Whether or not we should consume dairy products is a hotly debated topic.
On one side of the argument you have the dairy industry who would have you believe that if you didn't consume your daily dose of milk, your bones would crumble. On the other side of the argument you have the vegan movement. They point to the fact that eating dairy isn't natural for humans and that dairy farming involves cruelty to animals many of us are unaware of and it significantly contributes to global warming.
Personally I don't eat dairy. It took me a long time to realise that dairy was responsible for causing my skin to break out. I had mild acne for years and I hated it. As much as I loved cheese, cutting it out was worth it for clear skin.
So should you eat dairy or not? Of course, whether or not you choose to do so is your decision, but I would like to share with you some further thoughts so that your choice is an informed one.
Dairy does contain a number of beneficial nutrients. As well as calcium it's also a source of protein, vitamins D and B12 and phosphorous. And aside from tasting good, that's about where the benefits of dairy end.
Human beings weren't designed to drink milk after the weaning period. Not from our own species and certainly not from a completely different species altogether. Some groups of people in the world have consumed dairy for many years and therefore have genetically adapted to tolerate it. Others haven't and for those people in particular it can cause problems. Two of the most common problems associated with dairy tend to be digestive and skin issues.
If you're trying to lose weight, let's not forget the primary role of cows milk - growing a small calf into a grown cow. We're not entirely sure how the growth hormones naturally present in milk affect humans but some studies are linking these growth factors to increased risk of diseases such as cancers. Milk also contains a surprising amount of the naturally occurring sugar lactose. A cup of milk contains just over three teaspoons.
We can't discuss consuming animal produce without considering animal welfare issues. Contrary to the image of happy cows grazing in grassy fields we've all become accustomed to seeing, dairy farming can be surprisingly intensive. There are nearly 800 livestock mega farms in the UK and these are certainly not all sheds of chickens. Many intensively farmed dairy cows suffer with mastitis and routine antibiotic use is not uncommon. Unless you're buying organic milk you risk consuming antibiotic residues and you eat or drink dairy.
Last but not least we come to bone health. The dairy industry would have you believe that milk is the only food that contains dairy. It really isn't. A while ago I spoke to Marie Claire about good non-dairy sources of calcium. There are plenty!
Calcium deficiency is not a common one, but vitamin D deficiency is. If you're concerned about bone density, then ensuring you have optimal amounts of vitamin D is a crucial consideration.
In summary... the importance of dairy is overrated and it's by no means an essential food group.
If you've read this and are considering reducing / eliminating dairy from your diet, the good news is that there are now more dairy alternatives than ever. To get you started you can check out my posts on the best dairy free milks and my favourite dairy free chocolates.
On the other hand, if you do decide to keep dairy in your diet, always choose organic! Not only are you eliminating some of the negative aspects of dairy, high animal welfare standards must be adhered to in order to be certified organic.