Creamy, decadent icecream, milkshakes, cheese – both pungent and delightful, morning yoghurt. Hearing mention of these foods make some of us drift off to our happy place while others recoil in horror at the thought of being anywhere near all this (alleged) inflammation-inducing, stomach cramping, skin breakout-causing dairy.
Is it time that we rethink dairy as a ‘staple’ in our diets, even putting aside the often-touted but totally irrelevant catchphrase that ‘cow’s milk is meant for calves, not humans’ – or is dairy totally fine to consume and too many people are getting all whipped up over nothing?
Firstly – what is inflammation and why do we care?
Inflammation is basically a response from your immune system to counteract an attack, injury and heal the affected tissues and restore normal functionality. Acute inflammation (think when you’ve fallen off the bar while dancing spectacularly and twisted your ankle) has a rapid onset and often can be quite severe and at times visually very impressive – snapchat that! However, chronic or low-grade inflammation may not be quite so dramatic or visible but can nonetheless contribute to the progression of many auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and also some cancers, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis (build up of plague in your arteries – not good).
So very logically – we want to reduce chronic inflammation and avoid anything that may contribute to this long-term, destructive process in our bodies and as such, dairy is in the sights of many as a highly suspected culprit. However, in my research for this article, I have failed to find an explanation as to why or how dairy is supposed to inflame your body – most anti-dairy articles just state it as a fact without any backup research and then proceed to talk about milk intolerance or allergy – which are different issues entirely. Certainly, if you have a milk allergy and consume dairy – inflammation will result – as it would for the ingestion or exposure to any allergen that you happen to be allergic to (thanks Captain Obvious!). Similarly, the vast majority of milk intolerance is caused by having insufficient lactase (the enzyme required to break down lactose) – and this will result all manner of unpleasant side-effects upon dairy consumption – but the incidence of this in a caucasian population is only about 1 in 20 – noting that it is higher in those with Asian, Africa, Middle Easter or Indigenous backgrounds.
This would indicate that for the vast majority of us who do not have a milk allergy or milk intolerance, dairy will not cause inflammation. This is confirmed by the vast body of research, including a really indepth systematic review (Bordoni et Al) of 52 clinical trials which found no evidence (other than those with allergies) that either full or low-fat dairy was inflammatory and in fact concluded that it was quite the opposite and that it was beneficial for inflammation, especially in those with metabolic disorders (including obesity) for whom low-grade inflammation is particularly concerning.
Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that has consistently shown dairy consumption to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, type 2 diabetes risk, weight loss and control, bone health and for hypertension (or high blood pressure).
So, if you don’t like dairy, convinced that it doesn’t make you feel good, are against it for ethical or environmental reasons – then by all means feel free not to consume it as there are many other brilliant foods out there that can provide the calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, protein etc that are in dairy. But please please – just don’t let the ‘wellness gurus’ or scaremongers use the feared ‘inflammation’ argument to convince you to put down your latte or flat white ‘just the way you like it’ as it can certainly still be considered a ‘staple’ in the diet of most.
If you choose to include dairy in your diet, serving suggestions for adults is generally 2.5 serves/day or up to 4 in some older age groups or teenagers.
A serving could be:
- 250ml glass of milk
- 200g tub of yoghurt
- 40g (2 slices) of cheese
To conclude: if you are worried about low-grade inflammation – you’d be far better off putting down the smokes, being less of a boozehound, getting moving with some regular exercise, losing excess weight safely and including the over-all quality of your diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and Omega-3 rich foods including fish.
All this talk of dairy – I may just go off now and make myself a good smoothie!