To Dairy or Not to Dairy…

Dairy-1Featured Reader Question:

I have always heard mixed commentaries about dairy. Some people say it is one of the best foods you can eat and other people say it’s super bad for your health. Dairy, good or bad?” – Natasha, Ecuador

Great question Natasha. There is controversy even among nutrition professionals on this topic, though many still believe dairy is beneficial and should be included in a healthy diet. That said, we’ve seen a growing number of non-dairy options in recent years — almond and coconut milks, soy yogurt and cheese, and many others. So there must be a consumer demand, and why could that be? Read on to see a few of the more common arguments for each side.

For dairy…

  • high quality and cheap protein
  • good source of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium
  • in the case of yogurt: a natural source of probiotics
  • complete protein and vitamin B12 source for lacto-vegetarian diets

For non-dairy…

  • it is plant-based – many find it odd to drink dairy milk past infancy, especially from another species (we’re the only ones to do it from my knowledge)
  • typically lower in saturated fat (with exception of coconut milk products)
  • lactose free – many people have varying degrees of lactose intolerance (and many don’t know they have an intolerance)
  • no traces of antibiotics or hormones (this is still quite controversial and we don’t have the best testing methods to detect naturally occurring vs. that which was added during processing in traditional dairy)

So, is it good or bad for you? Well, as you can see there are pretty valid arguments for both sides. And this list doesn’t even scratch the surface. There are many other perspectives and details not included here. Ultimately, I think including dairy or not depends on a variety of factors including your diet patterns, goals, preferences, and possibly even personal beliefs.

If you want to have dairy, have dairy. But, you don’t HAVE to have dairy to have a healthy diet, like we’ve been taught for many years. Non-dairy options have come a long way. Many are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. And, you can get B12, protein, and probiotics from other food sources.

Still can’t decide? Why not use both? Assuming you’re not lactose intolerant, this goes back to my always telling you to practice moderation! This is what I personally do. I keep on hand a variety of dairy and non-dairy options – almond and rice milk, Greek yogurt and reduced-fat cheese. Keeping a variety of both gives you different nutrients and allows you to pick what you want depending on what you’re making. Almond milk, for example, is delicious in cereal, oatmeal, and smoothies. But, I prefer Greek yogurt over soy yogurt because of the protein and taste. I hope this answers your question!

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