There is a raging debate about dairy – is it healthy or not? You will see TV ads spruking the benefits of having a glass of milk a day, but is there any truth behind these so called benefits? Let’s examine some commonly known pros and cons of dairy products and find out if they are right for you…

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Do you need milk for calcium?

It is true that milk contains calcium, however there are lots of other sources that are just as good and are often more absorbable than the calcium in milk. Great non-dairy calcium sources are dates, figs, almonds, broccoli, tahini, egg yolk and sardines.

Is low fat dairy is best?

This unsubstantiated claim is the result of years of misinformation by the media and food lobby groups. The fact is that low fat dairy is a processed product and has been shown in studies to promote weight gain. Fats do not cause weight gain, it is in fact a high carbohydrate diet that is most likely to make you pack on the kilos.  Another issue with low fat milk is that the watery component of milk is high in insulin-like growth factor, which is associated with the development of diabetes. To top this off low fat milk and yoghurt have milk powder added to make them creamier. Milk powder is highly oxidised and can increase your cholesterol. The message from all of this? Use only full cream milk!

There is more than just lactose intolerance when it comes to dairy

Lactose is the sugar found in milk. Many people lack the digestive enzyme lactase and therefore cannot break down lactose. These lactose intolerant individuals will get diarrhoea and/or vomiting very soon after they consume dairy, and should totally avoid it. There are also other types of intolerances though – many people who have dairy will experience bloating, wind, pain or loose bowel movements. These are signs of a level of sensitivity, which means that dairy is causing a reaction within your digestive system. The rule is if you are getting symptoms from eating it then you should avoid it. A Brisbane Natural Health naturopath can help to improve your digestive  function and repair any damage that the dairy sensitivity may have caused.

The missing enzyme link

In raw milk there are 15 different enzymes designed to help digest it. Unfortunately pasteurisation removes all of these enzymes, in fact a lack of enzymes indicates that pasteurisation was successful. Pasteurisation also reduces the nutrient value of milk. Many people with dairy intolerance have found that they get fewer or no symptoms when eating raw milk and raw milk products. In Australia it is illegal to sell raw milk, so you can only buy it pasteurised (although many developed countries widely consume raw milk with no ill effect). The only raw milk you can buy is labelled “bath milk” as it is not recommended for drinking (although some people do). Some imported cheeses are made with raw milk but most other dairy in Australia is also pasteurised.

Is there any reason to eat dairy products?

Yes! Organic probiotic yoghurts and cheeses (quark, keffir) contain beneficial bacteria which can help improve the health of your digestive system. Organic dairy is a good source of the fat soluble vitamins A, E, K and D as well being a source of iodine and calcium. Dairy products are best enjoyed once a day at the most.

Homogenisation

Commercial milk also undergoes a process called homogenisation where it is forced at high pressure through a superfine filter. This breaks up the fat and protein and gives the milk a uniform consistency. The problem is that homogenisation also denatures proteins and makes them difficult to digest. These denatured proteins then sit in the digestive tract, causing fermentation and bloating.

Conventional cows

Dairy farming used to respect the natural production of milk from cows, however these days our conventional cows are freaks of nature. They have been bred especially to yield a high amount of milk and are given hormones so that they are able to be milked all year round. Because of their high milk production they are prone to mastitis and will commonly secrete pus into the milk. This is counteracted by high amounts of antibiotics which also end up in your milk.

So what should you do?

Milk products should be consumed in a fermented or cultured form wherever possible (like yoghurt and soft cheeses) as these have been pre-digested by bacteria. If you are having milk, make it organic, full fat and un-homogenised. Organic butter is an excellent source of the fat soluble vitamins A, E and D, so is a good addition to your diet occasionally. if you experience any digestive or other symtoms after consuming dairy products then there is a good chance that you have an intolerance so try and steer clear of them if you can.

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