Key 7 - Dairy Products

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Have DAIRY PRODUCTS every day.

The Blue Zone community in Costa Rica, some of the longest living people on the planet, don’t break bones when they fall like other old people do. Unlike most other aged all over the world they get up and walk on. The secret to their strong bones is the high calcium content in their natural water source where they live, where the water they drink percolates through lime stone rock. As far as we can tell no water source in SA is particularly high in calcium. We have to, like most other people around the globe, rely on dairy for our calcium.

Data on dairy consumption in South Africa reveal that most people do not consume sufficient quantities of calcium and vitamin D obtained from milk and dairy products. This might be partly due to the fact that in the 1950's a lot of scientists warned people NOT to consume too much dairy products as they may lead to heart disease because of their high saturated fat and cholesterol content. Today we are spoiled for choice with all the low fat, fat free and reduced fat dairy options available on our shelves.  

Later scientific research on the consumption of low fat or fat free dairy products has shown the exact opposite of those early findings in the 1950's. Fact is, daily intake of 2 to 3 portions of low fat/fat free milk and/or dairy reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke and those who do this usually have a lower BMI than those who avoid dairy, as the calcium in the dairy binds some of the fat therein. Numerous, large clinical studies have shown that regular consumption of low fat milk and other dairy products reduces the risk of  hypertension, high blood cholesterol and even that of insulin resistance syndrome. 

One may ask: How is this possible? Well, by eliminating the culprit in milk and dairy namely the saturated fat found naturally in whole milk, one is left with a glass or cup full of low GI carbohydrates, protein, calcium, magnesium and only a little fat.

Calcium, magnesium and potassium play an important role in blood pressure regulation. Milk is also a very good source of vitamin A (except for fat free diary), B12 and a fair source of folic acid, all vitamins which are well known to reduce the homocysteine level in the human body which in turn reduces cholesterol levels. Milk is also the main dietary source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), which is important for the eyes/vision. Enriched milk contains vitamin D.

The Smart Health Diet recommends: 

  • Dairy products like low fat/fat free milk and yoghurt should form part of a varied diet and adults should consume 2-3 portions of dairy every day. One portion of milk = 250ml (1 cup); plain low fat/fat free/”lite” yoghurt = 175ml; low fat sweetened yoghurt = 100ml.
  • Best choose low fat or fat free milk. Low fat milk has a fat content of 2g fat per 100ml (2%) and thus 5g fat per 250 ml whereas fat free milk has a fat content of 0.5g fat per 100ml.
  • Most, if not all low fat fruit or flavoured yoghurts are sweetened with sugar making them more calorie dense and higher GL per serving than their plain, low fat/fat free or “lite” flavoured counterparts that are mostly sweetened with an artificial sweetener. 
  • If you can't seem to find a plain, low fat/fat free flavoured yoghurt option, buy your favourite low fat sweetened yoghurt together with a plain low fat/fat free yoghurt and combine the two 50:50. In the end you’ll prefer this less sweet option.
  • When having a higher GI fruit like watermelon, paw paw, banana or pineapple as a snack or dessert, try combining it with a portion of low fat/fat free milk, evaporated milk or yoghurt. This lowers the overall GI of the dessert. 
  • Having cheese as a milk substitute is not always the best option as regular Cheddar or Gouda have a very high fat content (mainly saturated fat) of over 30g fat per 100g. Choose reduced fat or "lite" cheeses. Edam, Emmethaler, Mozzarella and some feta cheese have a lower fat content than regular Cheddar or Gouda cheese.
  • Read the food labels for the fat content per 100g and choose the lower fat option. Beware of low fat cream cheese. In actual fact it is nowhere near low fat as it contains about 20 g fat per 100 g and contains less protein than cottage cheese. Low fat cottage cheese has a fat content of 4g fat per 100g and is also a good source of calcium and contains some magnesium.

Dairy products, as such, are very healthy, but the hidden fat and kilojoules can erode your health and weight management goals quite seriously over time. You should have dairy products every day as it is a good source of calcium, vitamins A (except for fat free dairy), B2, B12 and phosphate, but keep a tally in your mind of how much fat it adds up to. The typical woman should not get more than 3 portions (3 x 5g) of fat from her dairy consumption on any given day.  The typical man should not get more than 4 portions (4 x 5g) portions of fat from his dairy consumption on any given day.

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If you are in the habit of using full cream dairy products, the above standard will allow you to have one cup of milk per day. This cup should be used for your cereal, all your tea and coffee during the day and any other milk-drinks you may want to consume. Of course one cup of milk can only go so far and in the end you will tend to have at least one extra cup to cover all your needs. The hidden kilojoules in the extra cup of full cream milk totals 643kJ, which projects a weight gain of 7kg per year. This is just from a second glass of full cream milk every day.

Yoghurt is an exceptional healthy foodstuff. It has all the common benefits of dairy like the calcium and vitamin content, but it also carries probiotics, the microscopic bacterium that lives in our intestines, helps us digest all the food we’ve eaten and softens our stools. Unfortunately the full cream yoghurt contains 4.2g of saturated fat in every 200ml tub. This is not too much, but adds up during the day, so rather choose the low fat options, which are just as delicious.

Say “cheese” and everybody smiles – and there are so many different versions. Unfortunately the lower fat variety is not quite as nice. If you cannot stand the lower fat options you will have to be on your guard not to have too much. Regular Cheddar, Gouda, or sweet milk is about 30% fat. Rationing oneself to one portion (only 30g – the size of a matchbox) per day is a good habit. Because it is so high in fat the second portion everyday could make you gain 4kg of weight over the period of 1 year. And it will not be lean muscle mass.

Cream is 37% fat and mostly saturated. Don’t use it in meals or sauces, but replace it with healthier alternatives like lite evaporated milk, low fat milk or yoghurt. If you don’t have a weight problem a little whipped cream (one or two teaspoons) on apple crumble once per month should not do too much damage.

Dairy is a foodstuff one should not do without, but have on a daily basis. But there are a lot of saturated fat and kilojoules hidden in the full cream and double cream products. A healthy lifestyle requires that you use about 2 - 3 low fat or fat free options on a daily basis, in order to obtain enough calcium, but not too much fat and saturated fat and kJ.

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References:

Buettner D (2008): The Blue Zones: lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. The National Geographic Society, 2008.

Iniative by the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA (2014): Maintaining muscle mass and        preventing sarcopenia in the elderly: important benefits of dairy protein. S Afr J Clin Nutr, 27(3):87.

Iniative by the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA (2014): Milk protein new insights into functions and quality. S Afr J Clin Nutr, 27(2):47.

Iniative by the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA (2013): Have milk, maas or yoghurt every day . S Afr J Clin Nutr, 26(3):158.

Iniative by the Consumer Education Project of Milk SA (2013): Dairy products and hypertension. S Afr J Clin Nutr, 26(3):103.

Rossouw JE (2015): The diet-heart hypothesis, obesity and diabetes. S Afr J Clin Nutr, 28(1):38-43.