ABCs of Food: D is for Dairy
If you have questions about dairy, Best Food Facts experts can help. They’ve tackled some of the most common dairy myths to help separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1: Hormones in milk cause early puberty.
If you are a woman, and especially a mom, you’ve likely heard the myth that girls mature earlier and boys grow bigger because of hormones in milk (and meat). The fact is that girls are maturing earlier. BUT, says BFF expert Dr. Ann Macrina, the age at which they reach puberty has been declining since the mid-1800’s, a time, incidentally, during which dairy consumption has actually decreased. (A recent report from the International Dairy Foods Association shows that the agerage person consumers about 20 gallons of milk annually - and that is a new record low!)
Our experts say there is no evidence that hormones in milk or dairy products play a role in early puberty and suggest that improved nutrition and increased obesity rates are more likely impacting early puberty.
- Hormones occur naturally in our food and are digested in the stomach.
- The concentration of hormones in cow’s milk is minimal relative to the natural production of human hormones so of little physiological significance.
- Some farmers do use a synthetic hormone designed to increase milk production, but pediatric and government experts, including guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, say there is no evidence the synthetic version affects human growth or development.
Dr. Terry Etherton, another BFF expert, notes, “There are zillions of protein hormones in both plant and animal foods. They are digested in the stomach, which kills their ability to have any biological activity. There is just no way to come to a science-based conclusion that hormones in food or dairy products cause early puberty.”
Myth # 2: Lactose-intolerant consumers should avoid dairy.
As we age, some of us become more sensitive to lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. The consumption of more lactose than the body can break down, can cause stomach bloating and intestinal discomfort for these consumers, but avoiding dairy is not the answer to lactose intolerance, says BFF expert Dr. Dennis Savaiano.
- Lactose is broken down in the body by the enzyme lactase.
- As we age, we typically produce less lactase because our bodies are genetically disposed to do so.
- Lactose intolerance is a genetic trait that can impact approximately one in four American consumers and nearly three-fourths of the world’s population.
- Lactose intolerance is different from a milk allergy, which is quite rare.
- Dose is the key in managing lactose intolerance and drinking one cup (8 oz.) or less a day does not usually cause problems.
- Drink milk with a meal to increase the digestion of lactose.
- Lactose-free dairy products can be found at the grocery store to provide additional choices.
And Dr. Savaiano notes, “Regular milk drinkers (one to three small servings per day) have much better tolerance because they have adapted their intestinal bacteria to improve digestion of lactose.”
Myth # 3: Dairy causes weight gain.
If you’re trying to lose weight someone has likely suggested that you cut out dairy, because it is too fattening. But, making good food choices plays a more important role in maintaining a healthy weight, say our experts. From yogurt to skim milk, dairy offers a variety of low-fat options that can work for a healthy diet.
- Research indicates that lean protein is important to a healthy diet and healthy weight.
- Dairy offers a variety of low-fat and lean protein options.
- Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate guidelines will help consumers make healthy, well-balanced food choices.
Registered Dietitian, Connie Diekman says that consuming protein likely helps us feel full longer. She also recommends, “People should meet their nutritional needs by choosing foods they enjoy, including lean meat, fish, poultry, and low-fat/fat-free dairy. However, two-thirds of the diet should come from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.”
Myth # 4: Organic milk is healthier than non-organic milk.
Studies show that consumers often perceive organic foods as more healthful than their non-organic versions. Associate Professor of Veterinary Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology, Wondwossen Gabreyes, says the case is not so clear-cut.
- There is no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic milk. Each contains the same essential vitamins and nutrients.
- Milk is tested and prohibited from market if it does not meet the government’s stringent safety and quality standards.
Expert Carl Winter points out that healthy food can be found in both organic and non-organic production systems. He notes, “Fortunately, consumers in the U.S. frequently have the choice between purchasing organic and conventional foods and make food purchasing decisions that reflect their values, concerns, and lifestyles. For optimal health, consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes significant amounts of fruits, vegetables, and grains, regardless if such foods are produced by organic or by conventional practices.”
What questions do you have about dairy?