Milk And Dairy Products Necessity Or A No-Go?

Healthy FoodsAs children, we were all encouraged to drink our milk – “Milk is good for you, it makes your bones strong and your teeth healthy.” In fact, milk is a staple for many people and it has been toted as the ideal food for many years. According to the SA Food Based Dietary Guidelines, milk is a favourite food among South Africans. Until recently, availability, culture, tradition and religion were the only influencers in the consumption of dairy products, but now there is great controversy surrounding its use. Some have started to question whether or not humans should be consuming milk at all.

Those opposed to the use of dairy argue that it can cause ill health such as sinus problems or digestive discomfort. They also contend that the hormones in cow’s milk may lead to the development of certain cancers. Those in favour state that there isn’t adequate scientific evidence to prove that milk is not suitable for human consumption.

So what is the truth? Is cow milk for calves only? Let’s look at the pros and cons of using milk and milk products:


  • Dairy contains calcium that is needed to protect the integrity of the skeleton. Adequate dietary calcium is also thought to help lower blood pressure and possibly protect against obesity. (Remember that bone health is obtained through a balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise and eating the right foods).
  • Dairy products are good sources of riboflavin and vitamin B12.
  • Dairy is also amenable to the addition of other nutrients such as vitamins A and D.


  • When consumed in large amounts in its whole-fat state, milk and dairy products can contribute to heart disease by raising blood cholesterol levels, obesity and some types of cancer.
  • There are individuals who suffer from milk allergies – they either react to one of the proteins in milk or to the milk sugar, lactose, causing lactose intolerance. Black South Africans are especially prone to lactose maldigestion and intolerance.
  • Some claim that it increases mucus production and may worsen sinus problems. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims as yet.

When looking at the cons mentioned above, there are a few points to consider. The public in general, women in particular, tend to avoid milk and dairy because they believe it contains too much fat. Although this is true for full-cream milk or yogurt and certain cheeses, there are skim or low-fat varieties that can form part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Individuals who have been scientifically diagnosed by a pathology laboratory as lactose intolerant or as having a milk allergy should avoid milk in general. However, most lactose intolerant adults can consume 6 – 12 g lactose (200 – 240 ml milk) without major symptoms, especially when taken with meals or in the fermented form of yoghurt or maas with active cultures. These individuals should, however, try using soymilk substitutes and use a calcium supplement to make up their daily requirements. Always consult with your doctor before making any drastic changes in your diet.

The skinny on milk products:

The main reason people shy away from using milk and dairy products is its potentially high animal fat content. As mentioned, however, there are low-fat alternatives available. Here are the fat content of different milks:

Product Fat (g per 100ml)

Full cream/whole milk – 3

Low fat/2% milk – 2

1% milk – 1

Fat free/skim milk – 0.5

Looking at the differences in the fat percentages of the different milks, it might seem insignificant. However, when the milk is used in appreciable quantities, the difference becomes clear. One cup of fat free milk contains about 2g of fat whereas one cup of full cream milk contains about 10g!

Other products that are derived from cow milk includes:

  • Evaporated milk is double concentrated milk and can be made either from 2% or full cream milk. As it is double concentrated, the light version contains 4% fat and the regular version almost 7% fat.
  • Condensed milk is also concentrated milk and has at least 40% sugar added to help preserve it. It contains at least 8% fat.
  • Buttermilk is the liquid that has been removed when making butter and contains up to 2g of fat depending on the version you use.
  • Ice cream is made from cream, milk, sugar, flavourings and stabilisers. It generally contains at least 10 percent fat.
  • Cream’s usual fat content is about 40g per 100g. There are different types of cream including sour cream, pouring cream and whipping cream.
  • Yoghurt comes in many fat free options these days and is available in most supermarkets. This is the healthiest type of yogurt.
  • Some cheeses such as cheddar cheese, contains about 33g fat per 100g. Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese are made from skimmed milk curds and are a healthier option.

One grande latte please…

Many people head to the coffee shop during their lunch break for some relaxation in a cup. And although a cappuccino or a latte may be convenient and satisfying, they are also packed with hidden kilojoules. Choosing a coffee drink instead of a fast food take away can be more nutritionally detrimental than you think! A large Café Mocha with whipped cream can easily pack on 1500 kilojoules – that’s the equivalent of a cheeseburger!

Here are some healthier options:


  • Get a small cup not the supersize jumbo mug.
  • Ask for ‘skinny’ drinks – this alone can save you about 250kJ and 10g of fat per serving.
  • Go for froth, not cream.
  • Don’t add extra sugar to flavoured drinks.
  • Swap your latte for filter coffee.
  • Many outlets now serve dairy free alternatives such as soya milk based drinks.


Milk alternatives:

For individuals who choose not to use bovine milk or milk products or are unable to do so, here are a few other options:

  • Coffee creamer is a diary substitute made from glucose syrup and palm oil. It contains about 30% fat so not a very healthy alternative.
  • Soya milk is a handy replacement for cow’s milk. Good quality soya milk’s main ingredient is whole soya and it contains very little maltodextrin. It’s good to note that soya milk often do not contain appreciable amounts of calcium. It’s a good idea to check the label for the correct ingredients and make sure that the calcium content per 100ml is about 100mg. The fat content of soya milk can be as low as 1.2% and as high as 12%, depending on the brand. Just be aware that some people have allergies to soya as well.
  • Rice milk is gaining popularity as a tasty alternative to cow milk and is widely available in food stores and health shops. Rice milk is ideal as a creamer for tea or coffee and can also be mixed with water to use over cereals.
  • Goat milk has increasingly become popular as an alternative for people who have allergies to cow milk. Goat milk contains only trace amounts of the allergenic ‘casein’, a protein found in cow milk, and also contains slightly lower levels of lactose.

It is important to always read the label of any milk replacement. Here’s advice on some of the ingredients:

  • The following will push up the fat content and should be avoided: Hydrogenated vegetable oils and vegetable fat from palm kernel oil.
  • Dextrose and maltodextrin: Many milk replacements contain these and you may struggle to get around this. These are both fast releasing and may push up your blood sugar levels. Try to use the product in small quantities and to combine it with other lower GI foods.

There is no reason why milk shouldn’t form part of a healthy diet. As with any other food, however, it is imperative that good judgment be used when making choices as to which dairy products to consume. Remember: everything is permissible within reason. Good nutrition is not only about health and longevity but also about enjoyment. If you are maintaining a balanced lifestyle, a Café Mocha every now and again can be a welcome treat. Should you choose not to include dairy in your diet, be sure to consult with your dietician before making the change.

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