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 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.
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.