More and more Australians are going ‘dairy free’ and avoiding dairy products- a study undertaken by the CSIRO and University of Adelaide has found that 1 in 6 are choosing to avoid milk and dairy foods and around three quarters of those are doing so without medical evidence. For those of us who continue to enjoy the white liquid purity in our coffee and on our cereal, these days choosing this simple staple can be confusing and debatable. Dairy milk is full of essential nutrients including calcium, protein, zinc, vitamin B12 and magnesium. With so many different types of milk on the market deciphering which choice is the best can be tricky.
Full fat vs low fat: The saturated fat contained in full fat/cream varieties are associated with raising blood cholesterol and development of cardiovascular disease. Reduced fat dairy products are recommended by The Australian Dietary Guidelines from 2 years of age. Look for a milk with a total fat content of less than 2g per 100mL and with a quarter or less of the saturated fat compared with full cream milk your arteries will be thanking you. But what about the sugar? The higher ‘sugar’ content is the naturally occurring lactose found in all dairy products despite the fat content. As a result of removing the fat, lower-fat milks are also generally higher in calcium and protein than full fat milk.
UHT: is short for ultra-high temperature processing and is the most commonly applied technique to provide a safe and shelf-stable milk. UHT milk has the same nutritional benefits as fresh dairy milk.
A2: is beta-casein protein that is the variant of the common A1 protein found in higher quantities in dairy milk (usually about 60% A2 and 40% A1 in Australian dairy cattle). Some research suggests the A1 protein may be shown to release the opioid BCM-7 on digestion which may affect gastrointestinal motility and the absorption process. Preliminary results from a study conducted by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests differences in gastrointestinal responses in some adults consuming milk containing the A1 or the A2 beta-casein, but requires further investigation with a larger and more diverse study population. Tentative correlations between A2 milk potential to reduce risk of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease have been made but are still not clinically established.
Permeate-free: Permeate is a collection of lactose, micronutrients and water extracted via ultrafiltration process that is often added to standardise the process of production. The FSANZ Food Standards Code allows manufacturers to add or withdraw “milk components” to or from milk as long as the total fat level remains at least 3.2% (for full-cream milk) and the protein at least 3%. Permeate-free labelling has become a more common marketing approach as there is no evidence to suggest avoidance is necessary for nutritional or safety reasons.
Organic: To be Certified Organic, dairy farmers that produce organic milk must adhere to a strict set of standards that prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics and have a focus on sustainable agriculture.
Raw Milk: Raw milk carries dangerous bacteria such as Brucella, Campylobacter, Listeria, Mycobacterium bovis, Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Shigella, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Yersinia enterocoliticaa. Unlike newer approaches such as cold pressure application, conventional heat pasteurisation has been proven to kill the microorganisms that may cause food poisoning without reducing the nutritional quality of the milk. People whom are immune-compromised (weak immune systems), the elderly, pregnant women, and children are most at risk and because not all cases of food poisoning are reported it is likely that raw dairy products are actually responsible for more illness that what is actually recorded in the medical data.
Non-Dairy nut milks: soy, almond, rice and oat milks have gained increased presence on our shelves and are lactose free options for those that have a diagnosed lactose intolerance. If you are trying these varieties, ensure your choice is calcium fortified and take note that it may be lower in protein and other micronutrients compared with dairy milk.
Whatever your preference, milk is a cornerstone of nutrition and included as part of dairy food intake recommendations in Healthy Eating Guidelines globally. People have been drinking milk for at least 6,000 years and research shows that milk is not only safe, but is also associated with a number of health benefits, from healthy bones and teeth, to assisting with weight control and also possibly helping to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you’re not a milk fan or have a true cows’ milk allergy or intolerance, consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) to discuss other ways get enough dietary calcium and other essential nutrients.
TOP TIP: Aim for 250mL milk per day either on cereal or in your coffee/tea/chai/shake and don’t stress if it is in one serve or spread out across the day.