Dairy is a topic that consistently comes up when I talk to clients. In a full day of health assessments, I am asked more about dairy foods than any other topic. I have heard some weird and wonderful myths around dairy, so I thought I’d share and debunk 5 of them with you.
Disclaimer: Let me be clear I have no vested interest in any type of dairy and I will consume a mix of low-fat, reduced-fat, full-day, soy milk, almond milk and so on in my own diet (and I also think that any type of dairy or dairy-alternative food can form part of a healthy diet). This piece is merely to sort out fact from fiction and provide some guidance and information around different things I have heard.
Myth 1. I don’t eat low-fat dairy as I heard there is sugar added to it.
This one is the comment I hear most often! It seems to invoke some strong reactions in some people when the subject comes up. Some people refuse to eat any low-fat dairy as they believe sugar has been added to it all.
In the case of yoghurt, yes, there are definitely some low-fat brands where sugar has been added. If this is a concern, then avoid those brands and go for a Greek or natural low-fat yoghurt where no sugar has been added.
For milk, cheese, and cream, no sugar is added to the low-fat versions. At least in the Australian dairy industry (would be interested to hear about other countries dairy industry on this one?)
“But the label says that there is more sugar in the low-fat milks”
That’s because when we remove the fat, the proportion of what milk is made up of, changes. If we have less fat, it stands the reason that there will be more protein and carbohydrates as a result. Therefore, if the label appears to have more sugar in it, it’s simply a result of the fat being removed and proportionally there is an increased amount of lactose, (a naturally occurring carbohydrate) left.
If you are wanting to avoid sugar, a better option would be to cut out the sugars from chocolate, sweets, honey, sugar in teas and coffees and cakes.
Myth 2. I don’t eat dairy because it causes mucus
I’d never heard of this before I because a dietitian but it’s a surprisingly common reason why people don’t eat dairy.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy and Allergy UK state that milk does not cause mucus production. It is suggested that the milk temporarily coats the mouth and throat and feels like mucus, but it is just due to the texture of the milk.
If you think ou may have a dairy allergy, visit your GP or have a read of the ASCIA’s information sheet here.
Myth 3. I only drink full fat dairy as it’s more natural.
The word natural seems to have some kind of special effect where people assume natural must mean healthy.
“Well..”, I normally say, “..belladona and arsenic are natural…”
Just because something is called natural, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for us.
There are some who don’t like the fact that low-fat milk is “more processed” . But essentially, everything we eat is processed. To process something means to change or preserve it. To that end, we could argue that the water we drink is processed because it has been sanitised, or the barista coffee we sip on is processed as the beans have been roasted, or the rolled oats we eat are processed as they have been steamed and rolled flat. Does it make them any more or less healthy? No. It just makes them safer for us to eat and more palatable.
Full fat dairy can definitely form part a healthy diet, but understanding that it’s no more or less natural or processed than low-fat milk is the key to making an informed decision.
Myth 4. I’m avoiding dairy as I am trying to lose weight.
Cutting out a core food group that provides so much nutrition in the pursuit of weight loss seems counter-intuitive. For someone trying to lose weight, I’d suggest they keep dairy foods (or dairy alternatives) in so they are getting the nutrients, but swap to low-fat if they aren’t already. and concentrate on cutting out less nutritious options (hello Friday night drinks and pizza!)
A cup of low-fat milk contains just 91 calories, and 9.4g protein plus calcium and Vitamin B12. A low-calorie option with protein to turn off the hunger switch is a great inclusion to a diet for someone wanting to lose weight!
Myth 5. I avoid dairy, but make my own almond milk instead.
If you are avoiding dairy for whatever reason (vegan, allergy etc), a nut- or plant-based milk is a fantastic alternative. For those taking extra steps to make their own milks at home, I admire the dedication and commitment!
However, with homemade nut- and plant- milks, the calcium content is significantly lower compared to their packaged counterparts. Packaged milks contain added calcium in the form of calcium carbonate, ensuring that the population who don’t consume dairy will still have their calcium needs met.
But when you are making your own, you may well be missing out on an essential nutrient. My advice would be to either buy your dairy-free milk as it’s contain calcium, or take a calcium supplementation under the supervision of your doctor.