Dairy is not the most popular food group at the moment. In fact there’s a push to remove dairy as a separate food group from the food guide. You might hear it causes cancer, mucus, acne, and weak bones. But haven’t we also heard that milk is supposed to build strong bones?
So what’s the truth? Is dairy an important part of a nutritious diet or is it something we should be suspicious of?
From a nutritional perspective, dairy is a good source of protein, vitamin A and D, and minerals like calcium and magnesium. All of these vitamins and minerals work together to help build and maintain strong bones in our bodies. While dairy fat is mostly saturated, saturated fat may not be as bad for us as we once thought. Certain saturated fats are actually beneficial. For example, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in dairy fat could potentially decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer cell growth.
Compared to vegetables, milk is also the better source from which to get your calcium. Despite being nutritional powerhouses, vegetables are missing out on some synergystic nutrients that help maintain bone strength, such as vitamin D and magnesium, both of which you can find in dairy.
While the bioavailability of calcium in broccoli (61%), as well as bok choy and kale, are higher than the percentage of bioavailable calcium in milk (32%), vegetables have a much lower concentration of calcium. So to absorb the amount of calcium equivalent to what you would get from one cup of milk, you need to eat 2.25 cups of broccoli, 1.6 cups of kale or 1.2 cups of bok choy. Meanwhile, because spinach contains lots of oxalates that bind calcium, you would require over 8 cups of spinach to equate to the calcium absorbed from one dairy serving.
One argument against dairy is that protein produces an acid load that robs our bones of calcium. However, the acidity of our blood doesn’t change due to our diet, and there is no evidence that an alkaline diet protects bones.
Though milk is a great source of calcium, is milk really necessary for a healthy diet? Well, no. Adults can get adequate protein and calcium from other areas of our diet or from supplements. Additionally, there are plenty of fortified milk alternatives on the market, such as hemp, rice, coconut, and almond milk.
In the end, it’s up to you whether you want dairy to be part of your diet. Just know that from a nutritional perspective, dairy can be a part of a healthy diet should you want it.
Jennifer is a registered dietitian, registered nutritionist, and a member of the Alberta College of Dietitians and Dietitians of Canada. Combining her personal and professional passions, Jennifer loves to blog about food and eating during pregnancy and for young kids and families. You can find her on First Step Nutrition.
Main Photo Credit: Valentyn Volkov/Shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Yelloj/Bigstockphoto.com; and Third Photo Credit: Ratchapol Yindeesuk/Shutterstock.com.