Dairy products: Beneficial or harmful to our health?


In our childhood or adolescence, most of us would have heard that milk and dairy products help maintain bone and muscle health. Today, however, there is a lot of conflicting data about the health effects of milk, with the result that perceptions about milk change depending on popular diets and advertisements. What, after all, is the truth about milk? Is it beneficial or harmful to health?

Dairy is an essential part of a healthy diet, because for many people it is the easiest way to get the calcium, vitamin D and protein they need for their heart, muscles and bones.

First we need to clarify what dairy products are. This group includes milk, cheese, yogurt, as well as chocolate milk drinks or sour milk, with the exception of sour cream and butter. From an early age we listened to our parents emphasize the importance of milk and its derivatives in the development of our body and our good health. However, many are still unaware of the beneficial properties of dairy products.

Dairy products as a source of calcium and protein

Dairy products such as milk and cheese are good sources of calcium, which helps maintain bone density and reduces the risk of fractures. Adults under 50 need 1000mg of calcium every day. Women over 50 and men over 70 need 1200mg. A glass of milk contains 250-350mg of calcium, depending on the brand and whether it is whole, low or no fat. A typical yogurt contains about 187mg of calcium. Milk also contains vitamin D, which is used by bones to maintain bone mass.

The elderly also need protein to protect themselves from sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle mass and strength associated with age. Milk is a good source of protein. The recommended amount for the elderly is 0.8g per kilogram of body weight. A 90 kg man needs about 65g of protein every day, while a 70 kg woman needs about 50 grams.

However, regarding the direct effect of dairy products, the data are contradictory. Some research warns that dairy consumption should not be increased, while others have noticed benefits from their regular consumption.

Which dairy should we prefer?

Αdults should prefer low- or no-fat dairy products. Some research, however, has shown that whole milk products may not be as dangerous to heart health. A study presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference found no link between consuming more dairy products and poor cardiovascular health. The only exception was milk, however the results showed that only extremely high milk consumption is associated with an increased cardiovascular risk.

Τhose who consume enough dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, have lower risk of coronary heart disease than men who consumed smaller amounts of the above products. This observation is in line with previous research that has shown that fermented dairy products have good effects on the lipid profile and risk of heart disease compared to other dairy products.

Another benefit of consuming milk, which has been widely promoted by the respective industry, has not been verified by research. As the latter have shown, milk does not help in weight loss, especially when calories must also be reduced.

Regarding its health effects, milk is neither beneficial nor harmful. A little milk in our diet, such as coffee or cereals, can provide some of the nutrients we need. It is important, however, to be part of a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, so that we can get the calcium and protein we need without depending on dairy.

The ideal is to have a low consumption of dairy products, as this can reduce the intake of saturated fats, while receiving the necessary nutrients we need. Alternatively, almond or soy milk may also provide benefits, but it contains less protein than cow’s milk. Greek yogurt is probably the best dairy product. It contains more protein than standard yogurt and also contains probiotics that help with gut health.

Foods for those who avoid dairy products

People who suffer from bloating, nausea, indigestion and abdominal pain, aka lactose intolerance, after consuming dairy products, tend to avoid their consumption, thus depriving important nutrients from their body. At the same time, strict vegetarians, who do not consume any dairy products, in order to avoid the consumption of animal products, are deprived of equally significant amounts of nutrients, which could be covered by milk and its derivatives.

Even if no food can completely replace the dairy group, there are foods that are very good sources of nutrients and can meet the basic needs and functions of our body.

Such foods are:

  • Broccoli, legumes, dried fruits, sesame and sardines (rich in calcium).
  • Avocados, bananas, dried fruits, peaches, tomatoes, eggs (rich in potassium).
  • Meat, fish, eggs, mushrooms (rich in B vitamins).
  • Almond or rice milk.
  • Soy milk. Only prefer it if it has added calcium.
  • Orange juice enriched with calcium.


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