Nutrient-dense foods include milk and dairy products. As a result, various health authorities, like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), recommend consuming dairy products on a daily basis.

However, scientific data on whether dairy is beneficial or detrimental is conflicting, and these labels are complicated.

With more than half of the world’s population experiencing difficulty digesting dairy, you may be wondering if you should continue to consume it.

This article examines dairy in depth and discusses how it may effect your health.

What is dairy?

Dairy foods are those that are made from or include the milk of mammals such as cows, sheep, goats, or buffaloes.

Milk-containing foods such as ordinary and lactose-free milk, yoghurt, cheese, and kefir, as well as milk-containing goods such as ice cream, butter, ghee, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, whey products, and casein, are included in this category.

Dairy products, as you might expect, are made using a variety of procedures and processing methods that serve to enhance their desirable attributes.

Liquid milk, for example, can be processed into semi-skimmed, skimmed, evaporated, or powdered milk, in which fat or water is partially or completely removed to produce lower fat, condensed, or dried milk.

Additionally, vitamins and minerals might be added rather than removed, as in fortified milk.

Because milk has a short shelf life, it is often pasteurised, which is a heat treatment that minimises the quantity of unwanted germs that may ruin it or provide health risks to customers.

Other products, such as cheese, are made by coagulating casein, one of milk’s primary proteins, and separating it from the whey.

Fermented products, such as yoghurt and kefir, are made by raising the acidity of milk by adding helpful microorganisms.

Dairy foods are those derived from or containing mammalian milk. Milk, yoghurt, kefir, ghee, butter, cream, cheese, and whey are all popular dairy products.

Nutritional profiles of dairy products

As previously stated, milk and dairy products are nutrient-dense meals that give numerous nutritional benefits. Milk, in reality, contains 18 of the 22 important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and antioxidants.

A 1-cup (244-mL) portion of whole milk has the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 146
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Fats: 8 grams
  • Carbs: 11 grams
  • Vitamin B12: 55% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Calcium: 23% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 20% of the DV
  • Potassium: 8% of the DV

It also has high levels of vitamin A, selenium, zinc, and magnesium.

Whole milk is very nutritious. 1 cup (244 mL) contains all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.

The fatty components of milk are determined by the diet and treatment of the animal from which it is obtained. Dairy fat is extremely complex, including hundreds of fatty acids. Many are bioactive, which means they have good impacts on your health.

Milk from grass-fed cows grown on pasture, for example, has up to 92% more omega-3 fatty acids and 94% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than milk from conventionally raised cows.

Keep in mind that high-fat dairy products, such as some cheeses and ice cream, as well as fortified soy products, have a very different nutrient profile than milk. Furthermore, low fat or skim dairy products lack most or all of the beneficial fats found in milk.

Lactose, the predominant form of glucose in all animals’ milk, is another key ingredient in dairy. Milk from ruminants, such as cows and sheep, contains roughly 5% lactose.

Lactose’s principal function in milk is to provide energy. It may also have a prebiotic effect, which means it encourages the growth of friendly bacteria in your stomach, resulting in a healthier bacterial population.

Milk is very nutritious, and its composition can be altered by the diet and treatment of the animal from which it is derived. However, it varies widely depending on the product. Whole milk, for example, contains far more beneficial fats than skim milk.

Health benefits of consuming dairy products

May support your bones

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your bones, and dairy is the best calcium source in the human diet.

Dairy thus provides various advantages for bone health.

In fact, health experts recommend that you drink 2-3 servings of dairy per day to ensure that you get adequate calcium for your bones.

Dairy appears to enhance bone density, lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, and minimise the incidence of fractures in older persons.

However, dairy is not the only source of calcium in the diet. Kale, leafy greens, legumes, and calcium supplements are all nondairy calcium sources.

However, studies reveal that calcium isn’t the only component responsible for dairy’s bone-health benefits. Dairy also contains protein and phosphorus, which are essential for achieving peak bone development during skeletal growth and preventing bone loss as you age.

May lower your risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes

Dairy products have been linked to a variety of effects on body weight.

Dairy products may improve body composition by reducing fat mass, waist circumference, and increasing lean body mass, particularly when combined with a low-calorie diet.

A review of 25 studies discovered that different types of yoghurt, including conventional, low fat, high fat, and Greek, were associated with the prevention of metabolic syndrome risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

Some evidence also suggests that certain dairy products may reduce your risk of diabetes. However, studies have yielded conflicting results.

According to research, while yoghurt may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the relationship between other dairy products and diabetes risk is inconsistent.

One possible explanation for yogurt’s effect on diabetes risk is its nutrient composition.

Calcium and magnesium, for example, have been linked to a lower prevalence of insulin resistance, whereas whey protein has blood-sugar-lowering properties due to its positive effect on insulin production.

