SSPT Nutrition Tips: Is Dairy Really Bad For You?
When assessing their diet, especially if it’s for the first time, many people think about the four food groups – dairy, meat and alternatives, fruits and vegetables, and grains. We now understand that there aren’t four equally important groups, and one complete group is coming under fire: dairy.
Is dairy really bad for you? Not necessarily, but it can be in high amounts. Either way, milk and associated products are very overrated as healthy foods. Dairy isn’t necessary for fitness and building muscle, can create more health problems, and many bodies aren’t suited for it anyway!
Not Every Body Can Digest Milk
Did you know that humans are the only species to consume milk in adulthood? We’re also the only species to consume the milk of other animals. It’s a unique scenario, and many societies resorted to dairy in the absence of other quick sources of nutrition; now, while it still takes up a lot of space in grocery stores, its importance to our diet is not the same as it once was. This is good, too, because not everyone can properly digest dairy!
Athletes who rely on dairy may experience bloating, cramping, and diarrhea when consuming dairy and link those symptoms with inflammation. However, it’s more likely that these symptoms are related to their body’s inability to digest dairy than inflammation – more specifically, its inability to digest a sugar called lactose.
Roughly 75 percent of the world’s population is genetically unable to properly digest dairy. This problem is better known in North America as lactose intolerance, though lactose can aggravate other digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. It occurs because the body stops producing an enzyme that helps people digest lactose called lactase between two and five. The unprocessed sugar ends up in the colon, where it ferments and produces gas and bloating.
If you’re encountering difficulties in your digestion, dairy might be the culprit. The fact is that many societies make their diets work without dairy at all.
Dairy Can Cause Runaway Inflammation
One of the main problems associated with dairy is inflammation. Inflammation is a reality when working out, and it’s not always a bad thing – achy muscles are a sign that the tissue is recovering and rebuilding. However, we must keep inflammation from becoming chronic, meaning it continues beyond the recovery and affecting more body parts than just the muscles. Dairy is well-known to instigate and exacerbate inflammation in the body because full-fat milk and dairy products are rich in saturated fats. Saturated fats don’t necessarily cause inflammation, but they can worsen the situation if inflammation is already present in the body. This class of fats increases the absorption of lipopolysaccharides, molecules that research shows instigate inflammatory responses. Dairy products are a common source of saturated fat, and overconsumption is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and even neurodegenerative disorders. Studies have also linked dairy consumption to a higher risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. While moderation can be ok, dairy is easy to overconsume.
Nutrients In Dairy Are In Other Foods
Dairy is a common source of nutrients like protein, vitamin D, and calcium – all of which you can find in other forms. These include:
- Calcium is found abundantly in leafy greens and legumes. Some research shows that veggie sources are more available to the body than animal sources.
- Vitamin D isn’t found naturally in dairy products like milk – it’s added to help the body absorb more calcium. This nutrient comes fortified in orange juice and naturally in oily fish such as salmon and sardines. If you’re living a vegan lifestyle, your body also creates this nutrient naturally via sun exposure.
- Protein, of course, can be found in many non-animal sources. These include lentils, chickpeas, most bean varieties, and hempseed.
You might instinctively question all this information, which is natural; as mentioned in the introduction, most people grew up with four food groups of equal weighting, believing that dairy was as important as fruits and veggies. However safe dairy is for people, its overstated importance comes from intense government lobbying in North America. In Canada, reworked dietary guidelines have moved dairy from a section of its own to a part of a group called protein foods; this new group includes legumes and other vegan sources of protein.
If dairy doesn’t make you feel well, or if you have ethical misgivings about it, don’t worry – you don’t need it to eat healthier!