegetables also contain calcium, the amount you must consume to reach the same level provided by dairy is significantly higher.

Dark leafy greans contain calcium, but not as much as dairy. Image: iStock

"A cup of skim milk provides approximately 375mg calcium, whereas a cup of broccoli provides approximately 30mg of calcium, so you’d need to consume approximately 12 ½ cups of broccoli to get the same amount of calcium from one cup of milk," she says.

Not quite as appetizing, is it.

It's not just dairy though. The researchers also found that about 10 times as many Aussies are avoiding wheat-based food than those who have actually been diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Again, this self-diagnosis is worrying.

"Grain foods are an important energy source for our brain and muscles and they provide essential vitamins, fibre and satiety value in the diet. There is no need to be on a gluten free diet unless you have are diagnosed with Coeliac disease," says McGrice.

Image: iStock.

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