Recently, at a gathering, I met a couple of people who vouched to be on a dairy-free diet. I wondered why! None of them were lactose intolerant (a condition where an individual is unable to digest the milk sugar called lactose). Curiosity led me to do a Google search about the same. The results were shocking. Much to my despair, there were 27, 90, 000 results talking about avoiding dairy foods. Most of them claimed that dairy foods are ‘unnatural foods’ and do no good to the body.
Contrary to this, when I looked up for scientific evidence for this kind of an advocacy, I found very little. Most of the well conducted researches do suggest that dairy foods help maintaining health and prevent diseases.
So, let’s understand our dairy foods better before we take any decision regarding their effects –
Milk – The most important nutrients present in milk are – proteins, fat, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and vitamin B12. There are some differences in the content of cow milk and buffalo milk. Cow milk is known to have slightly lesser amount of fat than the later. Cow milk has about 3.5 – 4% fat while buffalo milk has 5 – 6%.
Today, our markets are flooded with different varieties of milk – toned milk, double-toned milk, skim milk, slim milk and so on. These names can be confusing for anyone. Let’s try to make it simpler for you. Toned milk contains lesser fat (~3%) than regular cow or buffalo milk. You will also come across double-toned milk which contains half the fat (1.5%) as toned one. Skimmed milk is the one which is almost devoid of the fat (technically not more than 0.5%). Skimmed milk is available in powder and liquid form as well.
Curds and Yoghurt – Both of them are fermented milk products with similar nutrients as that present in milk. The only difference between the two lies in the method in which they are fermented. Thanks to the process of fermentation, curds and yoghurt are good sources of friendly bacteria called Lactobacillus. Buttermilk and lassi are products made from curds which provide similar benefits.
Cheese and Paneer – Both are products which are prepared from curdling the milk. Both contain 3 to 4 times the amount of fat and protein than that of milk. They also contain 2 to 4 times the calcium and phosphorus than that in milk. Likewise, they have double the amount of vitamin A than milk. Besides these, cheese is particularly concentrated in sodium i.e. contains extremely high levels of salt. Our markets are flooded with different varieties of cheese with varying salt content. One serving of cheese can contain as much as one-fourth of the total amount of salt that you should consume in the whole day.
Khoa or Mava and Cream – These are products which are highly concentrated in fats and protein. They contain almost 5 times the quantity of fat and protein that is present in milk. Consecutively, they are rich sources of the minerals and vitamins as well.
Coming to the next important question – are these dairy foods healthy or not?
In past couple of decades, a number of researches have explored and studied the effects of dairy food consumption. We all know that dairy foods help in making our bones and teeth stronger. Besides this, studies suggest that dairy foods also aid in –
– Losing weight
– Controlling your blood pressure
– Reducing the risk of developing diabetes
– Preventing formation of kidney stones
– Reducing the risk of cancer especially associated with digestive system
Most of these benefits of dairy foods are attributed to their high calcium content. The calcium present in dairy foods is more easily available or absorbed in the body than calcium from any other source. However, like we have seen earlier that many of the dairy foods are rich in fat. High fat consumption definitely does not help in losing weight or controlling the other mentioned diseases. Therefore, it is important to balance the calcium and fat content. We need to choose dairy foods with lower fat content or the low-fat dairy foods such as – toned milk, double-toned milk and skim milk. Alternatively, you can reduce the fat content of the whole milk. You can do this by boiling the milk twice and removing the cream. This reduces the fat content substantially. For those of you, who love to consume cheese and paneer, look for low-fat versions of the same. Also, cheese contains lots of sodium which can cause damage. So it would wise to limit the cheese intake to 1 – 2 times a fortnight.
Fermented dairy products like curds and yoghurt have high levels of friendly bacteria which helps in keeping our digestive system healthy. It is known to improve our immunity and prevent and reduce infections in the digestive system. Also, it is the best source of calcium for lactose intolerant individuals.
How much should you consume in a day?
About 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products daily are recommended. This will help us meet our daily requirement of calcium and the other nutrients. Within the 3 servings, do make it a point to include a serving of curd or yoghurt. This will provide some friendly bacteria which will keep your digestive tract healthy and disease-free.
So for a healthy body, relish 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods everyday.