A HEALTHY balanced diet requires various food choices from each of the different food groups, including dairy.
Based on recommendations from the Health Ministry, we should consume between one and three servings of dairy products every day. These include milk, milk-based desserts, cheese, yogurt and butter.
Many of us may not drink a glass of milk daily, but it means we are missing out on a lot of nutrients.
A glass of milk (200ml) provides calcium, protein, iodine, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B2 and B12. As for cheese, it contains vitamins — C, B6, B12, A, D, E and K.
It is also recommended that we consume low-fat or fat-free dairy products. They contain low-calorie fat, saturated fat and cholesterolwhile still providing the same amounts of protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamins.
Fonterra Brands (Malaysia) senior nutritionist Liew Yen Lee explains further on the need to include dairy in our diet.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF DAIRY?
• Bone health: Dairy foods such as milk are a good source of calcium and protein. Both nutrients are important to help build and maintain strong bones.
• Muscle health: Dairy protein is a source of high quality protein that provides all the essential amino acids necessary to build and maintain muscle health.
• Growth and development: Dairy products such as milk contain a number of nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins and protein that are important to support growth and development of children.
• Weight management: Dairy products can be consumed as part of a daily balanced diet along with regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.
• Dental health: Research has suggested that regular consumption of dairy products such as milk and cheese may help to reduce the risk of tooth decay and protect dental health. Milk, cheese and yogurt contain minerals such as calcium, casein and phosphorus that help protect tooth enamel.
• Cognitive health: Studies have found that some bioactive components in dairy products may also provide positive cognitive benefits.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO CONSUME DAIRY PRODUCTS AS RECOMMENDED?
Dairy foods such as milk play a valuable role in our daily diet. They supply a significant amount of calcium along with other essential nutrients to help meet our daily nutrient needs.
Research has shown that it is difficult to meet our daily calcium needs without including milk and dairy products in our diets.
If we don’t consume enough calcium, our bodies start to draw calcium from our bones – this can weaken our bones and may lead to osteoporosis over time.
CAN DAIRY PRODUCTS LEAD TO OVERWEIGHT/OBESITY?
Many factors contribute to obesity or being overweight, including excessive calorie intake, lack of physical activity and socio-economic background, among others.
Consuming dairy products within the recommended levels (one to three servings a day) as part of a daily balanced diet along with regular physical activity can help maintain a healthy weight.
WILL A HIGH INTAKE OF DAIRY LEAD TO HIGH CHOLESTEROL LEVELS AND HEARTBURN?
Recent studies have shown that dairy intake does not have a harmful impact on cholesterol levels.
More importantly, a balanced diet that limits the intake of foods high in fat such as deep-fried foods, along with a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise will help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
While limiting food high in fat is important in managing symptoms associated with heartburn, it is a misconception to think all dairy products are bad for heartburn.
Those with heartburn do not need to avoid all dairy products – instead, they may choose dairy products with lower levels of fats such as skimmed milk or low fat milk as part of a daily balanced diet. For details on managing heartburn, consult a dietitian.
IF A PERSON IS LACTOSE-INTOLERANT, WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
In most cases of lactose intolerance, one doesn’t have to eliminate dairy consumption completely.
Most lactose-intolerant people can drink up to one cup of milk a day without experiencing major symptoms of intolerance – and it is best if they consume milk with other foods. Those who suffer from lactose intolerance can also consume low lactose dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.
You can build up tolerance to milk and dairy products slowly, starting from small amounts and increasing these gradually.
Those who are lactose-intolerant can follow these dietary tips:
• Consume low lactose dairy products such as yogurt and cheese
• Drink milk with meals
• Spread the consumption of milk and dairy products throughout the day
DO ORGANIC DAIRY PRODUCTS HAVE MORE HEALTH BENEFITS?
There is no evidence to suggest that organic dairy products such as milk provide health benefits that are different from conventionally produced dairy products.
In fact, it is recommended to consume adequate amounts of milk and milk products (regardless of farming practices – organic or conventionally produced) as part of our daily balanced diet.