Not only are milk products tasty and convenient for snacking purposes, but they offer us a wide range of health benefits. Studies are showing more and more that it is not only single nutrients in dairy products that offer these benefits but rather the interaction of all the constituents of these products, reinforcing the importance of eating ‘real foods’ rather than relying on supplements to give us these benefits.
Minerals (Like Calcium and phosphorous) as well as protein are some of the most important building blocks that make up strong and healthy bones. It therefore makes sense that an optimal intake of these nutrients through diet would aid in protecting bone integrity and thus protecting us against diseases like osteoporosis. Dairy products are an excellent source of all these nutrients. In addition dairy products provide these nutrients in optimal proportions and in highly bio available (easily absorbed and used by the body) forms which aid in the development of strong, healthy bones.
The protein, calcium and phosphorous found in dairy products also aids in supporting the structure of strong healthy teeth. Foods with an acidic medium (that is a pH lower than 5.5) like sugary foods and beverages, fizzy drinks or fruit juices can contribute towards tooth decay. Milk has a pH of about 6 and is therefore not acidic and does not contribute significantly to tooth decay, in fact, eating a block of hard cheese after a meal can promote the release of saliva which can help reduce the amount of acid on your teeth and thus help protect against tooth decay.
Studies have shown that an adequate intake of dairy products (in combination with an adequate intake of fruit, vegetables and a reduced intake of fat), particularly low-fat or fat-free products, can aid in reducing and regulating blood pressure. The mechanism behind this is still not fully understood but it is suggested that various nutrients like the vitamins and minerals together can achieve a blood pressure lowering effect. In addition, some of the proteins found specifically in milk can aid in preventing the production of hormones that can increase blood pressure, thus protecting the body against increased blood pressure levels.
Studies suggest that the calcium found specifically in milk and dairy products can actually aid in protecting one against weight gain. Adequate dairy intake is not only associated with a healthier body weight but also with a healthier body composition, in other words a lower body fat percentage. Adequate dairy consumption in conjunction with a weight loss diet promotes weight loss and protects one’s lean body mass (muscle mass). The mechanism explaining the link between dairy intake and weight loss is not yet fully understood. It has been suggested that the calcium specifically found in dairy products may reduce total fat absorption, may play a role in the breakdown of fats in the fat cells of the body or may even aid in the breakdown of fatty acids and thus reduce storage thereof. Another proposed mechanism is that it may play a role in satiety (‘feeling full’) and thus reduce the need for frequent snacking.
Adequate dairy intake (particularly low-fat or fat-free dairy products) has been shown to aid in decreasing the risk of onset of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Again the mechanism is still to be explained more fully, but it is suggested that the various nutrients that dairy products offer can together improve the production and efficacy of insulin (the hormone mainly responsible for blood sugar control) thus keeping blood sugar levels more stable. As discussed before, dairy consumption also has a protective effect on weight management. Keeping a healthy weight is one of the most important factors in regulating blood sugar levels and preventing Type 2 Diabetes.
Where guidelines previously may have suggested that the fat from dairy products can increase cholesterol levels, more recent studies are showing that a moderate intake of particularly low fat or fat-free dairy products may have a neutral or protective effect on cholesterol levels. In other words these dairy products do not aggravate cholesterol levels or can actually aid in a more favourable cholesterol levels. This can mean that adequate dairy consumption may aid in playing a protective role against cardiovascular events like a heart attack or stroke. The exact mechanism is not fully understood. It is again suggested that the calcium found particularly in dairy products can reduce fat absorption and thus aid in reducing cholesterol.
Compiled by Cecile Niebuhr