In honour of World Milk Day on 1st of June, The Dairy Council would like to clarify some of the facts about milk and dairy products.

Dr Judith Bryans, Director of The Dairy Council, said: "As one of the most nutritionally complete foods available, milk has been part of the human diet for thousands of years, and is a natural source of a whole host of vitamins and minerals needed for good health. Sadly, many mixed messages and myths exist, blaming milk for a variety of ailments."

The following paragraphs detail some of the essential facts about milk.

Lactose Intolerance and Dairy

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, which is the sugar found naturally in milk. It has been estimated that around 5% of the UK population is unable to digest lactose. However, contrary to popular belief, people with problems digesting lactose do not have to avoid all dairy foods. Hard cheeses, such as cheddar, contain very little lactose, so are well tolerated. Yogurt and other fermented milk products also rarely cause symptoms.

Milk Alergy

Milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance. A food allergy is an inappropriate response of the body's immune system to an otherwise harmless food or a component of food.

A growing number of people believe themselves to be allergic to milk, although only 0.1-0.5% of adults are truly allergic to milk. In fact a true allergy to milk protein is quite rare and is usually restricted to young children; most of whom will have outgrown the problem by the time they are three years old.

Milk and Diabetes

A growing body of research suggests that eating dairy foods, especially low-fat varieties, may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Milk and Cancer

There is strong evidence to suggest that a high intake of calcium and calcium-rich foods (such as milk and dairy products) helps to lower the risk of colon cancer. Similarly, there is preliminary data to suggest that drinking milk may be associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.

The Composition of Milk

Milk supplies only 8% of the fat in the British diet and so is not a major contributor to fat intake. In fact, there is far less fat in milk than many people think. Even whole milk contains only 3.9% fat. With only 1.7% fat, semi-skimmed milk has less than half the fat of whole milk, and skimmed milk is virtually fat free, containing only 0.3% fat.

Milk and calcium

It has been suggested that consumption of milk and dairy foods can increase loss of calcium from the body, due to the relatively high protein content of milk. This is because excess protein in the diet can increase the amount of calcium lost in urine. Therefore, it is sometimes suggested that dairy can weaken rather than strengthen our bones. However, if high protein intake is teamed with a high calcium intake, as it is in dairy foods, the correct balance can be maintained to ensure the body receives sufficient calcium for bones to remain strong.

Milk and dairy products are some of the best natural sources of calcium. To obtain the same amount of calcium as from one 200ml glass of milk, one would need to consume four servings of broccoli, or seven and a half slices of white bread, 11 servings of spinach, or 15 servings of red kidney beans.

Milk and Weight Control

There is a misconception that milk and dairy products are fattening and should be avoided by those trying to lose weight. In contrast, evidence is emerging that dairy foods may actually make it easier to lose weight, particularly from the abdominal area.

Milk and Asthma

Dairy foods have been suggested as a common trigger for asthma, but there is little scientific evidence to support this. In fact, recent research indicates that dairy may actually help protect against the disease.

Milk and Your Skin

There is no convincing evidence that milk, or in fact any dietary component causes spots. The best diet for skin and health is the same as that for general health and includes a good balance of foods from the four main food groups, including dairy.

Soya versus Milk

Soya products are not nutritionally equivalent to dairy foods, and using them as a substitute could mean missing out on a number of nutrients. As soya is naturally low in calcium, some soya alternatives to milk are fortified with extra calcium.  However, studies have shown that the added calcium in soya drinks is less well absorbed by the body than from cows' milk.

For further information relating to dairy research or for nutrition advice relating to dairy, please contact The Dairy Council - or telephone on 0207 395 4030.

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