Sustainable healthy diet and yogurt

Dairy foods may help balance good health with the needs of the planet

Dairy foods may help balance good health with the needs of the planet

Many of us are facing tough choices over what we eat in our efforts to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. After all, it’s not easy to cut back on the foods we like most. But now good news comes from an Australian study which suggests that, among the family favourites, dairy foods may play a key role in diets that have a low environmental impact.

In fact, some people eat nutrient-rich dairy foods every day while achieving a diet with low greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).     

Although dietary guidelines point to the nutritional value and health benefits of dairy products, recommendations based on sustainability suggest that we should reduce our consumption of animal-source foods.

So, how much dairy should we be eating? It’s all a matter of getting the balance right, say the authors.

A high-quality diet with low greenhouse gas emissions

Using data from the 2011–2013 Australian Health Survey, this study examined findings from 1,732 adults whose diet was a higher quality (37% higher) and associated with lower GHGE (43% lower) compared with the average Australian adult diet.

On average, this group, called the HQLE subgroup, consumed about 1.5 servings of dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt) and a small quantity of non-dairy alternatives (0.04 serving) daily.

Dairy foods are an important source of nutrients in a low GHGE diet

Within this HQLE group those who consumed the most dairy foods (n=489; average of 3.16 servings daily) were more likely to achieve recommended intakes of protein and a wide range of vitamins and minerals than those with a low-dairy diet. For example, 95% of these high-dairy diets met the recommended intake for protein, 96% for vitamin B12 and 74% for calcium, compared with 72%, 47% and 5%, respectively, of low-dairy HQLE diets (n=603; average of 0.31 serving daily).

Dairy avoiders need to be aware of nutritional risks

The HQLE subgroup contained 90 diets of dairy avoiders. Of these diets, 74% met the recommended intake for protein, 61% for vitamin B12 and only 22% for calcium. People who avoid dairy products for perceived health reasons should be made aware of the nutritional risks and need to take this into account in planning their meals, say the authors.

These results underscore the critical role of dairy foods in achieving adequate nutrient intake within the context of a healthy and lower GHG emission dietary pattern.’ – Ridoutt et al, 2020.

Current Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 2.5 servings of dairy and non-dairy alternatives daily for people aged 19–50-years, and up to 4 servings per day for women aged 70 years and older.

Find out more: read the original article
Ridoutt BG, Baird D, Hendrie GA et al. The role of dairy foods in lower greenhouse gas emission and higher diet quality dietary patterns. Eur J Nutr. 2020 Apr 10. 


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