ARLINGTON, Va. — The misguided, fringe argument that dairy isn’t important to human diets would be laughable if it weren’t dangerous. Is it possible to live without dairy? It’s possible to live without many things – sunlight, for example – but that doesn’t make it healthy, wise or preferable.
While a dairy-free life is possible, it isn’t wise – unless, maybe, you’re severely allergic or perhaps work in sales for a nutritional supplement company. A few facts:
- Scientific studies have linked dairy consumption to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved digestive health and healthy immune systems.
- According to last year’s final scientific advisory report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which sets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, 88 percent of Americans have insufficient dairy in their diets.
- Dairy is especially important to pregnant women as a source of iodine — as well as for infants and toddlers, who beginning at six months can benefit from yogurt and cheese, and at 12 months gain nutrition from dairy milk.
- The Advisory Committee also recommended dairy for consumption within all three healthy eating patterns featured in its report: the Healthy U.S. style eating pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian Style pattern and the Healthy-Mediterranean pattern.
- More on eating patterns. Healthy eating patterns that include dairy foods are linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- And what about dairy’s inclusion in the Healthy Vegetarian pattern? Why is it vegetarian, and not vegan? Because when you get rid of dairy, you need supplements to make up for the lost nutrition. Dairy foods are often recommended as part of plant-based diets because they contain high-quality proteins and under-consumed nutrients like calcium, vitamins D and B12.
- Those aren’t the only under-consumed nutrients milk provides. Others include potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin A.
- In total, dairy packs in 13 essential nutrients. For a reference list, see the infographic below, suitable for printing and framing.
- Dairy isn’t only essential – it’s also affordable. According to recent retail data, a gallon of conventional milk cost 56 percent less than a plant-based beverage, while yogurt was 59 percent less expensive than its imitators – which are nutritionally inferior anyway.
- Speaking of plant-based beverages. Their attempts to trick consumers into believing they’re nutritional equivalents to dairy has tragic consequences, as detailed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, members of whom have observed child malnourishment caused by reliance on plant-based imitators by parents who mistakenly thought, because of a lack of labeling integrity, that they were getting dairy’s unique nutrient package. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also cautions against plant-based substitution, noting that most plant-based beverages lack nutritional equivalence.
- Following on that: Simplistic views of plant- versus animal-sourced foods may have unintended consequences for human health. Removing animal-sourced products from diets would force, much of the world’s population to rely on supplements to make up for nutritional shortfalls.
- And that all leads into a final point: Dairy’s sustainability. By providing nutrition efficiently through environmentally sustainable practices, dairy is a part of the long-term solution to planet health as well as human health. Skeptics can look to, among many other things, the sector’s Net Zero Initiative and its sustainability goals, along with other literature, such as modeling published in the Journal of Dairy Science that assessed the impacts of completely removing dairy cows from the U.S. and removing dairy from all American diets. The results showed a lack of presumed environmental benefits, but a notable threat to human health.
Dairy’s unique nutrient package is hard to replace. It’s one of the most affordable and accessible nutrient sources, including many that are critically needed and under-consumed in human diets. You can live without it – but why on Earth would you want to? Maybe because you’re into supplement pills, or maybe you just like living a less-nutritious lifestyle, or maybe you’re just ill-informed. We can’t help you with the first two, but as always, we’re happy to educate. Stay safe, and stay nourished.
–National Milk Producers Federation