Is dairy bad for you?
Dairy gets a bad rap these days- with claims that the saturated fat content in full fat dairy increases risk for cardiovascular diseases and other chronic illnesses. CVD is the number one cause of death and disability, and lifestyle change including a balanced diet is one of the most important prevention tactics.
A systematic research review by Fontecha, et al. assessed 17 studies centering on dairy intake (regular and low fat) and its effects on risk biomarkers. Overall these studies showed no association or even inverse association between dairy intake and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke risk. Yes, full-fat dairy products contain high amounts of saturated fatty acids, but it is important to note that different saturated fats affect serum lipid levels differently. A whole food has many different nutrients that all play different roles, making it more than just the sum of its parts. There simply isn’t evidence linking dairy intake to increased risk of these diseases at this time.
So, no, dairy isn’t inherently bad for you. But it also isn’t necessary. It’s a great source of different nutrients- milk contains easily digestible protein that contains all the essential amino acids. It also contains highly bioavailable calcium and vitamin D.
The USDA’s MyPlate model includes dairy as a designated component of each meal. While this may be appropriate for some, it is important to note that 60-70% of the world’s population has some degree of lactose intolerance. If dairy products give you GI discomfort, don’t feel like you have to consume them. There are other ways to get those nutrients in. The daily recommended intake of calcium is 1,000mg per day for most adults. 1 glass of milk contains 300mg calcium. Other sources of calcium include greens, beans, soy, figs, and chia seeds. Almonds contain calcium as well, and almond and other nondairy milks are often fortified with calcium.
In my opinion, water would be a better nutrient to have represented at each meal on the MyPlate model, so long as we’re all taking into consideration our calcium intake.
So don’t be afraid of milk! Consume dairy if you like it and it makes you feel good! Don’t if it doesn’t. But we don’t need to continue demonizing this food group- the research just doesn’t back that up.
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CNSC
Fontecha, J, et al. Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Cardiovascular Diseases: An Overview of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. American Society for Nutrition. 2019; 10:164-189.