Is Dairy’s Poor Reputation Deserved?
In recent years, we have witnessed something of a decline in dairy’s reputation. Environmentalists, dietitians and nutritionists, food scientists, even physicians—everyone nowadays seems to have something bad to say about dairy. Even the Canadian government in its most recent iteration of the Canada Food Guide, demoted dairy from its previous position of superiority of nearly 3-4 recommended daily servings to a whopping zero recommended servings. It doesn’t help matters that upwards of 65% of the world’s population is estimated to be lactose intolerant. But is dairy’s poor reputation wholly deserved, or have we gone too far in our vilification of dairy?
It should be noted that there exists a huge variety of dairy products, and every product boasts a different nutritional profile. The type of the product, and the processes by which it was made, and what other ingredients or chemicals it may contain all play an important part in determining its health benefits–and potential risks.
That being said, what are dairy’s benefits, if any? Well, dairy has some of the most comprehensive and impressive nutritional profiles of any food, boasting tons of essential and non-essential nutrients. Milk especially (not fat-free!) is a great source of protein and fat. Milk also usually contains calcium, potassium, phosphorous, vitamin A, B12, and riboflavin (as well as oftentimes being fortified with vitamin D).
So, if milk is so good for you, why all the recent dairy discontent? I investigated some of today’s most common claims against dairy.
Dairy and Cancer
There has been some interest as of late in the association between dairy and cancer. Interestingly, recent studies have shown that dairy is associated with a decreased risk of some types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, but that high-calcium diets have been found to “probably increase the risk of prostate cancer”. One large scientific review found that dairy is “inversely associated with colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer”. All in all, the associations between cancer and dairy seem negligible at best, and you probably shouldn’t get too anxious about the carcinogenic potential of the yogurt you have for breakfast every morning.
Dairy, Insulin Resistance, and Obesity
One major review set out to explore the relationship between high-fat dairy foods, obesity, and cardiometabolic disease, and discovered an inverse association between high-fat dairy intake and measures of adiposity (i.e. A person’s fatness). Another study found that insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease were all inversely associated with dairy consumption, and concluded that increased dairy intake may result in a lowered risk of developing these health conditions.
Dairy and Acne
The relationship between the skin disease Acne Vulgaris and the consumption of dairy products, specifically milk, has been long-studied and well-established. The Western adolescent population suffers disproportionately from acne, with some estimates reporting upwards of 85% of adolescents, teenagers and young adults. So, what is it about dairy and milk in particular that is so dermatologically pernicious? Well, some research claims that the main causal factor lies in insulin. It has been theorized that the amino acids in dairy products promote insulin secretion and induces synthesis of hepatic insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), commonly thought to be the main driver of acne. It is also believed that when consumed, the androgen hormones naturally found in milk can increase hormone levels in humans, which will lead to more acne and breakouts. It is also recommended by most experts that if you are anxious about your skin health, it is probably best to avoid skimmed milk, which seems to be the greatest offender when it comes to acne.
Dairy and the Environment
Though somewhat unrelated to the topic of dairy and human health, it is worth noting dairy’s impact on the earth. If you’re looking for one compelling reason to nix all meat and dairy from your diet, you can find it in its relationship with the environment. One massive scientific analysis performed over four years on 38 700 farms and 1600 processors and retailers in 119 countries found that “while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.” They analyzed the huge variety of animal farming practices—from the most to the least sustainable—and concluded that even the most environmentally sustainable animal products are still vastly more harmful to the environment than the least sustainable plant and cereal growing. They conclude that adopting a plant-based lifestyle would be the single most effective way to reduce your impact on the earth.
So, what part will dairy play in your nutritional intake today?
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.
Juhl, C., Bergholdt, H., Miller, I., Jemec, G., Kanters, J., & Ellervik, C. (2018). Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients, 10(8), 1049. doi: 10.3390/nu10081049
Kratz, M., Baars, T., & Guyenet, S. (2012). The relationship between high-fat dairy consumption and obesity, cardiovascular, and metabolic disease. European Journal of Nutrition, 52(1), 1–24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0418-1
Melnik, B. C. (2011). Evidence for Acne-Promoting Effects of Milk and Other Insulinotropic Dairy Products. Milk and Milk Products in Human Nutrition Nestlé Nutrition Institute Workshop Series: Pediatric Program, 131–145. doi: 10.1159/000325580
Pereira, M., Jacobs, D., Horn, L. V., Slattery, M., Kartashov, A., & Ludwig, D. (2002). Dairy consumption, obesity, and the insulin resistance syndrome in young adults. The CARDIA study. ACC Current Journal Review, 11(5), 28–29. doi: 10.1016/s1062-1458(02)00775-4
Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987–992. doi: 10.1126/science.aaq0216
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