DAIRY PRODUCTS

Dairy products are a diverse category of food and beverage products derived from the milk of mammals, predominantly cow’s milk, but also that of goat, sheep and buffalo. Dairy are widely consumed and have always historically been an important component of human diet, while still remain an important part of a balanced diet, as they are rich in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals, predominantly calcium.

Availability and variety of dairy products

Common dairy products include milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir and cream, and are widely available in supermarkets, specialty grocery stores, commercial food chains, dairy farms and farmers markets. Milk is the primary ingredient used to produce most dairy products. Specifically:

Milk: Milk is a widely consumed beverage, recognized as being particularly useful for nourishment and growth during childhood and adolescence, and the foundation of many dairy products. It is available in various forms, such as whole, low-fat, skimmed, or fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Cheese: There are countless varieties boasting unique flavors, textures and aromas. From creamy brie cheese to crumbly feta, and from aged cheddar to pungent blue cheese, there is a cheese choice to suit every palate and culinary creation at any time of the day.

Yogurt: Yogurt is created by fermenting milk with beneficial bacterial cultures. It is a creamy and tangy delight packed with probiotics, which promote gut health. Yogurt can be enjoyed on its own or with fruit and honey, used as a base for smoothies, or incorporated into savory dishes and dressings.

Kefir: Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink that is similar to yogurt but thinner in consistency, making it more suitable for drinking. Its slight fizz is due to carbon dioxide, a fermentation by-product. Kefir is available plain or fruit-flavored, and can also be thickened to form kefir yogurt, eaten with a spoon. It is a good source of calcium and very rich in gut-supporting probiotic bacteria.

Cream: With its luscious texture, cream enhances sauces, soups and desserts, adding richness and depth of flavor. It can be whipped to create whipped cream, a delectable topping for desserts.

Ice-cream: Ice-cream is prepared by freezing a pasteurized mixture of milk (and often other dairy products such as cream), sugars and flavorings, which may also contain stabilizers or emulsifiers.

Butter: Butter made by churning cream adds richness and flavor to dishes. It is a staple in baking, cooking and as a delectable spread on bread and toast.

Nutritional value and health benefits of dairy products

Milk and dairy products are very nutrient-dense, which explains their significant contribution to a balanced diet:

  • They contain bioavailable protein which, together with other protein sources, aids muscle growth and development, tissue repair and maintenance.
  • They are the richest food sources of calcium, which supports bone health and tooth mineralization, as well as osteoporosis prevention.
  • They provide vitamins, mainly riboflavin (B2) and vitamin B12. Full-fat dairy products are sources of retinol (vitamin A) and other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D to a lesser extent.
  • They contain zinc and selenium, that help support a healthy immune system.
  • Yogurt and especially kefir provide healthy bacterial cultures known as probiotics, which improve digestion and gut health when consumed regularly, protect against bacterial infections by inhibiting harmful strains of E.coli, Helicobacter pylori and Salmonella, as well as lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and inflammation, all beneficial for heart health.

Pros and Cons of dairy products

Every so often, dairy products fluctuate from the good to the bad food list, given they range from gut-healthy kefir to the calorie-dense ice-cream sundae. Where does the truth rely, and what are the dietary solutions to issues such as their calorie and saturated fat content? See the table below:

Benefits of dairy consumptionDownside and dietary solutions
– Rich in a variety of nutrients
– Ηigh in protein, that helps rebuild and repair muscle tissue, and aids satiety
– High calcium content, which contributes in bone health and tooth mineralization, as well as in osteoporosis prevention
– Consumption contributes to weight management, healthy blood sugar levels and decreased prevalence of type 2 diabetes and metabolic dysfunction
– Yogurt and especially kefir contain all-round healthy probiotics
– High in calories: choose low-fat dairy and consume with a piece of fruit or as a side to the vegetable meal
– Saturated fat content: choose low-fat or fat-free options
– Inhibit iron absorption: consume apart from iron-rich foods, as part of a different meal or snack
– Lactose intolerance (difficulty digesting lactose that is present in milk, causing symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea): choose low-lactose or lactose-free dairy products (e.g. almond or soy milk), vegan alternatives, or yogurt and kefir (good bacteria, probiotics)
Allergy: observe your symptoms and make alternative choices with a dietitian’s guidance

Recommended Daily Intake of dairy foods

Dairy food consumption is associated with health and wellness, weight management and illness prevention, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) that suggest 3 dietary patterns: Healthy United States, Healthy Vegetarian, and Healthy Mediterranean. The first two provide 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy per day, whereas the Healthy Mediterranean includes 2 to 2 and 1/2 servings for adults, and 3 servings for children aged 9-18 years old.

Dairy products have a wide range of nutritional benefits, including calcium, protein and essential vitamins and minerals, making them valuable for maintaining overall health. Including dairy products in one’s diet is a personal choice based on individual nutritional needs and dietary preferences. Consulting a nutritionist will help you achieve a balanced diet adapted to your requirements and needs.

References:

Joanne Adamidou, MS, Registered Dietitian & Biologist
– Director of Bioiatriki+ Nutrition & Scientific Associate of Bioclinic, Thessaloniki – Bioiatriki Healthcare Group
– New York College Lecturer

Theofania Sideri, Registered Nurse – University of Ioannina
– BSc-cand and Dietetic Intern, University of Greenwich