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17 Dairy myths busted by a Dietitian

Should we drink milk, should we not drink milk? It’s hard to know, and the internet isn’t a reliable source of information. Let’s once and for all get the truth on milk, cheese, cream, butter and yoghurt as we debunk common dairy myths. Our amazing Accredited Practising Dietitian, Hilda Albeayni, placed 17 popular nutrition myths under the microscope, only using the latest evidence-based practice. We promise it wasn’t cheesy…

Now let’s debunk some dairy myths!

Pasteurised cow’s milk is healthy to drink

Cow’s milk is the biggest contributor of calcium in the Australian diet and provides a range of other nutrients for good health.

Milk from infected cows may contain pus, blood, and a wide variety of organisms that can cause illness such as gastroenteritis or listeriosis caused by listeria infection which can particularly be serious in pregnant women and can result in miscarriage or stillbirth of babies.

However, since the 1940s, it has been compulsory to pasteurise cow's milk in Australia. Selling raw milk is considered illegal. Pasteurized milk undergoes pasteurisation, which is a process where milk is heated to 72 °C for 15 seconds killing all the bacteria that are responsible for many diseases. And despite the high heat, pasteurisation doesn't affect the major nutrients in milk.

Low fat milk is not necessarily better than full cream milk. It depends on a person’s age and health status.

All types of dairy milks (regular full fat, low or skimmed milk) are part of the Five Food Groups and recommended every day for good health.

An important reason why you should consume dairy products carefully, dairy products primarily contain saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease risk. Regular or full-fat milk contains on average 3.8% milk fat whereas low-fat milk contains less than 1.5% milk fat. Low fat milk is sometimes advised for people to decrease cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing heart problems.

What about calcium content?

Interestingly, for the same volume of milk, low fat milk contains slightly more calcium than full fat milk, as when fat is removed the percentage of calcium increases proportionately.

For best health, we shouldn’t all drink full cream milk at every age.

All types of cow’s milk, from full cream to skim are rich in essential nutrients including bone building calcium and protein, so you can choose the right milk for your age and life stage.

  • It is recommended that babies should be breast fed or have an infant formula as the main drink until 12months of age. After this time, until the age of two years, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend full cream milk to provide optimal energy for growth and development.

  • The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults should enjoy mostly reduced fat versions of milk, yoghurt, and cheese.

  • Full cream milk may also be the best choice for adults over 70 years. Full cream milk is especially helpful for someone who may be malnourished, at risk of malnutrition, frail, or recovering from surgery or a fall. Also, as we age, we tend to lose bone density and our calcium requirements increase.

Yoghurt is good to eat when you’re on antibiotics.

Antibiotics kill good microbes along with bacteria that are causing an infection. This upsets the balance of the normal flora in the intestines resulting in loose, watery stools.

The idea behind using probiotics is that they may help populations of good bacteria recover more quickly and restore order to the intestines. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, fermented vegetables and kombucha contain beneficial probiotics that can support your gut and can help offset some of the unpleasant side effects of antibiotics.

Yogurt and kefir can also be helpful but the calcium in dairy products could be a problem. What happens is that when you eat dairy with certain antibiotics, the medicine can bind to the calcium which prevents it from being absorbed by your body. So, space these foods to be at least two hours after you take your antibiotic and six hours before your next dose.

Lactose intolerance is not for life.

Lactose intolerance is when your body can't break down or digest lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and milk products. Lactose-intolerance happens when your small intestine does not make enough of a digestive enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down the lactose in food so your body can absorb it. People who are lactose intolerant have unpleasant symptoms after eating or drinking milk or milk products. These symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and gas.

Some cases of lactose intolerance, such as those caused by gastroenteritis, are only temporary and will improve within a few days or weeks. Other cases may be more long-term, such as months to years. It is important to regularly re-test your tolerance with the support of a Dietitian and with lactose intolerance, you can often build up your tolerance gradually.

You can still have some dairy foods even if you’re lactose intolerant.

Hard and matured cheeses such as cheddar, Edam, Swiss, mozzarella, brie and fetta contain no lactose and are tolerated by people with lactose intolerance. Similarly, butter and cream contain very low levels of lactose and are well tolerated. Yoghurt is usually well tolerated because the lactose content decreases each day as the bacteria use lactose for energy. Fresh cheeses such as cottage cheese and ricotta have very low levels of lactose and are usually well tolerated in small amounts.

Most people with this condition can tolerate 240 ml of milk per day, but you need to work out your own tolerance level. You can buy milk that has had the lactose broken down, which makes it lactose free.

