Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dairy... It Does the Body Good!

Milk and Yogurt

Over the past few years dairy has gotten an extremely bad reputation. I have people coming in my office almost on a daily basis who say they want to avoid dairy, and I often question their motive. Many fad diets attack dairy and say it is the cause of obesity, cancer, early puberty, among a million other things. However, the research backing these claims is lacking. Many populations have been eating dairy for centuries and are very healthy with low rates of chronic disease (the Mediterranean diet is touted for its health benefits, and that includes yogurt, milk, and even cheese). Furthermore, some studies show great benefit for individuals who consume three servings of real dairy per day in terms of weight loss, muscle growth, blood pressure, and bone health.

I agree that there are many dairy products that are not healthful and can definitely contribute to obesity and diseases, such as ice cream, lots of cheese, heavy cream, and other fatty and sugary types of dairy products- which is the form the majority of Americans are consuming. I am known to tell people to try to really limit their cheese intake. My rationale for limiting your cheese is that it is an easy way to tack on hundreds of calories, sodium, and saturated fat to any meal or snack (1 slice of cheese, on average, is about 100 calories). However, more healthful varieties of dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and organic milk are definitely an important way to get in many important vitamins, minerals, and healthful probiotics.

I oftentimes do recommend people consume dairy alternatives such as soymilk or almond milks, but these are to get in different nutrients and flavors than regular dairy milk can provide. I recommend soymilk due to the soy isoflavones which have shown to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and for reducing the risk of certain cancers. I recommend almond milk due to the fact that it can be very low in calories (if unsweetened) and it most varieties are an excellent source of Vitamin E. However, the reason almond milk is low in calories is because it’s lacking protein (each gram of protein contributes 4 calories- 1 cup almond milk= 1 g protein, skim milk= 8 g (=36 more calories)). Milk alternatives do tend to be much more processed than dairy milk, which is definitely one of the drawbacks. While they may be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, they are not natural sources, and are also lacking other important nutrients that regular dairy milk provides such as thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus, folate, niacin, Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin B12 and potassium. Additionally, I rarely ever recommend dairy-free alternatives for cheeses or yogurts unless someone has a dairy allergy. This is because these products are highly processed and have a ton of junk added to them to give them the right texture and flavor (even though the flavor is usually lacking too…). They also typically do not have as much (or any) calcium and protein as real dairy, especially if they are made with rice.

I can almost guarantee the health problems of our society are not due to individuals consuming too much skim milk, kefir, or low fat plain yogurt. I always encourage people who have no trouble consuming real yogurt to do so instead of finding almond milk or soymilk alternatives.  Do not be afraid of dairy. For most people, there are many more aspects of their diet that are contributing to their inability to lose weight or for their health problems.

If you do want to test whether going dairy-free will make you feel better, you should first make sure your diet is full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, beans and legumes, fish, and other lean proteins before you begin. Likewise, before participating in any fad diet that eliminates food types/groups (e.g. Paleo), you should make sure you are eating the healthier foods within each food group. Chances are, once you start eating a more well-balanced diet overall you will see the benefits. You will most likely also find that incorporating a glass of skim milk in the morning, a yogurt as a snack, and cottage cheese with fruit for dessert will help you in whatever your goals are- losing weight, building lean muscle, preventing osteoporosis, etc. I always encourage people to buy organic milk because eating purer foods is always better… and I personally think organic milk does taste better.

People and companies like to place blame on one food or food category, when really, it is a multitude of factors that are contributing to chronic disease. Dairy has been blamed for many health problems, just like grains (or gluten) have. However, most people are not eating only eating healthy whole grains like oats, quinoa, and barley nor are they eating the healthy sources of dairy like low-fat yogurt and kefir. Of course you will feel better by cutting out pizza, pretzels, heavy cream, and ice cream- they are not good for you; plain and simple. It’s not the name of the food group that is to blame; the unhealthy food choices within those groups are the bane of modern society. Make healthy food choices and you will feel better, guaranteed; you do not need to eliminate an entire food group.


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