Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Dairy Diaries

Believe it or not, in the grand scheme of human’s time on earth, dairy products are a fairly recent addition to our diet.  Primal foods such as meat and eggs have been around since man was a “hunter and forager”, where dairy consumption probably dates back only to when humans began agriculture and the domestication of animals.  Think about it … I’d wager the only one that got to drink Woolly Mammoth milk was Woolly Jr.!

Dairy seems like such a simple food group and I’ve always been told drink milk … it’s good for you!  But like so many things about nutrition the thinking changes from decade to decade and sometimes from year to year.  In researching dairy for my Monday night TOPS group I came across a very strong “pro-dairy” movement but also, an equally strong “anti-dairy” argument.  All I can really do is present both sides of the argument and let you decide which makes more sense for you personally.

First, let’s clarify EXACTLY which foods commonly constitute the Dairy Group:
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of the Dairy Group.  Okay, that makes sense.  Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free and low-fat.  Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group.  Foods made from milk that have little or no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter are not.  Guess into which group those fall?
Yup … fats.  Calcium- fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the dairy group.

According to the Food Guide no matter your age or gender you need to consume approximately 3 cups of dairy daily.  But what’s a cup?  Obviously a cup of milk is a cup of milk but be careful … 1/3 cup shredded cheese is the equivalent serving to a cup of milk plus you need to factor in fats and ½ cup of cottage cheese is the equivalent to only ¼ cup of milk.  No wonder trying to stay on a healthy weight loss program is so difficult … it’s enough to make your head spin!  Hopefully the following chart will help.


In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk (soy beverage), 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the Dairy Group.

The charts lists specific amounts that count as 1 cup in the Dairy Group towards your daily recommended intake:

(choose fat-free
or low fat milk)
1 cup milk
1 half pint container milk
½ cup evaporated milk

(choose fat-free
or low-fat yogurt)
1 regular container
(8 fluid ounces)

1 cup yogurt
1 small container
(6 ounces) = ¾ cup

1 snack size container
(4 ounces) = ½ cup
(choose reduced-fat
or low fat cheeses)
1 ½ ounces hard cheese
(cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan)

1/3 cup shredded cheese

2 ounces processed cheese

½ cup ricotta cheese

2 cups cottage cheese
1 slice of hard cheese is equivalent to ½ milk

1 slice processed cheese is equivalent to 1/3 cup milk

½ cup cottage cheese is equivalent to ¼ cup milk
Milk Based Desserts
(choose fat-free
or low fat types)
1 cup pudding made with milk

1 cup frozen yogurt

1 ½ cups ice cream

1 scoop of ice cream is equivalent to 1/3 cup milk
(soy beverage)
1 cup calcium-fortified soymilk

1 half-pint container calcium-fortified soymilk

Of course you can always use the good old visual cues of dice and your hand.

Now that we understand what dairy includes and how much of it to have, the next question would be why include dairy in a healthy weight loss eating plan.

The most obvious reason is calcium, used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass.  Diets that can provide the 3 cups or the equivalent of dairy products per day can improve bone mass.  Yogurt, fluid milk and soy milk provide potassium which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.  These days most dairy products are fortified with vitamin D which functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous, again helping in the maintenance of bones and bone mass.

Seems like nothing but positives if you choose the low-fat or fat-free versions, but how can you be sure you are making the right choice – dairy wise?

·        Include milk or calcium-fortified soymilk as a beverage at meals
·        If you usually drink whole milk, switch gradually to fat-free milk
·        If you drink cappuccinos or lattes – ask for them with fat-free (skim milk) – it makes a better froth too!
·        Add fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereals
·        Use fat-free or low-fat milk when making condensed cream soups
·        Have fat-free or low-fat yogurt as a snack
·        Make a dip for fruits or vegetables from yogurt
·        Make fruit-yogurt smoothies in your blender for a treat
·        Top cut-up with flavored yogurt for a quick dessert
·        Top a baked potato with fat-free or low fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream

Of course there are those people who cannot consume dairy products because of lactose intolerance.  Personally, I cannot drink milk.  It seems to be one food that really aggravates my hiatus hernia.  So we should look at some choices for those who choose to not or cannot consume milk products.

