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Dairy Foods Fact or Myth?

By Carol Witte, RDN, Nutrition Program Director.

Dairy foods are packed with important nutrients you need including calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Three servings of low fat or fat free dairy items are recommended every day to improve bone health, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. For adults over 60, 1200mg of calcium is recommended each day. The meals planned for Meals on Wheels, and our Dining & Activity Centers, provide an average minimum of one third of calcium needs or 400mg a meal. Read ingredient lists and nutrition labels to compare products that you enjoy. Here are some myths and misconceptions regarding dairy foods. Our goal is to empower you with nutrition information to make healthy food and beverage choices.

MYTH:  Many different foods contain calcium so there is no need to drink milk.
FACT:  Many foods do contain some calcium, although the best source is milk and milk products. Each glass or carton of milk provides almost 300mg of calcium. To obtain the same amount of calcium in 1 cup of milk you would need to eat 3½ cups broccoli, 1 cup almonds, 10 cups of spinach or 3 ounces of sardines with bones. The calcium in milk is easily absorbed and used by the body.  Many greens contain oxalates which bind the calcium making it more difficult for the body to use.

MYTH:  Rice or almond milk is a good substitute for cow’s milk.
FACT:  Rice, almond and soy beverage actually come from plants. These drinks are often fortified with key nutrients like calcium, but lack many of the vitamins and minerals found naturally in cow’s milk. Milk also includes vitamin D, vitamin A and potassium and is a high quality source of protein, providing eight grams per cup. Alternate beverages, such as almond, coconut and rice, have only a small amount of protein.

MYTH: All milk contains antibiotics, except organic milk.
FACT:  Milk produced on conventional dairy farms is strictly tested both on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive for antibiotics at any point is disposed of immediately and does not get into the food supply. Sometimes dairy cows require antibiotics to treat an illness. Milk is not used from a treated cow until all antibiotics are cleared from the cow’s system.

MYTH:  People who are sensitive to lactose should avoid all dairy foods.
FACT:  Lactose is the natural sugar in milk. If the body cannot easily break down and digest the sugar in milk to its simpler sugar form,  then individuals may notice symptoms of gas, belly pain and bloating. They now have lactaid milk at the grocery store or individuals can take over-the-counter lactase enzyme tablets with dairy to help digest dairy’s lactose. For those who are lactose intolerant you can also include other dairy products without distress like yogurt with live and active cultures, natural hard cheeses such as cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack and Swiss which contain little or no lactose.

MYTH:  People who are sensitive to lactose are allergic to milk.
FACT:  Lactose intolerance is not the same thing as a cow milk allergy. A cow milk allergy occurs because of a reaction by the body’s immune system to one or more milk proteins (casein or whey). Milk allergies can be life threatening and are usually diagnosed in the first year of life.