There is much debate as to the potential benefits, harms and recommended quantities of animal-based products to consume, and where they should come from. Included in this arena are land-based meat and dairy products, as well as seafood. These debates cross into many complex themes, including diabetes prevention and management, and environmental and socioeconomic sustainability.
There are also a wide range of different dairy products available with numerous techniques of processing, fermenting, aging, pasteurizing and fortifying, some more “natural” than others. A large contingent of the world population is also lactose intolerant to some degree, meaning they cannot properly digest many dairy products.
As one general but incomplete recommendation, it’s best to consume unsweetened dairy without artificial flavorings or other synthetic additives. Beyond that, unprocessed dairy, such as whole milk, has the highest level of potentially healthy macronutrients like protein and micronutrients like vitamin D and Calcium, compared to processed dairy like skim milk, though it does also contains saturated fat. Yogurt, which is also a fermented food, is believed to aid in maintaining gut health thanks to probiotic properties.
Due to the saturated fat contained in most dairy products, including most milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, butter and custard, it is recommended to consume dairy in moderation since heavy consumption of saturated fat can lead to increased LDL cholesterol and other possible complications. Picking dairy simply because it is low-fat or non-fat is also not recommended, as it often lacks many essential nutrients that may make dairy consumption beneficial in the first place, and is frequently heavily processed. In fact, it is the whole food, “full-fat” dairy that is gaining the most attention recently for its potential in limiting type 2 diabetes risk, but these conclusions remain controversial.
Dairy products also have a strong cultural element. From the incredible range of diverse flavors and textures of cheeses, and their often remarkable ability to pair with wine, to the pastoral image of fresh milk from a country farm, and a remarkable range of curds and yogurts made from different animals around the world, dairy has importance beyond helping to strengthen bones and provide calories.
Dairy cows, as with cows raised for their meat, have substantial impacts on the environment as well. They release a strong greenhouse gas called methane into the air through their flatulence and excrement. In addition cows require copious amounts of water, and are a major reason for the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and other forest ecosystems. Factory-farmed cattle are also responsible for major chemical pollution, the unsustainable planting of vast monocultures of corn and soy to feed them, and are the origin of many antibiotic resistant “superbugs.”
The high demand for cows, and all products derived from them (beef, dairy, leather, etc…) is a complex topic that will continue to be of increasing importance as our planet faces major changes and limited resources.
We at DDF aim to provide objective and research-based content that gives people the knowledge and power to make conscious and informed decisions in regards to their health, the health of their loved ones, the health of the planet, and the overall well-being of cultures and ecosystems around the globe.
Resources and Further Reading
Two sources out of Harvard that explain why dairy is best to consume in moderation:
The T. Colin Campbell Center For Nutritional Studies suggests that a dairy-free diet is best for overall health and for preventing and managing diabetes:
ADA(American Diabetes Association) seems to be mostly in favor of dairy consumption for diabetics, including processed low-fat varieties:
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