·        If you avoid milk because of lactose intolerance, the most reliable way to get the health benefits of dairy products is to choose lactose-free alternatives, such as cheese, yogurt, lactose free milk, or calcium fortified soymilk or to take the enzyme lactase before consuming milk.
·        Calcium fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk are all good alternatives.
·        Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt), some other beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip beans, kale, bok choy) can all provide calcium that the body can easily absorb.

The whole point of this blog is discussing healthy ways to lose some weight, so can dairy products really assist in weight loss?  Okay, you need to bear with me a little bit here because, unless you are in the medical profession, this part is going to make your eyes cross.  Quoting directly from Dr. Briffa at “dairy products do induce insulin secretion, which could cause fat deposition.  But their protein content will also induce the secretion of the hormone glucagons.  One of glucagon’s main effects is to stimulate the conversion of triglyceride (the form in which fat is stored in the fat cells) into its constituent molecule, thereby facilitating lipolysis (fat breakdown).  Also, unlike insulin, glucagons do not stimulate the uptake of sugar into the body’s cells.  This helps restrict the amount of glucose available for the production of glycerol, which in required for the making of triglyceride, and the “fixing” of fat cells.  The long and short of it – consumption of the calcium found in dairy products has been shown to paradoxically lower calcium levels within fat cells and this helps to increase “lyposis” (fat breakdown).  Again from Dr. Briffa, “there is considerable evidence linking higher intakes of calcium and dairy products with reduced body fatness.  It has been suggested that not just calcium, but other chemical constituents in dairy products somehow assist fat loss.  There is evidence that supplementing the diet with dairy products can enhance fat loss, including abdominal fat.

Dr. Briffa sites an interesting study done with three groups of overweight and obese women, each on a controlled food intake and engaged in regular aerobic and/or resistance exercises.  I won’t go into detail here (if you’re interested it is available on his website), but the authors of the study made the following conclusion:
“…diet and exercise induced weight loss with higher protein and increased dairy product intakes promotes more favorable body composition changes in women characterized by greater total and visceral fat loss and lean body mass gain.”

So wrapping up the pros for consuming dairy products when on a weight loss journey here are some quotes from (what I consider to be) reputable sources, and then we’ll move on to the nay-sayers.

“Milk is chock full of important vitamins and nutrients.  It’s rich in vitamin D, protein for satiety, and is on-stop-shopping for nine different nutrients, which can fill in gaps that may be created when cutting back on calories.”

“It may mean that dairy helps in weight loss or it may be that what is not being eaten helps with weight loss.  For instance, more dairy intake may mean less soda intake.”

“Dairy is not a miracle weight loss aid, but it can be a very nutritious choice that provides valuable nutrients at a low cost in calories or unwelcome nutrients such as added sugar, sodium, and harmful fats.”

“Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because our bodies make it when exposed to sunlight.  Recent studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to a host of medical problems, including heart disease and certain cancers.  Low vitamin D is associated with weight gain, and raising vitamin D is looking more and more like it is able to help with weight loss.”

“The link between dairy products and weight loss has been controversial.  Some studies have found a higher dairy intake is related to a lower body weight but others have not.  But well controlled weight loss trials have demonstrated that consuming more dairy results in better weight loss, reduced body fat and smaller waist sizes.”

“Studies have found that dairy calcium promotes more potent weight loss effects than calcium supplements.  It’s thought that milk proteins can inhibit enzymes involved in fat storage.  Beyond calcium, blood levels of vitamin D also predicted weight loss success.  Vitamin D levels were higher – on average – among those who lost more weight.  Vitamin D increases calcium absorption from food into the bloodstream.  Higher vitamin concentrations may also enhance the breakdowns of fat.”

“The protein composition unique to milk products could help reduce hunger when calories are restricted.  And not being too hungry makes eating less easier.”

“According to more than 30 scientific research studies, a diet rich in calcium or in milk products could make it easier to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight.  In fact, it appears that calcium could make the body use fat as an energy source more efficiently and reduce fat storage in cells.  The weight loss could be even more effective in people who generally have a low milk products intake.”

It’s starting to get a little redundant, but I did want to make the point that milk products are not only good for you overall, but seem to definitely play a vital role as far as weight loss and weight management.

