If any of you read the 'A Plus' section of The Australian newspaper on July 20, you may have seen the article ‘The six foods I never stock at home’ by the ‘Paleo warrior’ and renowned chef, Pete Evans.
I am always concerned when celebrities give nutrition advice to us with no depth of understanding of the science of nutrition and how their advice may impact on individuals health and wellbeing.
Eliminating major food groups like grains and dairy from your diet when there is no ethical or therapeutic need could be unnecessary and unless you know how to replace the missing nutrients there could be dire consequences.
I wasn’t the only one to be critical of Pete’s controversial ‘no dairy/no grains’ position, the President of the Victorian Medical Association, Dr Tony Bartone doesn’t agree either. We were quoted in an article on The Australian’s website – you might like to read it in full.
The Australian quoted Tony Bartone as saying “complicating food messages can have an adverse effect on health.
“We have to keep food messages simple, practical and easy to follow because when you start imparting difficulty, complexity and expense, what is likely to follow is that people will throw up their hands and go to the fast food store,” Dr Bartone said.
“It’s really better to avoid giving advice like avoid all grains or all dairy because people will end up completely restricting, and not replacing, their foods and will miss out on vital nutrients. You virtually need a PhD to be sure you’re replacing all those nutrients you’ve cut out from other sources.”
Dr Bartone recommends a diet that includes all food groups in moderation, unrefined cereals that are not high in fat or sugar and a good variety of lean meat, fresh vegetables and fruit.”
I expanded further on the value of dairy in an article on the Dineamic website blog:*
Dairy Dairy Quite Contrary!
It appears Pete Evans is not necessarily encouraging everyone to go Paleo, according to his article, he is just anti dairy for the following reasons – “most people don’t retain the ability to digest milk after infancy and most dairy is not at all critical for good health”.
He goes on to say that “drinking milk and eating lots of dairy are not the answers to reversing or preventing osteoporosis: In fact processed dairy foods such as low fat ultra -pasteurised milk, most cheeses and low fat flavoured yoghurts high in sugar are almost completely devoid of nutrients and should be avoided”.
Pete’s views on dairy are quite commonly held even though there is good evidence to counter his opinions. Let’s have a glance at the inability to digest milk after infancy.
While it is true that lactose, the natural sugar in milk, can be difficult for some to digest because they lack the enzyme lactase, being intolerant to lactose is largely genetically determined and it is not as widespread as some people believe. In Australia, only around 5% of Caucasians appear to be lactose intolerant, compared with non Caucasians where the figure is around 75%.
Most people from Asia have a high incidence of lactose intolerance but this doesn’t mean they can’t consume any dairy. Most people with lactose intolerance still produce some lactase and can consume small amounts of milk without any discomfort and are generally able to tolerate cheese (most of which is lactose free) and yoghurt which has less lactose due to the fermentation process. There are also lactose free milks available today.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt do contain a myriad of nutrients such as protein (casein and whey) and 8 vitamins and minerals. It’s hard to agree that most cheeses are devoid of nutrients when most cheeses contain the following nutrients:
Vitamin A Essential for healthy eye sight. Important for growth (particularly in children)
Vitamin B12 Helps to keep blood healthy. Assists in the formation of nerve cells
Riboflavin Helps release energy from food. Helps cells to function properly
Calcium Essential for strong bones and teeth along with Vitamin D and weight bearing exercise. Needed for normal muscle and nerve functioning, and may assist in controlling blood pressure
Potassium Assists with blood pressure control. Important for nerve impulse transmission
Magnesium Important component in bone structure. Essential for energy transfer around the body
Zinc Aids wound healing. Essential for normal growth and development in bones, the brain and many other parts of the body
Phosphorus Forms an important part of the mineral structure in bones
So while there are plenty of other foods which can supply these nutrients besides dairy, dairy foods are the most readily available source of calcium and we know how important calcium is for healthy bones and teeth as well as muscle contraction and nerve transmission and even helping to control blood pressure.
What about Calcium?
According to the National Health and Medical Research Nutrient reference values, we need around 1000mg calcium (Ca) per day. This equates to approximately three serves of dairy foods. One serve is 250ml milk (approx 300mg Ca) or 40g cheese (approx 320mg Ca) or 200g yoghurt (approx. 360mg Ca).
If you choose dairy alternatives to meet your calcium needs, then try to consume a calcium fortified soy or rice milk. Almond milk and coconut milk are also delicious-tasting alternatives. but unfortunately they don’t match the calcium count.
Even though green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale and broccoli are good sources of calcium, the bioavailability of the calcium is not as good as from animal sources. The exception appears to be Asian greens which have better calcium bioavailability.
The best non dairy source of calcium is fish with edible bones, 100g of canned salmon or sardines provided you eat the bones is around 335mg similar to a serve of dairy.
Probiotic yoghurt and fermented milks like Kefir contain the healthy bacteria which has been known for centuries to improve our gut flora and assist with good bowel function and strong immunity. Other fermented foods which are now trending are fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi. Sour dough bread is also a source of probiotics but the benefits are not as great when the healthy bacteria are heated.
Dairy Yes or No?
It’s up to you but before you decide to ditch dairy make sure that you can replace the nutrients you may be missing out on. The main nutrient at risk would have to be calcium and we know that taking calcium supplements doesn’t come without some risk.
*Karen Inge is a part owner of Dineamic. Dineamic create fresh, healthy meals that can be delivered straight to your home or you can buy from selected supermarkets. The meals offer alternatives that adhere to dietary restrictions, healthy lifestyles, for those who are time poor, or for those who need guidance as to how to eat healthily. For more information see www.dineamic.com.au