Dairy food group mythbusters

Below are some common myths about the milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives (mostly reduced-fat) food group. We set the record straight with the latest scientific evidence.


Myth

Milk is high in fat.

Busted

Research has shown that many people mistakenly believe regular fat milk contains over 20% fat. Regular-fat milk only contains on average 3.5% fat per 100ml1 which is not considered high in fat. Reduced-fat milks have approximately 1.2% fat.2

Fat contained in foods per 100ml / 100g

3

Reduced-fat milk

1.2%

Regular-fat milk

3.5%

Wholemeal bread

2.9%

Hard-boiled egg

9.5%

Dark chocolate

28.5%

Myth

Dairy causes weight gain.

Busted

When included as part of a balanced diet, milk, yoghurt and cheese (both reduced-fat and regular-fat varieties) are not linked to weight gain or obesity.4 Advice around weight loss should focus on limiting junk foods and drinks such as chips, lollies, take-away foods and soft drinks and ensuring an adequate intake of foods from the five food groups, including dairy. In fact, kilojoule-controlled weight loss studies show that including at least three serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese in the diet can achieve greater weight and fat loss compared to diets excluding adequate dairy foods.5,6,7

Myth

Eating dairy foods can cause acne.

Busted

There is a lack of strong evidence to suggest that consumption of milk or other dairy products contribute to acne development.8 Acne isn’t caused by eating dairy foods. Skin type, genetics, hormones and exposure to pollutants are more likely to be linked to acne. Eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, yoghurt and cheese will help your skin get all the nutrients it needs.

Myth

Calcium supplements can replace milk.

Busted

Milk isn’t just a great source of calcium, it’s also a source of protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, potassium, iodine and phosphorus. A calcium tablet won’t provide all the other nutrients dairy foods add to a diet. Also consumption of dairy foods has been shown to reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.9

The Australian Dietary Guidelines advise calcium from foods may be preferable to calcium from some supplements. Recent research has identified a link between calcium supplementation and myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events.10,11 This same effect is not observed with the equivalent dose of calcium from milk, yoghurt and cheese products.12

Myth

Lactose intolerance sufferers should completely avoid dairy foods.

Busted

Even people with diagnosed lactose intolerance can enjoy the benefits of dairy foods in their diet. Among people with diagnosed lactose intolerance, there are significant differences in the amount of lactose that can be consumed before symptoms present. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest up to 250ml of milk may be well tolerated if it’s consumed with other foods or throughout the day.13 Most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yoghurt contains ‘good’ bacteria that help to digest lactose. Low lactose and lactose-free milks are also available. Dairy foods don’t have to be eliminated from a lactose intolerant person’s diet but rather lactose intake should be adjusted according to tolerance. If lactose intolerance is suspected, seeking advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian is recommended.

Myth

Dairy is a trigger for asthma.

Busted

Milk is rarely a trigger for asthma. Currently, there is no strong evidence directly linking milk and asthma. Common triggers for asthma include allergens such as house dust mites and pollens, viral infection, weather changes and exercise.14 The National Asthma Council Australia recommends people with asthma eat a nutritious diet from a wide variety of foods, including milk and other dairy products.15

Myth

Cheese increases cholesterol.

Busted

Studies have shown that eating cheese does not raise LDL (bad) or total cholesterol levels. It is likely that nutrients present within the cheese, such as calcium or the balance of nutrients within the cheese, contribute to this effect.16 Although cheese contains saturated fat and salt, it also contains lots of beneficial nutrients that make cheese a healthy choice.

Myth

Dairy causes mucus.

Busted

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recognise there is no scientific evidence of a link between milk and mucus. People may experience a thin, temporary coating over their mouth and throat after drinking milk. This is often mistaken for mucus but it’s actually milk’s natural, creamy texture. It’s not harmful and the sensation lasts for only a short period.17,18

Myth

Dairy foods are linked with cancer risk.

Busted

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation regarding the relationship between dairy foods and cancer risk. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, consumption of more than one serve of milk is linked with a reduced risk of colorectal and rectal cancer. Consumption of three or more serves of milk per day is not associated with risk of renal cell cancer. Evidence also suggests that consumption of milk, yoghurt and cheese is not associated with the risk of breast cancer or endometrial cancer and is also limited for prostate cancer.19,20,21 The Cancer Council supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which encourage people to eat at least three serves of dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and cheese) each day.22

Myth

‘Milk’ alternatives are a better choice than cow's milk.