But … I did promise a little time to the nay-sayers on the dairy issue.

Dairy nay-sayers state “Dairy is nature’s perfect food – but only if you are a calf.”  From come six reasons you should avoid dairy at all costs:

·        The USDA’s food pyramid recommends drinking 3 glasses of milk a day.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, it’s not a recommendation that is based on science.  Some of the “experts” who helped create the pyramid actually work for the dairy industry, which makes the USDA’s recommendation reflect industry interests, not science or our best interests.
·        Milk does not reduce fractures.  Contrary to popular belief, eating dairy products has never been shown to reduce fractures.  In fact, according to the Nurse’s Health study dairy may increase risk of fractures by 50 percent.
·        Less dairy, better bones.  Countries with lowest rates of dairy and calcium consumption also have the lowest rate of osteoporosis.
·        Calcium isn’t as bone-protective as we thought.
·        Calcium may raise cancer risk.  (This has recently been refuted in more current studies)
·        Not everyone can stomach dairy.

Dr. Hyman goes on to say, “From an evolutionary point of view, milk is a strange food for humans.  Until 10,000 years ago we didn’t domesticate animals and weren’t able to drink milk.  Our bodies were just not made to digest milk on a regular basis.”

I could personally argue against many of Dr. Hyman’s points but I will let you make up your own mind.  By the way … Dr. Hyman also welcomes responses to his viewpoint on his website.

So, if you are still on the pro-dairy side, here are a few light, low-cal recipes to help you consume dairy in a healthy and hopefully delicious way.

Light Cheese Sauce (from
(47 calories per serving plus the added benefit of helping get some of those veggies consumed)
4 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 cup 1 % milk, divided
½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Whisk flour with 2 tablespoons milk in a small bowl.  Heat the remaining milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming.  Add the flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce bubbles and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat, stir in Cheddar, dry mustard, paprika, cayenne (if using) and salt.

All snack recipes below from

Mini Cheese Plate
(64 calories)

2 Rosemary Crispbread Crackers
½ ounce Gouda cheese
5 Red Grapes

Parmesan Popcorn
(56 calories)

1 cup air popped popcorn
Tossed with ¼ teaspoon garlic powder and
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Brie and Roasted Pepper Toast
(64 calories)

½ ounce Brie Cheese melted on thin baguette slice
Topped with 1 small
Strip roasted red pepper.

Olive Tomato Skewer
(65 calories)

1-inch Swiss cheese cube
Skewered with 1 Mediterranean style olive and
1 baby spinach leaf

2 Figgie Blue Bites
(74 calories)

For each bite:
1 teaspoon blue cheese on
(fresh) fig half,
Drizzled with ¼ teaspoon honey

Creamy Tomato Rice Soup 
(from ~ 201 calories, 10 g of protein, 5 g of fat, RDA - 22% calcium, 34% Vitamin C, 32% Vitamin D, 25% Magnesium)

1 Tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped onion
1 ½ teaspoon dried basil, oregano or Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can (796 ml) diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cooked brown rice or mixed grains
½ teaspoon granulated sugar (optional)
Chopped fresh chives

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add garlic, onion, basil, and ¼ teaspoon each, salt and pepper; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until tender.  Add tomatoes and broth; cover and bring to boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and boil gently, covered, for 10 minutes or until tomatoes are very soft.  Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender in pot or transferring soup in batches to an upright blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Return to pot.  Whisk flour into milk; gradually pour into pot while whisking constantly.  Stir in rice; cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened and steaming.  Season to taste with sugar (if desired), pepper and up to ¼ teaspoon salt.

Ladle soup into warm bowls and sprinkle with chives, if desired.

So, enjoy your dairy, or not - depending on your personal point of view but do so within healthy limits.  Use your guides!

I had a few computer issues this week so I am posting this a little later than usual, but here's this weeks weigh-in stats.

I was down one pound at Monday's weigh-in.  Although I swore not to say the dreaded words "just one pound?" I did mutter them under my breath.  I was a little disappointed in the scale to say the least because I logged 20 km on my treadmill this week.  That gives me a total of 37.5 km on my virtual trip and means I am finally out of my immediate neighbourhood and on my way towards London, Ontario.

Maybe the scale will catch up next week?

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