Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

Can you remember back to the fat-free era? How about the carb-free era? Today, we find ourselves in the free-from everything era – dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, sugar-free – the list goes on. While some people need to avoid certain foods due to an allergy or medical condition, many have started to avoid foods because of unproven claims and food fearmongering. While I could write pieces on why I still eat gluten, wheat and sugar (because I do), today’s topic is dairy.

Before we begin though, there are a few things I need to say.

·      Yes, I work as a contracted Registered Dietitian for Dairy Farmers of Canada.

·      However, first and foremost, I am held accountable to the College of Dietitians of Alberta, a regulatory body that protects you, the public.

·      My job and passion in my work is to provide evidence-based information on food and nutrition.

·      To the best of my ability, I will not write anything contrary to what the most recent evidence states. All opinions in this blog are my own.

This being said, I would like to share five reasons I still eat dairy, and encourage others to eat dairy, despite the bad press it may receive.

1.      It packs in protein– Protein plays a central role in building, repairing and maintaining muscle in addition to many other body functions. Typically, we eat the most protein at supper. However, research is showing that evenly spacing protein intake throughout the day maximizes the benefit to muscle. I have difficulty getting enough protein at breakfast and lunch because savoury breakfasts aren’t my go-to choice, and my lunches rarely include meat. However, I do enjoy milk in my oats, plain yogurt sweetened with fruit or granola, and cottage cheese. Milk, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt pack in an impressive amount of high-quality protein with 8 grams in 1 cup of milk and 15 g in ¾ cup of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt. If you choose milk-alternatives, be aware that most contain minimal protein.

 2.      It’s whole and minimally processed– We are becoming more and more concerned with heavily- processed foods, sugar-sweetened drinks and frequent fast food meals. Instead, we are being encouraged to choose whole and minimally-processed foods (which is a great idea). However, this gets tricky when we also criticize the sugar in fruit, the gluten in whole grains and dairy foods. Milk, unsweetened yogurt, kefir and cheese are whole, minimally-processed foods that are packed with nutrients. In the push to encourage healthy eating, let’s keep these foods as nutritious options.

 3.      It’s local– I like to support localfamily run businesses when I can, and dairy fits the bill. While dairy, whole grains and legumes aren’t as glamorous as acai, coconut oil and avocados, these are the foods we can grow in our province and nation. When it comes to dairy, I appreciate the efforts made to keep Canadian milk high-quality[ and safe and the cows happy and cared for.

4.      I haven’t come across a compelling claim against dairy– Advocates for a dairy-free diet give many reasons why dairy should be avoided. However, I have yet to come across a compelling and evidence-based reason to eliminate dairy from my fridge. For example:

·      Antibiotics and hormones[ – neither of these are present in Canadian milk and impressive efforts are made to keep it this way.

·      Milk and cancer– there is no convincing, high-quality evidence that supports the claim that milk causes cancer. However, there is evidence that dairy may protect against colorectal cancer. This link has a review of the evidence for dairy and a variety of health conditions.

I would encourage you to check out this great resource, What’s true? What’s not? Get the real story about milk products to explore more claims against dairy such as it being unnatural to drink milk from another species, pasteurization and mucus production. 

 5.      It fits my nutrition philosophy– In a nutshell, my nutrition philosophy is to eat foods that are nourishing and satisfying with the overarching goal of having a healthy relationship with food. I enjoy the sweet taste of milk, the creaminess of yogurt and the savoury taste of cheese, alongside a variety of other nutritious foods – whole grains, fruits, vegetables and plant and animal proteins. Nothing is “off limits,” so you’ll also find, ice cream, cookies and chocolate stocked in my pantry.

Can you have a nutritious diet without dairy? Yes. Those with a milk allergy or those who choose a vegan eating pattern can still have a nutritious and balanced diet. However, dairy foods help meet nutrient needs across life stages and are convenient, affordable and tasty. My goal as a dietitian is to keep as many of these options on the table as possible!

Do other dietitians think the same? You bet! Here are two more good reads:

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Take Dairy Out of Your Diet Abby Langer, RD

Why I Still Choose Dairy – Angie Dye, MS, RDN

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Kristina Isaac, RD.

Registered Dietitian

Kristina (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive. She enjoys finding creative, fun and simple ways to communicate the science of nutrition.

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