Busted

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, milk alternatives refer to calcium-enriched legume/bean/cereal milk products such as calcium-enriched soy, rice and oat drinks. To qualify as an alternative, they must contain at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml.23 These ‘alternative milks’ do not contain the same natural package of essential nutrients as cows’ milk and do not have the same proven health benefits.  Cows’ milk also contains high quality protein with all essential amino acids, unlike vegetable protein sources. Most plant foods don’t contain much calcium, and those that do often contain other substances that can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb it efficiently.24 For example, to get the same amount of calcium as one serve of dairy, you would need to eat 32 Brussels sprouts or 21 cups of raw chopped spinach or five cups of cooked broccoli or one cup of dry roasted almonds.

 



1 Dairy Australia. Proximate Composition of Australian Dairy Foods. Dairy Australia, Southbank, 2012. Available: http://www.legendairy.com.au/~/media/Legendairy/Documents/Health/Fact%20sheets/2012%20Proximate%20Composition%20Booklet.ashx

2 Dairy Australia. Proximate Composition of Australian Dairy Foods. Dairy Australia, Southbank, 2012. Available: http://www.legendairy.com.au/~/media/Legendairy/Documents/Health/Fact%20sheets/2012%20Proximate%20Composition%20Booklet.ashx

3 Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). NUTTAB 2010 Online Searchable Database. FSANZ, Canberra. Available: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/nutrientables/nuttab/Pages/default.aspx

4 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

5 Abargouei A, Janghorbani M, Salehi-Marzijarani M, Esmaillzadeh A. Effect of dairy consumption on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2012;36(12):1485-93.

6 Shahar DR, Schwarzfuchs D, Fraser D, Vardi H, Thiery J, Fiedler GM et al. Dairy calcium intake, serum vitamin D, and successful weight loss. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(5):1017-22.

7 Chen M, Pan A, Malik VS, Hu FB. Effects of dairy intake on body weight and fat: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Oct;96(4):735-47.

8 Batya B. Davidovici, MD, Ronni Wolf, MD. The role of diet in acne: facts and controversies. Clin Dermatol. 2010;28(1); 12–16.

9 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

10 Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Baron JA, Grey A, MacLennan GS, Gamble GD et al. Effect of calcium supplements on risk of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular events: meta-analysis. Br Med J. 2010;341:c3691.604.

11 Bolland MJ, Grey A, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Reid IR. Calcium supplements with or without vitamin D and risk of cardiovascular events: reanalysis of the Women’s Health Initiative limited access dataset and meta-analysis. BMJ 2011;342:d2040.

12 Green JH, Booth C, Bunning R. Postprandial metabolic responses to milk enriched with milk calcium are different from responses to milk enriched with calcium carbonate. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2003;12(1):109–19.

13 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

14 National Asthma Council Australia. Triggers [Internet]. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne. Available: http://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/national/about-asthma/manage-your-asthma/triggers

15 National Asthma Council Australia. Dairy Products [Internet]. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne, 2015. Available: http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publication/dairy-products

16 de Goede J, Geleijnse JM, Ding EL, Soedamah-Muthu SS. Effect of cheese consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Rev. 2015;73(5):259-75.

17 Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA). Common myths about asthma and allergy exposed [Internet]. ASCIA, Balgowah, 2015. Available: http://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-other-adverse-reactions/milk-mucus-and-cough

18 Wuthrich B, Schmid A, Walther B, Sieber R. Milk consumption does not lead to mucus production or occurrence of asthma. J Am Coll Nutr. 24(6 Suppl): p. 547S-55S.

19 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

20 Parodi P. Dairy product consumption and the risk of prostate cancer. Int Dairy J. 2009;19(10):551-65.

21 Parodi P. Dairy product consumption and the risk of breast cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005;Dec;24(6 Suppl):556S-68S.

22 Cancer Council. Position Statement. Dairy foods, calcium and cancer prevention. Cancer Council, Melbourne, 2007. http://www.cancer.org.au/content/pdf/CancerControlPolicy/PositionStatements/PS_Dairy_foods_calcium_and_cancer_May_2007_Updated_July_2009.pdf

23 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

24 Heaney, RP. Bioavailability of the calcium in fortified soy imitation milk, with some observations on method. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:1166–9