Dairy is one of the most nutrient-dense food groups and most health guidelines worldwide recommend including it in our diets each day. Together, the vitamins and minerals in dairy products can help to keep your brain, skin, bones, nerves, teeth, blood pressure and immune system healthy. So why has it got such a bad reputation? Keep reading for some dairy myth-busting.


(Please note that I am aware of the ethical and moral arguments against dairy – but for the purpose of this blog I am concerning myself with solely the nutritional arguments.)


MYTH 1: In the 1970s fats in food became the enemy – the ‘low fat’ trend began and consequently dairy became less popular.  


This is outdated thinking and it is a myth that ‘fats make you fat’. We NEED fats in our diets for skin health, hormonal health, brain health, immune health… the list goes on. Low fat alternatives often contain more sugar to make up for the flavour lost by removing the fat and I would argue that the sugar content is potentially more damaging to health. Fats have a higher calorific value than protein and carbohydrate so of course, we need to consume them in moderation –  but they are also more satiating. Dairy contains fat and protein along with an excellent nutrient profile which means that even a small amount gives you a lot of bang for your buck!


MYTH 2: diary is the culprit.


Dairy intolerance IS a thing and some people really do need to avoid it – a small number are even allergic to components of dairy. But blaming dairy for digestive, skin or any other symptoms without being sure can be problematic because it might mean that other underlying causes are ignored. I have had several clients who thought dairy was causing their problems, but after several months of nutrition protocol were able to consume it again with no problems. Cutting out an entire food group should not be undertaken lightly – check that that is what is actually causing the problem by trying an elimination challenge with support from a qualified nutrition practitioner.


MYTH 3: dairy is inflammatory.


The inflammation argument is linked to the saturated fat content of dairy (also found in coconut oil). Yet again, this is outdated research. Recent research has found that in individuals without diary intolerance or allergy, it can actually have a small anti-inflammatory effect!


MYTH 4: dairy causes acne.


The problem here is that many of the scientific studies reporting a link between dairy and acne cannot isolate dairy as the primary cause – there are so many other potential factors. It may be that over-consumption exacerbates acne. Fermented dairy products such as kefir, yoghurt and unpasteurised cheese contain bacteria that might actually help acne.


MYTH 3: plant-based products are dairy ‘alternatives’


Plant-based milks and dairy ‘alternatives’ are delicious but they simply cannot offer the same nutrient profile as dairy – in my opinion, they cannot be considered alternatives. Not a problem if you just enjoy the plant milks for what they are, but a bigger problem if you are using them as a direct swap because you could be missing out on some really important vitamins and minerals. My advice would be to buy fortified versions which contain added vitamins and minerals – but do be aware that they still won’t contain the same protein content as dairy (and many are predominately simple carbohydrate and water).


It has been claimed that milk cows are pumped full of hormones.


Milk cows are not pumped full of hormones in the UK and there are EU laws that regulate this (fingers crossed this remains the case post-Brexit). There may be a small amount of hormones in dairy products but these are only those that are naturally present. My advice is to choose organic dairy products when possible to minimise the risk of any unwanted ‘added extras’ in your dairy.


The bottom line?


Whilst some people genuinely cannot tolerate dairy, for many people it is a highly nutritious component of their diet and cutting it out entirely could do more harm than good. The key (as with so many aspects of nutrition) is moderation – in much of the research it is over-consumption of dairy that is linked to problems.  If you do want to remove dairy from your diet for whatever reason, make sure you do so with a good understanding of how to replace the nutrients you would otherwise get from it. Speak to a qualified nutrition expert (like me!)


Keep your eyes peeled for another blog exploring the nutrients in dairy in more depth, along with some more comprehensive information about dairy intolerance.