It does seem like a lot of people have concerns about dairy. Although it’s possible to have a healthful diet without dairy, consuming dairy products makes it much easier to get critical nutrients. So, the blanket statement that “dairy is bad for you” should be met with skepticism.
Arguments from the “anti-dairy” side are numerous. Some people are concerned about the saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates and even protein in dairy. Others are troubled about hormones, which occur naturally in milk from cows regardless of whether they are treated with synthetic growth hormones to boost milk production.
Some people do have dairy-related health issues. A small number are allergic — they must stay away from milk and dairy to avoid a reaction. More are lactose intolerant. Their intestines don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down natural milk sugar, which can cause gas pain and bloating if they’re not careful.
Still others are anxious about other issues — weight gain or even acne. The list goes on and on. But talk to a registered dietitian, and you’ll hear a different story. Dairy foods provide many important nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin D (in products that are fortified — read the label) and, of course, calcium.
Most people, particularly adolescents, simply don’t get enough calcium in their diet. While not the only possible source of calcium, dairy products can be an easy, convenient way to get the calcium you need.
Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D during our younger years helps strengthen bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and related bone fractures later in life. And as we age, we still need to consume enough to prevent the body from robbing calcium from our bones for other uses, such as the proper functioning of nerves and blood vessels and for muscle contraction. Recommended calcium intakes range from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams a day from age 4 through adulthood. See http://bit.ly/NIHcalcium for details. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings of non-fat or low-fat dairy a day to help people meet those goals.
People who choose not to consume dairy products should do their homework to make sure they’re getting the calcium they need. Non-dairy sources include orange juice, soy beverages, tofu and breakfast cereals that are fortified with calcium; bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale and other leafy greens; and some beans including black, Great Northern, navy and white beans.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, firstname.lastname@example.org.