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Are dairy products necessary components of a healthy diet?


People may choose to avoid dairy products for a variety of reasons. Milk is a common cause of food allergy in children. In older children and adults, lactose intolerance is widespread. Milk protein has also been associated with colic in breastfed infants whose mothers drink milk.

A recent study the New England Journal of Medicine linked milk consumption to increased risk of diabetes in susceptible children. A report from the Government Accounting Office indicated that antibiotics and other contaminants are often found in the milk supply. Finally, with the exception of skim milk products, dairy products are excessive in fat.

Whether or not consumers choose to use dairy products, it is important to recognize that there is no dietary requirement for these foods. A powerful dairy industry and government agencies like the USDA which protects dairy interests--have convinced both consumers and health professionals that dairy products are essential for health. There is no scientific basis for this.

In fact, some of the lowest rates of osteoporosis in the world are seen in populations who drink no milk and who typically have low intakes of calcium. Most likely, this is because these people consume little animal protein. Protein from animal sources causes a loss of calcium from the body and may increase calcium requirements. Studies show that replacing meat or dairy protein in the diet with vegetable protein improves calcium balance dramatically.

The World Health Organization sets calcium requirements at just 500 to 600 milligrams per day. In the United States calcium recommendations are abnormally high because of our dependence on animal products in the diet. This diet that raises calcium needs also places us at risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

A health-promoting diet that limits all animal products, including dairy, protects against chronic disease and easily provides adequate calcium. Dietitians have an obligation to teach consumers how to adopt such a diet.

Since calcium is abundant in many plant foods, it is not necessary to consume several pounds a day of broccoli or kale or to use supplements. Calcium needs are easily and healthfully met by including moderate amounts of beans, whole grains, dried fruits, dark green vegetables, and nuts. The fact that so many people maintain healthy bones on dairy-free diets is evidence enough that dairy foods are not required. Yeal Most nutritionists recommend that individuals consume a variety of foods from the five food groups (which includes dairy). Dairy foods contribute significant amounts of nutrients to the American diet. According to 1988 data from the USDA, milk and other dairy foods (excluding butter) provide 75 % of the calcium, 35% of the riboflavin, 20% of the protein, and 12% of the fat available in the U.S. food supply. Dairy foods also contribute 19% of the magnesium, 18% of the vitamin B-12, 16% of the vitamin A, and 10% of the vitamin B-6. Few foods contain vitamin D, making fortified milk an important source of this nutrient.

The calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D provided by dairy foods are beneficial to bone health. Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of osteoporosis--a bone disease that affects approximately 25 million Americans. Lifelong adequate intake of calcium increases bone mineral density and peak bone mass and helps slow age-related bone loss.

Studies indicate that dairy foods contain a number of anti-cancer agents. Calcium consumption has been demonstrated to lower the risk of developing colon cancer. Dairy products also contain CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a substance found to reduce cancer in experimental animals. More recently, an eight-year study indicated that vitamin D may also help prevent colon cancer.

Adequate intake of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, found in rich supply in dairy foods, has been recommended as a nonpharmacological approach to help in the treatment and prevention of hypertension. Increased calcium intake or dairy food consumption has been found to lower blood pressure in healthy adults, adults with hypertension, women with pregnancy-induced hypertension, and young children.

Dairy foods such as aged cheddar, Swiss, and American processed cheese have been shown to protect against tooth decay. The calcium, casein and whey proteins, phosphate, and lipids in these and other dairy foods may contribute to this anti-cariogenic effect.

Eliminating dairy products from the average diet could greatly compromise an individual's nutritional status, leaving the individual at risk for the development of certain chronic diseases. It is extremely difficult to get adequate amounts of calcium in the diet if dairy products are not consumed. Diets that exclude dairy products must be designed with greater care to ensure nutritional adequacy.
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Publication:Food Processing
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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