Dairy consumption and health: facts and beliefs

Milk and dairy products are naturally sources of a wide range of essential nutrients and make a significant contribution to nutrient intake and diet quality. Despite the established benefits for bone health, some people avoid dairy products due to beliefs that they may be detrimental to health; the most frequently reported concerns are related to weight management, digestion and cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, meta-analyses of observational studies support the positive role of dairy for weight control, particularly during energy restriction as confirmed by randomised controlled trials showing that dairy helps to reduce fat mass while preserving lean body mass. Consumption of dairy products has been associated with decreased prevalence of metabolic related disorders such as type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

In some people, milk ingestion may cause nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms due to a relative deficiency of the enzyme lactase causing undigested lactose fermentation in the colon. In fact the degree of lactose intolerance varies, and the available evidence suggests that lactose intolerant can ingest at least 12 grams of lactose (ie 250 mL of milk) when administered in a single dose with no or minor symptoms. Yogurts containing pre-digested lactose and hard cheese which don’t contain lactose are easily digestible and well tolerated.

The abundant scientific data concerning diet and cancer has been collated and interpreted by the World Cancer Research Fund, the world’s largest and most authoritative source of scientific research in that field. In their recent updates, the WCRF experts concluded that the evidence for any link between milk/dairy products and breast, ovarian or prostate cancer was limited whereas milk consumption probably decreases the risk of cancer of the colon and rectum.

Overall, the intake of dairy products at the dose of 3 servings per day as part of a balanced diet is safe, practical and affordable.

Professor René Rizzoli
On behalf of the ESCEO Scientific Advisory Board