Dairy has a complicated reputation.
You’ve probably heard dairy talked up as a health-promoting food group, rich in calcium to keep bones strong. But dairy is outright eliminated in fad diets that also claim to be healthy. Some dairy foods, like cheese and ice cream, are rich in saturated fat, the type many experts still advise limiting. And some people — particularly vegans — argue that, given high levels of lactose intolerance in certain populations, humans aren’t meant to consume dairy at all.
All this confusion can (very understandably) leave you wondering whether dairy foods like milk and cheese and yogurt are good or bad for you.
To answer that question (and more), INSIDER turned to registered dietitian Georgie Fear, author of „Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss,“ and Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of nutrition and weight management at Boston Medical Center.
Here’s what you need to know about dairy’s place in your diet.
Do I need dairy to get calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that’s needed to maintain strong bones, as you’ve probably heard before. It’s also required for muscle, nerve, and blood vessel function and the release of certain hormones and enzymes. Adults ages 19 through 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and dairy is a great source of the mineral.
A cup of plain low-fat yogurt, for example, has 448 milligrams.
Apovian explained that, while there are other sources of calcium, dairy is the most convenient and concentrated natural source.
Aren’t there other foods high in calcium?
Though many non-dairy foods naturally contain calcium (including some leafy greens, root vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and fish eaten with the bones still in them), it’s tough for these foods to compete with dairy in terms of sheer calcium concentration.
„[To get] the amount in calcium in one serving of milk you’d have to eat buckets of some of the vegetables that are touted as high calcium,“ Fear said.
For example: A cup of 2% milk has 350 mg of calcium. You’d need 7 cups of kale or 12 cups of spinach to get that amount from raw leafy greens. Or you could get it by eating a whole can of sardines — a prospect that’s probably not appealing unless you’re a sardine devotee.
Some plant-based calcium sources have another drawback. Fear said that some of these foods also contain oxalates — natural compounds that bind to calcium and inhibit our bodies from absorbing it. The calcium in dairy, on the other hand, is more easily absorbed by our bodies.
This doesn’t mean non-dairy calcium sources aren’t worth eating. They have plenty of nutritional merits. They just aren’t the most concentrated sources of calcium. So if you can’t or don’t eat dairy, you may need to consume calcium-fortified foods.
How do I get enough calcium if I can’t or don’t eat dairy?
„If somebody does not [consume dairy] due to an allergy or just a preference, the best way to get calcium is through calcium-added foods or supplements,“ Fear said. „If you don’t have any fortified sources it is pretty difficult to get enough calcium to maintain optimal bone density.“
Foods that are often fortified with calcium include soy milk, almond milk, tofu, breakfast cereals, and even orange juice. Check the nutrition facts to know for sure if a product’s been fortified.
On a related note: Your body also needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, Apovian said — so make sure you’re getting enough of that nutrient, too.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
Source: Business insider