Dairy dilemmas fueled by headlines

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I’ve seen friends post information on social media saying dairy foods are bad for you. Is this hype or for real?

Despite some negative press, dairy products still get a thumbs-up from the nutrition community, particularly low-fat and fat-free varieties.

But that didn’t stop recent headlines from warning things such as “Drinking too much milk could kill you.” This particular round of news stories were based on a Swedish study and have added fuel to dairy denunciations from groups as disparate as plant-food-loving vegan diet advocates to meat-loving Paleo diet proponents.

In the study, researchers looked at dietary questionnaires completed by 61,000 Swedish women in the late 1980s and in 1997, and 45,000 Swedish men in 1997, and investigated health outcomes in 2010. They found that higher reports of milk consumption were not associated with lower risk of bone fractures and were associated with higher rates of death — hence the headlines that resulted.

But even the study’s authors said their results should be interpreted cautiously and shouldn’t be used for dietary recommendations. Critics went further, pointing out that the study didn’t differentiate between full-fat and low- or nonfat milk, and actually found that consumption of cheese, yogurt and other fermented dairy products was associated with a reduced risk of bone fractures. And there’s always concern about long-term studies that draw conclusions from dietary information taken at a single point in time.

That said, milk consumption is problematic for people who are lactose-intolerant. People with this condition have trouble digesting the type of sugar in milk and suffer bloating, cramps, diarrhea or nausea after drinking milk. It’s estimated that 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant to some extent, with very high rates among certain populations, including Asians, African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans.

Despite the concerns, the majority of the nutrition community defends dairy as being an important part of an overall healthful diet. There’s just too much scientific evidence that supports the link between consumption of dairy products and bone health, and there are additional compelling indications that dairy has other health benefits, as well. Besides being high in calcium, dairy offers many nutrients, including vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

So, experts say, if the choice is between soda or another sugary drink and milk — take the milk.

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, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For now, stick with low- or nonfat dairy

478289497I tend to drink 1 percent or fat-free milk, but recently I’ve heard that full-fat dairy might help with weight loss. Should I switch?

There’s some interesting science going on these days regarding dairy fat. For example, a review of 16 studies, published last year in the European Journal of Nutrition, supported the view that high-fat dairy foods don’t contribute to obesity. And it’s not hard to find other research with similar findings.

Despite results from these studies, most nutrition professionals believe the verdict is still out on whether or not dairy fat can help you manage your weight. Until the science is settled, they recommend sticking to the advice offered in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.”

Why? It all goes back to saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats tend to raise the low-density lipoproteins, or “bad” cholesterol, in your blood, and that increases the risk for coronary heart disease. Whole milk, many types of cheese and other full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat.

Calories also count: A cup of whole milk has 145 calories, while a cup of fat-free milk has just 90 calories. An ounce of regular cheddar cheese has 115 calories, while an ounce of cheddar cheese made from 2 percent milk has just 80 calories. Just look at Nutrition Facts labels and it’s clear that choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy can help keep you from consuming more calories than you need.

Why eat dairy at all? Nutrition experts say it’s a nutrient-packed food — an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. Dairy foods also contain protein, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A and B12.

Health benefits linked to dairy products include better bone health, which could reduce the risk of osteoporosis, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Dairy consumption may also improve blood pressure, especially because of the potassium in milk and yogurt.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 cups of milk a day, or the equivalent of other dairy products, for everyone 9 years and older. A “cup” of dairy includes:

  • 8 ounces of yogurt.
  • 1.5 ounces of hard cheese.
  • 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese.
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese.

For more information about including dairy foods in your diet, see choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/dairy.html.

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, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, assistant professor and community nutrition education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Dairy an easy way to get calcium

173771158I know a few people who insist that dairy foods are bad for you. Is there any truth to that?

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, orfilipic.3@osu.edu.