There are a lot of mixed messages out there regarding dairy. Bottom line on the question of dairy being healthy or not is losing the either/or labeling. It is a complicated food category and there are things to consider in choosing to keep it in or out of your diet.
Let's start with the cons: Non-organic milk is filled with hormones and antibiotics. This is true. They load up the cows for the greatest levels of production in the least amount of time and the most cows they can squeeze into one space - this means the cows are heavily medicated to keep them healthy and these all transfer to the milk. I will not consume non-organic dairy unless I am assured it is hormone and antibiotic-free.
In addition, there is a lot more intolerance and allergy-like symptoms in people than is being diagnosed or that we are as yet capable of clearly diagnosing. Some symptoms include mucus production which, for some, may lead to sinus, nasal, and ear discomfort, illness, infection, etc. Gas, bloating, digestive discomfort including diarrhea and constipation, are also well-known symptoms. Inflammation causing general aches and pains can also be present. Again, this is more common than we think it is - it's not just lactose intolerance, but a more general lack of ability to tolerate dairy. The only way to really know if you have symptoms is to stop ingesting dairy for a couple of weeks and see your results. There is some allergy panel testing that can be done, but it is not as conclusive.
And, what about the fat?! Dairy products can be consumed in a low-fat or no-fat version. If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. it is best to avoid the fat in dairy products. Otherwise, moderation is always the key!
Pros: The nutritional value of dairy is strong and this is where the mixed messages come in. When we study the nutrition in a food and don't study the ingestion of the food, we see benefits as they might be rather than as they actually are. This occurs with all foods. Yes, there's a lot of calcium in that glass of milk, but what does it turn into when I consume it? Am I absorbing it? If I am, is my body using it to create strong bones? This is what our researchers are now able and beginning to do. It seems to me the country that consumes the most dairy in the world should have the lowest or one of the lowest rates of osteoporosis and yet that is not the case. Might be due to other dietary factors......we just don't know for sure.
However, that being said, you need to have all the info. to make your decision: Organic milk is able to provide omega-3s which are really important and lacking in our diets. Kefir which is a milk product similar to drinkable yogurt contains really good and healthy bacteria to the gut. It can be drunk as it is or used as additive to soups, smoothies, cereals as you would use milk or yogurt. Yogurt also has good bacteria. Cottage cheese is high in protein as is Greek yogurt, a version you'll see more and more of in your dairy section. The process of making Greek yogurt is slightly different, so there's less liquid whey and more protein, you'll find the taste similar. Chocolate milk is getting some attention lately. If there is a choice between the chocolate milk and the Gatorade, I'll take the milk - it is restoring protein and carbohydrates after a workout and is not empty calories. Most other products have little value nutritionally - they just add taste and texture.
Make this decision with information that fits your individual body and lifestyle needs. This is not an either it's healthy or it's not kind of food category. Consider your options and choose wisely. Try dairy substitutes - there's a dairy substitute for almost all dairy products now - some better than others and some better than the actual dairy (coconut ice cream is AMAZING). Experiment and try things out, get to know your body after consuming dairy and make the right choice for you!
What dairy substitute will you try this week?