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The variety in the dairy case has expanded tremendously in the past decade and with so many choices, it’s no wonder that Americans are overwhelmed and confused. Everyone from your hairdresser to online health gurus have something to say about the foods you eat—and with that comes many myths. To help you make the best decision for you and your family, let’s tackle a few of the most common myths about milk and dairy foods.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are research-based diet recommendations for consumers and include information about why dairy foods are important in the diet. The diets of most Americans fall short when it comes to four key nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Dairy foods provide three of the four key nutrients: calcium, potassium and vitamin D. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, as a part of healthy eating patterns that have been linked to health benefits, including lower risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Despite the many benefits of consuming real dairy foods, many Americans are cutting back for a variety of reasons, as listed below. However, it is important to look at the research and facts before eliminating any food group from your diet.
Lactose intolerance is one of the leading reasons people cut dairy foods from their diets. However, you may still be able to include dairy foods in your diet if you have lactose intolerance with these strategies:
- Reach for lactose-free products like milk or ice cream. Lactose-free milk has the same 13 essential nutrients as regular milk.
- Enjoy yogurt. The live, active cultures help to break down the lactose.
- Choose natural cheeses, like Cheddar or Swiss, which have minimal lactose.
- Try milk with meals- whether as a drink or an ingredient, milk with food will help slow digestion and give your body more time to digest the lactose.
Consumers are choosing plant-based beverages over real cow’s milk due to the perception that plant-based beverages are healthier. But real cow’s milk is a tough nutrient package to match. In fact, apart from soy beverage (a good option for someone with a milk allergy), no other milk alternative is considered a substitute for dairy in the dietary guidelines because their nutrient content just isn’t similar enough. Real milk provides 8 grams of high-quality protein in just one cup along with an incredible 13 essential nutrients. In contrast, while brands will vary, a typical almond beverage sold in stores only provides 1 gram of protein and around 4 essential nutrients per cup.
Milk cartons labeled antibiotic free may make you think they are a better choice than milk cartons NOT labeled antibiotic free. But the truth is, ALL milk is antibiotic free. In fact, it is illegal to sell milk containing antibiotics. The difference in milk labelling is just marketing. Milk is one of the most regulated foods and farmers go to great lengths to ensure our milk doesn’t contain antibiotics.
When cows become ill, farmers and veterinarians may need to treat them with antibiotics, just as people sometimes need medication when they are sick. When this happens, the cow is removed from the herd, and the milk that is produced during this time is discarded. The cow is not placed back into the milking herd until all antibiotics have cleared her body. Milk is tested on the farm and at the processing plant to ensure its safety. And apart from farmers taking great pride in producing a safe product, there are huge financial implications for farmers if antibiotics are found in the milk when it gets to the processing plant.
There are a variety of misconceptions around raw milk. Some people believe it’s better for lactose intolerant individuals or easier on digestion, while others think it can help treat asthma or allergies or boost immune health and some simply believe it’s nutritionally superior. None of these are true. Pasteurization does not significantly impact nutrient content, and pasteurized milk comes with all the same benefits (and none of the risk) as raw, unpasteurized milk. When milk is pasteurized, it is simply heated to a certain degree for a length of time to kill any harmful bacteria and then cooled back down. Raw milk does not provide any more health benefits than pasteurized milk. In fact, according to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and other health agencies, raw milk can pose serious health risks, such as exposure to dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.
Organic vs Conventional
The difference between organic and conventional milk are the farming practices used. There is no scientific evidence concluding that organic dairy foods are safer or healthier than conventional dairy foods. Strict government standards ensure that both conventional and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious. Both products provide the same essential nutrients that make dairy an important part of a healthy diet, including high-quality protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
Don’t let myths cause you to miss out on the benefits of milk. For more information, recipes and more, visit The Dairy Alliance.