Our Complicated Relationship With Dairy, Explained

There have been some pretty convincing arguments from both sides of the infamous dairy debate. If you really want to get to the bottom of that “is dairy good or bad for you?” question, here are some important facts that you should know.

May 9, 2019

What’s the Deal with Dairy?

We’ve all heard it at some point in our lives: drinking milk everyday is a must for growing. Not only were milk and other dairy products heralded as essential to our bodies, but they were things that we also generally associate with enjoyment. How great is a tall, cold glass of chocolate milk on a warm day, or that long cheese pull when you grab your first slice of a fresh pizza?

These days however, it looks like perceptions of dairy have been shifting, with scientific and personal reasons. Plus, diets like paleo and veganism that swear off dairy have further contested the idea that we need it to stay healthy. With these two forces at either end, it’s no wonder why dairy has become such a hot topic. Whether you’re devoted to dairy, or devoutly decrying its role in our diets, here are some pros and cons of dairy consumption that might help you debunk some myths.

Here’s Why Dairy Could Be Good For You...

The most common take-away from that old glass-of-milk adage is: “it’s good for your bones!”, as many parents may exclaim. There are many studies that have found dairy products as a good source of calcium, essential to not only maintaining and strengthening our bones but also for our blood and muscles. It is also packed with tons of other important nutrients and fatty acids that aid in keeping our bodies healthy.

One of the most important nutrients that many fans of dairy cite is protein. Dairy products are both rich in whey and casein protein, both of which play pretty important roles in building and maintaining muscle. Whey protein (the most common one that you can find in both your milk and shakes) is the fast-digesting version that is great to have after a gruelling workout for a dose of much-needed muscle-building macronutrients. Casein is more often found in foods (like greek yogurt) and is slow-digesting, meaning that having it before bed can ensure that your body continually has protein throughout the night.

...and Here’s Why it Might Not Be So Good

As mentioned before, there are a host of reasons why people don’t consume dairy. Many vegans take issue with the production process and its impacts on the environment, while members of the paleo camp swear off it due to the fact that humans consuming dairy does not follow the paleolithic practices by which earlier humans ate. And of course, one of the biggest anti-dairy arguments that also ties both these diets together: “aren’t most of us lactose intolerant, anyway?” You definitely know a handful of people (perhaps even including yourself) who are part of a staggeringly large percentage of the world’s population that cannot break down lactose, the main carbohydrate found in dairy products.

Given that many of us in the world cannot consume dairy without some pretty severe side effects, it should also be noted that many people also turn to non-dairy options to get the nutrients they need. For example, vegan protein powders are on the rise, both because they provide a plant-based alternative for protein and they can also be consumed by people who experience bloating or other discomfort due to dairy.

Many foods have seen their rise and fall in the public eye, from fats to superfoods, and it looks like it’s dairy’s turn on the chopping block. While dairy is certainly an excellent source for many nutrients, it isn’t the only way to get them in. Dairy definitely can have a role in your diet if it suits your preferences, so long as it is part of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

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