Dairy is packed with nutrients our bodies need, so why does it get a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating? Let’s take a closer look at the facts.
Mmmm, dairy. As a nation of Brits, foods like milk, cheese and yoghurt are some of our favourites. So what part do they play in a balanced diet? Let’s find out.
First, the good news
Dairy products contain calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein. Calcium is crucial for our bone health, supporting us in all stages of life. From childhood and adolescence when bone mass is being built, into older age when it reduces our risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D helps us maintain levels of calcium. Protein helps build and repair our muscles and tissues and potassium is a mineral that helps balance fluid levels, important for regulating blood pressure. All very important nutrients, you’ll agree.
But, is all dairy equal?
Short answer: no.
Butter and cream is high in unhealthy, saturated fats that we should try to limit or avoid. They can raise cholesterol levels, increasing our risk of heart attack and stroke. They’re also energy dense foods meaning they have a high calories per gram ratio, which can lead to weight gain if consumed often or in large amounts.
While milk, cheese and yoghurt are brilliant sources of nutrients, the sugar and fat content varies greatly across products. Learn to understand food labels so you can make informed, healthy choices. Check fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt levels within products or be guided by the traffic light system if there is one. Remember, foods that contain more than 17.5g of fat per 100g are considered high in fat, whereas 3g or less is considered low in fat.
How can we eat dairy in a healthy way?
- For adults and older children, look for lower fat milks like semi skimmed or 1% fat. They’re packed with nutrients but with less fat!
- Choose lower fat yogurts, not forgetting to check labels to make sure fats haven’t been replaced with sugar. Top plain lower fat natural yoghurt with berries and seeds for a tasty snack or breakfast.
- Go for cheeses with lower fat contents like half fat cheddar, cottage cheese or quark. Keep portions in check remembering that 30g (one serving) of hard cheese is around the size of a small matchbox.
- Use strong cheeses when cooking. You’ll need to use less cheese to achieve the same flavour. Win, win!
Dairy alternatives like unsweetened soya, oat and almond milks and yogurts are often fortified with vitamins but many don’t offer the same level of protein found in dairy options. You don’t need to rely solely on dairy for your calcium and protein. Include a variety of green leafy veg and nuts in your diet too.