Furthermore, probiotics in yoghurt help manage blood sugar levels through mechanisms that involve multiple organs and systems, ranging from your brain to your immune system and gut.

Dairy and heart disease

To limit saturated fat intake and lower the risk of heart disease, current dietary guidelines recommend choosing low fat dairy products.

However, new research suggests that saturated fat from dairy may not be as bad for your heart as saturated fat from meat. This is due to the fact that the fatty acid profiles of dairy and meat differ.

Unlike meat, which contains long-chain fatty acids, dairy contains a higher proportion of short- and medium-chain fatty acids. Short and medium-chain fatty acids have different effects on heart health and may even provide some benefits.

Probiotics, which are beneficial microorganisms that offer health benefits, are found in fermented foods such as yoghurt and kefir. According to research, their consumption is associated with lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and a lower risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Nonetheless, there is no consistent evidence on whether dairy fat benefits or harms heart health, and the scientific community is divided.

Dairy products can help your bones, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, and improve your body composition. They may also benefit heart health, though the evidence is mixed.

Potential downsides of consuming dairy products

Lactose intolerance

Lactose, a milk sugar composed of the two simple sugars glucose and galactose, is the main carbohydrate in dairy, as previously stated.

To digest lactose, children produce lactase, a digestive enzyme that breaks down lactose from breastmilk. However, many people lose the ability to digest lactose as they get older.

In fact, approximately 65% of the world’s adult population is unable to digest lactose, resulting in lactose intolerance.

Furthermore, only a small percentage of people — particularly those with Northern European ancestry — are known to have lactase persistence, which means they can still produce lactase. This ability could be an evolutionary adaptation resulting from the domestication of dairy cattle.

Lactose intolerant people experience digestive symptoms when they consume dairy products. Gas, bloating, abdominal cramps, and diarrhoea are all possible symptoms.

Lactose intolerance is currently treated with a lactose-reduced diet and enzyme replacement therapy.

Some people with lactose intolerance, on the other hand, may be able to tolerate 9-12 grammes of lactose per day — the equivalent of about 1 glass of milk (200 mL) — as well as fermented products in small amounts.

Dairy and cancer

Dairy promotes the release of the protein insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which has been linked to an increased risk of some malignancies, including prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers.

However, studies on the link between dairy and cancer is still ambiguous, and evidence suggests that the type of dairy consumed may influence the outcome.

For example, one study of 778,929 adults found that, while total dairy products did not raise the risk of cancer mortality, whole milk consumption did increase the risk of prostate cancer death.

On the contrary, yoghurt and other fermented dairy products have been linked to a lower risk of cancer.

Affects of the dairy industry on our environment

One of the most significant food-related impacts to climate change is the dairy business.

In fact, dairy is second only to meat in terms of dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGE). Dairy is projected to account for around 20% of global food production emissions.

Greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxides, and carbon dioxide, are among the most significant contributors to climate change because of their capacity to produce global warming.

As a result, research indicates that substituting plant-based substitutes for dairy products can dramatically reduce GHGE.

Following a plant-based diet, on the other hand, may make it harder to achieve your dietary mineral requirements, such as those for calcium and vitamin D.

A well-planned diet and supplementation can be beneficial. If you want to drastically reduce your dairy intake or move to a plant-based diet, you should first consult with a medical practitioner, such as a doctor or nutritionist, to ensure you obtain all the nutrients you require.

Dairy may be difficult to digest for more than half of the world's adult population. Furthermore, although some dairy products appear to increase cancer risk, some appear to decrease it. However, the evidence is conflicting. Finally, the dairy business is a major contributor to climate change.

Best types of dairy for your health

The healthiest and most environmentally friendly dairy products come from grass-fed and/or pasture-raised cows.

As previously stated, their milk has a significantly improved nutrient profile, including a more healthy fatty acid composition.

Fermented dairy products, such as yoghurt and kefir, may be even better because they include probiotics and have been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

It’s also worth noting that folks who can’t handle cow’s milk may be able to digest goat’s milk.

The best dairy comes from pasture-raised and/or grass-fed animals, whose milk has a considerably more robust nutritional profile. Fermented foods have also been linked to several health advantages.

The bottom line

Dairy products are a diverse spectrum of nutrient-dense foods and beverages prepared from or containing milk.

They are generally connected with several health benefits. However, research on both their benefits and potential drawbacks remains equivocal.

Furthermore, most people develop lactose intolerance and are unable to eat dairy at some point.

If you can handle and love dairy products, you should be fine eating them.

If you don’t tolerate them well, don’t enjoy them, or have ethical issues about agricultural techniques or the environmental impact of dairy production, there are lots of dairy alternatives that may be accessible to you instead.