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The Dairy Debate – A Look At Both Sides

September 6th, 2013 | 4 comments


Dairy is one of those topics that seems to to always spark a little controversy in conversation.

  • Is it good?
  • Is it bad?
  • Is it essential for our health?
  • For calcium?

A good chunk of my childhood was spent growing up on a dairy farm in New Zealand, so fair to say, dairy has been a pretty big part of my life!  I have fond child-hood memories of Dad coming home from the milking shed in the mornings with a fresh jug of warm milk, cream included, for our morning porridge.  It was great!!

As a little girl nothing ever concerned me about the process.  The cows were happy & healthy, they grazed on an endless supply of green luscious grass, chewed their ‘cud’, had cute little calves every year, and provided us with this delicious fresh milk.

2012-08-10 12.59.482012-08-10 11.19.49








(these photos are from my last visit to NZ…check out how green the grass is!  Happy cows, happy lamb, happy Ngaire! :))

At University, I was taught that dairy is an essential part of our diet, and provides us with our daily calcium needs, essential amino acids & other important nutrients.  I studied the topic, the research, and never questioned it otherwise.  I mean it’s on the food pyramid so it must be good right??

Here are some good points about dairy:

  • It is considered by many health experts to be a complete, whole, nutritious food
  • Milk is an excellent source of readily absorbable calcium and phosphorous
  • Milk contains moderate amounts of potassium, sodium, magnesium & zinc, B-group vitamins (riboflavin and vitamin B12), as well as the fat soluble vitamins A & D.
  • Good quality yoghurt can provide healthy bacteria essential for gut and immune health (and contains less lactose for those lactose intolerant people!)
  • Grass-fed butter is a rich source of vitamins A, D, K2 and E, which is needed for the development of body and brain.  It also contains iodine – critical for thyroid function, and essential fats (DHA, AA) that we need for healthy skin, intestinal integrity and brain function.

It wasn’t until I had my health scare in 2008, that I started discovering information about how dairy could actually be harmful to my health, and discovered a whole other side to the dairy story.

Here are a few negative points about dairy:

  • May contain synthetic contaminants like antibiotics, growth hormones or pesticides
  • Pasterisation (heat treatment) kills bacteria that may be beneficial and destroys some vitamins, minerals and enzymes
  • Homogenisation may causes the fat cells to rupture, turn rancid & spoil
  • Many people cannot digest the milk sugar lactose, causing bloating and stomach upsets
  • Fat soluble vitamins A & D need fat to be absorbed, so drinking skim-milk reduces the uptake of these vitamins
  • There is a possible link between high levels of retinol (vitamin A) and weak bones
  • High levels of saturated fats
  • Possible increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancer because of the way modern industrial milk production has changed the milks hormone composition

So as you can see, there are plenty of arguments for both pro or anti dairy.  So what are the current recommended guidelines for dairy?  The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest that we consume 3 servings per day of low-fat milk, cheese and/or yoghurt, with all good reason!  Seeing the con’s list on the other hand, may make you start asking some questions…

IBanana_Shake-3 also found this article from Nutrition Australia about the ‘Dairy Food Myths’, debunking all of the ‘dairy-is-bad’ myths.  But if you scroll right to the bottom of the page, you will notice that the article was provided by Dairy Australia.  Hmm….the political agenda surrounding the food pyramid and food recommendations can wait for another post!


The Bottom Line on Dairy:

My view point on dairy, is the same as my viewpoint on most other nutritional topics….you can almost always find evidence to support any claim in nutrition if you look hard enough.

Your are unique, so you HAVE to work out what works best for you. 

If you decided to cut dairy out of your diet, then you need to make sure you are getting enough calcium and fat soluble vitamins & protein from other food sources.

If you decide to keep dairy in your diet, then make sure it is of a high quality, you do not consume too much, and ensure it comes from healthy, well cared for animals.

Yes I consume dairy.  Not a lot, but I wholeheartedly admit that I love cheese, natural yoghurt and will always choose full-cream milk for my coffee (sorry, but skim milk is a sin!).  This is what works for me.  I’ve taken dairy out, and added it back in.  I’ve been anti-dairy, and I’ve been pro-dairy.  There are two sides to the coin and I have examined and experimented personally with both of them.  I encourage you to do the same and find what works best for you, your body, your stage of life and your beliefs.

If you are intrigued about whether or not dairy is good for YOU, then why don’t you join the ‘Spring into Summer Cleanse’ where we will be eliminating dairy for a week!  This will be a great opportunity to experiment in a supportive environment, with plenty of great alternatives 🙂

*In my next blog post I will discuss Calcium, and our bone health, and how we can ensure we are getting enough if we decide to go dairy free!!

I would love to hear from you!  Tell me about your experience with dairy.  Have you ever taken it out of your diet?  Do you think it is a health food?

Love Ngaire x




Colbin A (2009) The Whole Food Guide to Strong Bones

Mann J & Truswell S (2002) Essentials of Human Nutrition, Second Edition



4 people have commented
  1. Marie says:

    Very helpful post, thanks Ngaire! I drank full cream dairy milk on my cereal every morning of my life until becoming a bit more aware of the debate during your Spring Cleanse last year. For the year since then I’ve had way less dairy milk, choosing rice milk instead. I thought it might have reduced my frequent mildly upset tummy episodes, though I never managed to draw a firm conclusion, despite totally excluding dairy for several weeks. I’ve recently gone back to daily doses of dairy milk, because there is a strong record of bad osteoporosis in my family, and I’ve just learned that although rice milk contains a similar RDI of calcium, apparently it’s not as well absorbed as dairy milk calcium (I don’t understand why). Furthermore, I’m pregnant so I need as much calcium as I can get. I’m trying A2 cow’s milk, and I think perhaps it agrees with me better than regular cow’s milk – what’s your opinion on A2 milk? And how to do we ensure our milk is “high quality” as you suggest, and comes from “healthy” cows? Thanks Ngaire for your wisdom and encouragement! xxx

    • ngaire stephenson says:

      Thanks for your feedback Marie!! This post will the first in a little mini-series I plan on doing….the next few posts will address the different types of milk, the milk processing methods and how they effect the quality, where to find good quality milk (and what that means like you mentioned!), as well as Calcium requirements and bone health. Working as a musculoskeletal therapist, bone health is super important for my clients, and I find the link between diet and bone health fascinating. Keep your eyes peeled for more info coming soon ma dear! xxx

  2. Mandy Cameron says:

    Love it Ngaire! It’s one of those topics I think a lot about! The answer is there’s no exact answer…….looking forward to learning more.

    I wonder about giving kids milk. Is it essential or just an option? (i.e. can kids can get all the vitamins/minerals/fats for growth and development just fine without consuming cows milk)

    • ngaire stephenson says:

      For sure Mandy!! It’s all about listening to what YOUR body needs, plus your spiritual beliefs around animals foods, and honouring that. It is about NOT about buying into all the mainstream diet fads and believing that what works for celebrities may not be healthy for you!! Listen to the whispers and intuitive messages your body gives you xxx

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Hi! My name is Ngaire, owner of Whole Lot a Health. I'm a Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, and Clinical Pilates teacher, with a passion to empower woman to living a ripe & fertile life; rich with energy, abundance & opportunity.  Health is wealth!

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