Despite recent trends to avoid dairy (such as the Paleo diet), there are several good reasons for people who are not lactose intolerant or sensitive to casein (the protein in milk) to keep enjoying dairy products. Dairy products have been shown in many studies to have major health benefits, including:
Strong bones. Osteoporosis, or the loss of bone mass, has become a major health problem in recent years. Studies show that calcium is crucial for building strong bones in childhood and adolescence and to maintain bone health in adulthood. Milk, yogurt and cheese are excellent sources of calcium, so make sure you consume two to three servings of dairy each day. A serving of dairy can be a glass of milk, a cup of yogurt or 1.5oz hard cheese (such as cheddar).
Heart health. For years, we’ve been told that saturated fats are unhealthy. But newer research actually shows that dairy fat can reduce the risk of heart attack. Dairy foods contain a number of potentially beneficial substances, such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, noted the researchers. They have also been shown to increase people’s levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
Blood pressure. Another interesting study found that the regular consumption of low-fat dairy can lower blood pressure. It appears that this benefit is independent of the calcium found in dairy. Instead, the researchers say potassium and magnesium found in dairy products may be partly responsible for their study results.
Diabetes. Diabetes has become an epidemic in recent years. That’s why we were excited to learn that a natural substance found in dairy products appears to protect against diabetes. Trans-palmitoleic acid is present in milk, cheese, yogurt and butter but cannot be made by the body. The study found that higher levels of trans-palmitoleic acid were linked with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. People with the highest levels cut their risk by 60 percent!
Colon cancer. Other studies have shown that dairy products may help protect against colon cancer. Again, it seems that the benefit is not just because of the calcium found in dairy, so simply taking a calcium supplement won’t necessarily have the same benefits, and could actually be a problem.
Even if you’re lactose intolerant, and cannot consume milk, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to tolerate fermented dairy products such as Greek yogurt and aged cheese. As always, it’s best to enjoy the many benefits of dairy by consuming natural foods rather than trying to supplement, as artificial supplements often have undesirable side effects.