Drink full-fat milk because the fats slow the journey of the milk through the intestines and allow the lactase enzymes more time to break down the sugars.

What works for your will depend on the amount of lactase your body produces, the type of intestinal bacteria that inhabit your colon, and the product itself. Finding the right approach for you can be a trial-and-error process.

LACTEEZE is an off-the-counter medication. It contains lactase enzymes to assist the digestion of lactose in dairy products. Lacteeze provides effective relief of wind, bloating and digestive discomfort associated with lactose intolerance, however you should consult with your Doctor and Dietitian to assess whether this medication is suitable for you.

Don’t avoid dairy if you have eczema.

To better understand the relationship between eczema and diet, it is helpful to know the difference between food allergy vs. food sensitivities or intolerances.

A food sensitivity, or food intolerance, occurs when a person has trouble digesting certain foods. This can lead to gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. There is minimal evidence suggesting that Lactose-intolerance may induce severe chronic eczema.

A food allergy, on the other hand, provokes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body and can cause a range of symptoms, some of which are life-threatening. Food allergy is more common in infants with eczema and a family history of allergy. Around 30% of infants in these groups develop food allergy compared to only 10% in the general population.

There is some evidence that managing eczema well during infancy may reduce the chance of an infant developing food allergy. When a child has eczema and food allergy, food allergy may trigger eczema, but is not the cause of their eczema. Most food allergy causes symptoms within 30 minutes of eating, including hives, vomiting and irritability. Food allergy only occasionally results in delayed eczema flare ups. The symptoms of cow’s milk allergy can include eczema. In the case of cow’s milk allergy, milk and dairy need to be avoided.

Dairy does not need to be avoided if you have eczema. However, if someone has a cow’s milk allergy, that may be a particular trigger for a person’s eczema, you need to work with your doctor to firstly identify this and work with your Doctor and Dietitian for personalised support. As everyone is different, people have different triggers.

Children allergic to milk protein and egg can get enough protein if their diet is rich in other sources of protein.

Milk and egg allergies are the most prevalent food allergies affecting infants and young children. The good news is that most children outgrow these two allergies. Omitting eggs and milk in the diet may result in nutritional deficiencies particularly protein. Protein is essential for a child’s physical growth and brain development. Parents need to ensure that their child’s diet is rich in protein especially when they have a milk and egg allergy. Other sources or protein include meats and poultry, Fish and seafood, tree nuts, seeds, tofu, lentils, and legumes.

Cow’s milk can be an important source of energy, protein, and calcium in the diet, especially for developing infants and children. Appropriate substitution is essential to ensure adequate growth and development, and sufficient intake of calcium. Rice, oat, or nut-based drinks are NOT suitable for young children (particularly children under two years of age), due to inadequate amounts of fat, calcium, and protein.

Eggs, on the other hand, contain essential nutrients for the healthy growth and development of children. They’re the perfect protein source because they contain all nine essential amino acids needed to meet your body’s needs. Plus, they’re a natural source of key nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, D, E, and B12, antioxidants, and choline.

You can consume dairy any time of the day

No research suggests that you should consume milk and dairy products at a particular time to increase its health benefits. However, if you struggle to sleep, Scientific evidence suggests that warm milk before bed may help you sleep.

The intake of milk and dairy products is generally considered to promote good sleep quality and to have a positive effect on physical and mental health.

Milk’s sleep-promoting properties might be due to the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan plays an important role in the production of serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that impacts mood, cognitive reasoning, and memory. Melatonin is a hormone released by your body in response to darkness, to help you feel like sleeping at night.

GABA, which is a non-protein amino acid, is involved in the improvement of sleep quality observed upon the ingestion of fermented dairy products.

In Indian culture, there is a belief that the best time to drink milk is before bedtime as it promotes ‘Ojas’ which is a vital energy that rules our immunity, strength, and happiness.

Low fat milk has more sugar in it, but the difference is negligible.

The sugar content is only slightly higher in reduced fat and skim milk as compared to full cream milk – The difference in sugar content is negligible. The main difference between the milks is the fat content. Regular or full-fat milk contains on average 3.8% milk fat, whereas low-fat milk contains less than 1.5% milk fat. The fat in milk is saturated which can increase cholesterol levels. Thus, the benefits of reduced fat or skimmed milk still outweigh those of full cream milk for those 2-65 years old.

Dairy is not the only source of dietary calcium.

Calcium makes up much of the structure of bones and teeth and allows normal bodily movement by keeping tissue rigid, strong, and flexible.

