Milk and dairy products form an important part of the balanced diet. But how much do you need? How much is too much? And what about allergies and fat content? DietDoc answers a few crucial questions.
Food from animals
Milk and dairy products are derived from animals. These foods are just as essential as fruit and vegetables, grains and cereals. Although we generally don't need to eat as much food from the animal food groups as from the plant-based foods (as is the case with red meat), milk and dairy products, such as yoghurt, should be consumed regularly.
Milk and dairy group
The reason why we have a separate group for these foods is because they are such excellent sources of calcium. Human beings need plenty of calcium to ensure that they develop strong bones and teeth during childhood and adolescence and maintain this strength throughout their lives to prevent osteoporosis.
Milk, yoghurt, maas, and cheese are all excellent sources of calcium. One glass of milk can supply 300 mg or more of calcium to the body, which represents a third of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) which is 1000 mg calcium/day for adults, especially women.
Read: should you pop a calcium pill?
Babies, infants, children, teenagers, young adults, and pregnant and breast-feeding women, are the most vulnerable groups when it comes to calcium intake. On the one hand, youngsters and pregnant and breast-feeding women have a high calcium requirement, and on the other hand these are often the individuals who do not drink sufficient milk or eat adequate amounts of yoghurt, maas or cheese because they believe that these foods will make them fat.
The fat controversy
The biggest stumbling block to using milk and dairy products is the fact that the public in general, and teenagers and women in particular, tend to avoid milk and dairy products because they believe that these foods contain too much fat. Yes, full-cream milk or yoghurt, and many cheeses, do contain animal fat which can contribute to heart disease, obesity, and some types of cancer, but there are skim or low-fat varieties available which you can use with total confidence. They will supply you with all the calcium you require - without the fat.
For example, a 300 ml glass of full-cream milk contains 10 g of fat of which 6,3 g is saturated fat (the type of fat that can cause diseases) and you will get about 770 kJ of energy from this portion. In contrast, a 300 ml glass of skim milk only contains 0,6 g of fat (a reduction of 94%), 0,3 g of saturated fat (a reduction of 95%), and 440 kJ (a reduction of 43%).
If you use skim milk and low-fat yoghurt you will not be loading your body with fat, saturated fat, or kilojoules, and you will be getting all the calcium you require for good health.
How much do we need?
In general, people need to drink about three glasses of skim milk a day (use over cereal at breakfast, in hot beverages and in milk dishes, like custard) and one or more portions of low-fat yoghurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
Quiz: is your calcium intake adequate for bone health?
For those of you who are allergic or intolerant to milkand dairy products, try eating yoghurt in small quantities to see if you react. If not, then you can replace your milk intake with yoghurt and, if necessary, take a calcium supplement.
Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease, which most of us ignore because it only affects us in old age and that seems far away when one is young. Ironically it is during the teenage and young adult years that we lay down our supplies of calcium which will prevent osteoporosis in the future. Teenagers and young adults should, therefore, ensure that their calcium intake is adequate.
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Could you be at risk of osteoporosis?
Many children eventually outgrow milk allergy
(Photo of woman drinking milk from Shutterstock)
Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.