Cutting dairy: healthy or hazardous?

One in six Australians are cutting dairy from their diet without seeking advice from a health professional, according to a new survey. Bupa dietitian Ros D’Angelo shares her views on the trend of unnecessary elimination diets.

It’s funny how times change. When I was going through uni and studying to be a dietitian, health and wellness wasn’t really that trendy. 

I remember as a grad, I felt like I was begging people to take an interest in their diet. 10 years later, and I feel like I’m constantly busting myths and encouraging people to stop cutting things out of their diet and being so strict.

A new trend I've been noticed recently is 'dairy free'. In fact my local cafe now serves almond milk, soy milk, low fat cow’s milk, full fat cow’s milk, coconut milk, coconut cream and even coffee with butter.

And with new research suggesting that one in six Australians are eliminating dairy from their diet without consulting a health professional, it seems cafes are catering to that demand. 

range of nut milks

But does 'dairy free' necessarily mean healthy?

In short no! Cutting out entire food groups, like dairy, may lead to long term chronic diseases.

Dairy foods are the best source of calcium we have. Not having enough dietary calcium, eating an unbalanced diet and low vitamin D levels can put you at risk of developing osteoporosis. And whilst this may not seem like a big deal in your 20s and 30s, osteoporosis is a serious disease that can affect you later in life. 

When you have osteoporosis, bones become more and more brittle until they snap. And that’s something that’s harder and harder to recover from as we get older.

Cutting out food groups may actually also change the way your body is able to digest food. There is an enzyme called ‘lactase’ that digests the lactose in milk, yoghurt and dairy. If you do not eat dairy for a significant amount of time, this lactase goes away, so you effectively lose your ability to digest dairy. 

Also food groups are grouped in accordance to their nutrient profile. In other words, foods in the same group will have similar nutrients. So if you’re cutting out a whole food group, you might be putting yourself at risk of a certain nutrient deficiency.

Is dairy making me fat?

Is dairy fattening? Depends on what you’re choosing. It can be if you’re choosing yogurt with heaps of added sugar, chocolate milk, or indulging in a cheese platter every night. But if you’re choosing plain milk and yogurts and eating cheese in moderation, research shows that this can actually help with weight management. They’re packed with protein to keep us full.

According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, consumption of dairy foods is not linked to weight gain. In fact, for people looking to lose weight, research shows including dairy in a reduced-kilojoule diet can actually help accelerate weight loss.

I think we need to get back to basics. The truth is, approximately 30% of the energy we eat every day is coming from ‘discretionary foods’. That means pies, chocolate, lollies, soft drink, alcohol etc. If we want to cut out anything- let’s start here!

Everyone has the right to choose what they put in their body. Some foods make people feel bloated, irritable or make them run to the toilet. So we know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to dietary advice and I’m very supportive of a person’s right to choose. 

 But my main message is that you need to seek professional advice before cutting out food groups. There are ways to replace the nutrients you might be at risk of missing out on, but relying on ‘Dr Google’ for these answers is a dangerous game.

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