Good sources of calcium include dairy foods like milk, yoghurt, and cheese. For instance, Australians receive most of their calcium from dairy foods. However, calcium is also abundant in calcium in fortified foods, soy and tofu, sardines, and salmon, and, to a lesser degree, some leafy green vegetables (kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage), nuts and seeds.

Most grains do not have high amounts of calcium unless they are fortified. However, they contribute to calcium intakes, even though they contain small amounts of calcium, because people consume them frequently.

Drinking milk doesn’t change the alkalinity of the body and does not leach calcium out of the bones.

Milk and dairy products neither produce acid upon metabolism nor cause metabolic acidosis, and systemic pH is not influenced by diet.

Excess protein in our diets causes calcium to leach out of our bones. This can be a cause of osteoporosis. Cow’s milk naturally contains the large amount of protein needed for her calf. That amount of protein is not only unnecessary but unhealthy for humans. About 10% of these proteins are denatured during pasteurization and 70% during ultra-high-temperature processing.

Protein is found in many sources other than milk, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and other plant origin products. The Australian dietary guidelines recommend that you eat 1-3 serves of foods from this food group a day, depending on your age.

Depending on your age and health status, full cream milk powder may be better than skim milk powder.

Skimmed or 1% milk contains all the protein, vitamins, and minerals that whole milk contains, but it has much less saturated fat and energy. This type of milk is typically more heart-healthy than full-fat milk and recommended if you are 2-65 years old.

Full cream milk powder contains more energy. It is recommended for older adults due to their increased risk of malnutrition.

Full cream milk provides optimal energy for growth and development of youth. Getting enough healthy fats is essential for growth and development. Young kids need enough healthy fats in their diet for normal brain development.

Besides supplying fuel for the body, fats in milk also help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), which can only be absorbed if there is fat in a person's diet.

Cheese contains the least lactose out of any dairy product.

Cheese contains minimal lactose compared to milk, yoghurt, and cream. That’s because, during the cheese making process, most of the lactose is removed when the curds are separated from the whey which contains most of the lactose. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, people with lactose intolerance can generally eat cheese, as most types of cheese are very low in lactose.

This table shows the amount of lactose in different dairy products. As you can see regular milk has the highest lactose content whereas cheese has negligible Lactose.

You can only eat certain types of cheese when you're pregnant.

Pregnant women are more susceptible to or more severely affected by infectious diseases.

If you are pregnant, you need to avoid unpasteurised milk products, soft serve, and soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chevre which is a type of goat's cheese. You should also avoid ricotta, feta, mozzarella, bocconcini and blue-veined cheeses. These cheeses may contain listeria. Listeria is a bacterium that can cause an infection called listeriosis. Listeriosis is rare and is not usually a problem for healthy people. However, if you’re pregnant it can make you unwell. If your baby becomes infected, it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labour.

How to avoid Listeriosis?

  1. Drink only pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT or long-life) milk. Make sure that you only eat dairy products made from pasteurised milk.

  2. Eat hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, and edam. Hard cheeses are more acidic than soft cheeses, so bacteria are less likely to grow in them.

  3. Eat packaged ice cream and avoid soft serve as it is stored at a temperature that allows listeria to grow.

Breast milk contains so many nutrients.

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It contains all the nutrients and factors your baby needs for their health and development. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against infection and inflammation and develop their immune system and a healthy gut microbiome.

You can also read more about Breastfeeding and nutrition here

Having dairy as a breastfeeding mum doesn’t necessary cause tummy cramps in baby

Babies can be very unsettled for many reasons. It may be something other than food. Before changing your diet to try to prevent your baby’s symptoms, consider if they could be unsettled due to: low supply, lactose overload from too much milk, or medical conditions, including reflux disease, or normal newborn baby behaviour, such as cluster feeding and fussy periods.

Lactose intolerance is poorly understood in the Australian community. There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about it, especially when it comes to babies. Contrary to what you may hear: Removing dairy from your diet makes no difference. There will not be less lactose in your breastmilk if you stop eating dairy products.

Foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or some dairy products can cause fussiness, gassiness, or colicky behaviour in some babies. Foods like cow's milk, soy, wheat, corn, oats, eggs, nuts and peanuts, and fish or shellfish are common allergy-causing foods. If you think your baby had a reaction to a food, call your doctor and avoid eating or drinking anything your little one can't seem to tolerate. Keep a journal of exactly what you eat and drink, along with any reactions your baby had.

We’re here to help you!

We hope you enjoyed this webinar on dairy myths. Dietitians are a reliable source of evidence-based nutrition so always reach out to a Dietitian for support.


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