We could be facing a ticking time bomb of health problems because we’re consuming less milk and dairy food than we did in the past. Coupled with our longer life expectancy, this could lead to an explosion in the rates of long-term diseases such as osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, warn the authors of this UK review.
Our diet is crucial for reducing our risk of chronic diseases, and what we eat when we’re young can determine our health when we’re older, say the authors. So the sooner we act, the better – and the greater our chances of enjoying a healthy and active old age.
And the good news is, we’re never too old to enjoy the benefits of switching to a healthy diet, say the authors.
Their warning comes amid growing concern over low calcium intakes, particularly among teenage girls, reflecting a drop in the amount of milk they drink.
A fall in iron levels is also an emerging issue among young and premenopausal women, following a decline in the amount of red meat in people’s diets, say the authors. They reviewed the role of milk and dairy foods and of red and processed meat in the development or prevention of chronic diseases.
Teenagers need dairy products to protect their bones when older
Many of us can now expect to live well into our 80s so it’s important to eat wisely throughout life. Our diet needs to include health-promoting foods from the start, such as milk and dairy foods which provide important nutrients that can help set us up for a healthy life. They’re a rich source of calcium and magnesium – essential for building robust bones.
Reduced bone growth during adolescence raises the risk of breaking bones in later life, particularly in post-menopausal women. Yet many teenage girls and young women aren’t taking in enough calcium, magnesium and other minerals (e.g. iodine) – apparently because they’re not drinking enough milk.
‘Almost 20% of UK females aged 11 to 18 years have calcium intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (450 mg/day), and this is linked to a marked reduction in milk consumption after the age of about 10 years.’ – Givens et al, 2018.
But the benefits to bones of consuming dairy products are not restricted to childhood and adolescence, say the authors. Consumption of milk and dairy foods, including yogurt, has been shown to increase bone mineral density in older adults taking a vitamin D supplement, even over relatively short periods.
Milk and dairy foods improve health in adults
Although some dairy foods can be high in saturated fat, consuming a lot of milk and cheese has not been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and may even reduce the risk of stroke, say the authors. Consuming fermented dairy products, particularly yogurt, has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
Various micronutrients in milk and dairy products have been shown to have blood pressure-lowering effects which may help protect against heart disease and stroke.
‘Milk/dairy foods provide important nutrients that are of benefit to most people throughout life.’ – Givens et al, 2018.
Red/processed meat and health
The authors also reviewed the pros and cons of consuming red and processed meat – its nutritional value and link with colorectal cancer. Check out the original article to find out more.
Balancing health and environmental impact
Animal farming particularly for red meat has a detrimental effect on the environment because it is associated with high greenhouse gas emissions. But in our efforts to protect the planet it is important to balance any reductions in these practices with the health benefits of eating these foods, say the authors.