While the food industry and public health organisations praise the benefits of dairy products, there are calls to denounce the commercial aims of these companies and the dangers of drinking milk.
To support this view, they point out that humans are the only animal species that continues to consume milk after childhood, and milk produced by other animals as well! Would this be the ultimate argument? … Not so sure. Indeed, it would not be the first time that human beings have distinguished themselves from other animal species. Unfortunately, we are back to square one.
One thing is certain though. There is a lot of controversy!
In this article, I will try to provide some answers to help clarify the situation and determine if it is good or bad for your health to consume dairy products.
Milk and calcium
According to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, a healthy adult needs approximately 1,000 mg of calcium a day, a mineral that is essential for the development of bones and teeth.
Dairy products are, together with tofu, among the best sources of calcium in our diet. Because of their high calcium content, it is generally recommended to consume two to three portions a day (see for example the Swiss Food Pyramid).
Although milk consumption is sometimes severely criticised as the cause of multiple negative effects on bones, to my knowledge there is no conclusive evidence that dairy products have a negative impact on bone health (see study).
Milk beyond calcium
However, the value of dairy products goes far beyond calcium. Milk is a good source of protein (3.2 g), vitamin D (which promotes the absorption of calcium) and vitamin B12.
Of course, not all dairy products are the same. The amount of fat, for example, can vary significantly between different products (whole or skimmed milk, cheeses, etc.).
When we talk about milk, we also think of fermented products (yoghurt and kefir) which contain probiotics, the bacteria that will strengthen our intestinal flora and bring many benefits.
However, milk is not suitable for everyone
Milk also contains about 5 g of carbohydrates, which are also called lactose.
As a child, we produce a digestive enzyme called “lactase” that allows us to break down and absorb lactose.
But as adults, most of us no longer produce this enzyme. It has been established that almost three out of four adults worldwide are unable to digest lactose (see study). In Europe, however, the figure is lower (about 20% instead of 75%). This is known as lactose intolerance (to be distinguished from an allergy to lactose or milk proteins).
People who are intolerant to milk can sometimes consume fermented products (yoghurt) or products made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, which are generally more digestible than cow’s milk.
We can react in very different ways to dairy products. It is therefore difficult to classify them as healthy or unhealthy.
In the first instance, you are in doubt or sceptical. In this case, don’t do it. You will find all the calcium, protein and probiotics you need in other foods.
In the second case, you tolerate and appreciate dairy products. You may continue to consume them in order to take advantage of their benefits because there is, to date, no conclusive proof to the contrary. Nevertheless, listen to your body. If you notice particular reactions (digestive problems) following the ingestion of dairy products, I recommend that you completely eliminate these foods for a few days to see if the symptoms improve and draw the appropriate conclusions.
Finally, the third and last option is that you are intolerant or allergic. Here, the question does not even arise! In this case, you can take advantage of the many substitute products available on the market today, while remaining vigilant about the quality of these products, which often have a sugar content that is far beyond reasonable.
I personally prefer natural alternatives, such as soy, chia or poppy seeds, which are all excellent sources of calcium.