Why dairy products are important as part of a balanced diet

Ian Givens, professor of food chain nutrition at the University of Reading, tells Countryside about the important benefits of milk and dairy products, consumed as part of a balanced diet:Milk bottles on doorstep_25743

Milk provides a range of really important nutrients, including high-quality protein, calcium, iodine and a range of vitamins including B12. It’s also highly nutrient-dense, so you don’t need to consume a lot to achieve the benefits. There does seem however to be a belief among some members of the the public that dairy products can be bad for you. There’s been a lot of publicity over the last 10 years about saturated fats and their association with cardiovascular disease.

Dairy products are of course a rich source of saturated fats, but our research has shown that high consumers of milk compared with low consumers have no increased risk of heart disease, and some studies suggest a reduced risk of stroke and diabetes. There’s also increasing evidence that fermented products such as cheese and yoghurt might lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

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With teenage girls in particular, recent studies have showed calcium intake being far below what it needs to be to prevent problems such as osteoporosis later in life. This is a particular worry as most sections of the population have a low vitamin D status.

Multiple studies have shown that pregnant women in the UK do not have adequate levels of iodine, especially within the first three months of their pregnancies. There are now also studies showing an association between low iodine status in mothers and poorer cognitive performance [ability to learn] in their children.

Essentially, if people are not consuming milk and other dairy products then they need to make sure they are getting these nutrients from other sources. Alternatives to milk vary a lot in terms of nutritional content, especially nut derivatives such as almond milk. Dairy products are a convenient, affordable way to get these nutrients.

Listen to Professor Ian Givens talking about research showing high consumers of milk to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes:

Ian Givens is a professor of food chain nutrition at the University of Reading and director of the university’s Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health. He and his colleagues have undertaken a number of research studies into milk and dairy products and their effects on health. He was awarded the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Innovator of the Year award in 2015 for his work with the dairy industry and retailers to produce milk that is lower in saturated fats.

More about calcium

Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth, and also helps regulate muscle contractions and blood clotting. Milk, cheese and other dairy foods are a major source of calcium. It can also be found in broccoli and cabbage, nuts, and soya beans.

More about iodine

Iodine is a mineral that is required to make thyroid hormones. These hormones are needed for many body processes including growth and metabolism. Milk and dairy products are the main sources of iodine for most people but it is also found in fish.

Related categories: Dairy

Last edited: 21 February 2020 at 16:13

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