Milk and Dairy Foods

November 12, 2012

Milk and Dairy Foods

Dairy produce has always been thought of as healthy and then after extensive research it was found that there was too much fat for a healthy adult diet. But other aspects of dairy food really are excellent providers of what our bodies need to grow and stay healthy. Milk products are great sources of calcium and protein. We need calcium to help our bones and teeth grow strong and because it comes from dairy produce our bodies can absorb it very easily. Protein ensures that our bodies work well and our body repair mechanisms fully function. So now the dairy producers have developed a multitude of low fat, half fat and fat free versions of our favourite dairy foods. Because of the availability of these healthier options it is easy to replace the full fat product for a similar low fat one. Whether it’s full milk to semi skimmed, full fat yoghurt for the low fat variety or just choosing half fat cheese then it’s available.

For younger children milk is an exceptionally good source of nourishment, it has protein, calcium, vitamins A and D and it has fat which provides calories. But because younger children need more calories to ensure good development, milk is good for them. However, as the children get older and into adulthood the whole milk should be replaced by lower fat options. The fat in milk is saturated fat which can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and strokes because it increases the cholesterol in the blood.

The labels on most types of food can give you all the information you need to make informed choices. Dairy foods can be compared in this way also, to ensure that you choose the lower fat, lower salt and no sugar product.


If you are an adul

t eating a normal diet then there is no reason for you to drink full fat milk. Always take the lowest fat milk that you enjoy. There are lots of types on sale nowadays right down to 0% fat, but with all the calcium and other nutrients present in whole milk.

Goat’s and sheep’s milk

When we talk of milk most of us only think of cows’ milk but goats and sheep milk can also be drank and made into foodstuffs like cheese and butter. These milks are similar to cows’ milk when considering nutritional values and for that reason should not be given to children under one year old. Children under one year require much higher amounts of nutrients than this milk can provide.

Cheese and other dairy foods

Most cheeses fall into the high fat food group. Foods that contain more than 20g of fat per 100g (that means that the food is above 20% fat) is classed as high in fat, or just high fat. The bad news for cheese lovers is that most common cheeses range between 20g and 40g. These cheeses include cheddar, double Gloucester, stilton, brie and Lancashire. To add to the negative aspects most cheeses are high in salt too, which can lead to high blood pressure.

The good news is that there are many lower fat options available. A general figure for lower fat would be between 10g and 16g of fat per 100g. That’s 10% to 16%, a good saving but how about low fat cottage cheese, that’s only about 3% fat. Shop around and find the lowest fat options. And if you can find strong tasting cheese then all the better because you will use less of it to get the same taste.

Always use a low fat spread rather than butter, there are lots of choices. Some can even help to lower cholesterol. If you really are a butter lover then spread it very lightly. Cream, although very high in fat is easily substituted. Plain yoghurt and fromage frais have long been advocated as great replacements by all of the television chefs and the like. The low fat versions have all the protein, calcium and other vitamins and minerals as the full-fat products, they just have less fat.

Pregnancy and dairy Produce

When a woman becomes pregnant then dairy foods can present challenges. First of all milk is good for your unborn baby’s bones. The calcium present in the milk ensures that the development of bones progresses satisfactorily. However unpasteurised milk, whether cows’, goats’ or sheep’s milk and any cheeses made from the milk should not be taken as it has a higher risk of having harmful bacteria present. Pasteurisation removes this risk. As most shops only sell pasteurised milk this shouldn’t be a problem but if in doubt then boil the milk first.

Be careful when eating cheese. Some cheeses are dangerous because of the amount of bacteria present in them. Soft blue cheeses, brie and camembert, in fact any cheese with a rind is best avoided. The reason for this lies in the manufacturing process used to make the cheese. It depends on bacteria to keep the process going. Unfortunately this is the same bacteria which can cause stillbirth, miscarriage or produce a very sick baby. The bacteria are called listeria and they rarely pose a risk to healthy people eating the cheese.

Good cheeses to eat are cottage cheese, processed cheese or any hard cheese, such as red Leicester or cheddar.

Babies and children

Other than the first six months or so, when your baby is only breastfed, milk and milk products should be considered essential to your child’s wellbeing and development. Before baby is one year old, breast milk or formula milk must be given regularly to ensure a high enough level of calories is given to the infant. This can be added to with milk custards and puddings made from whole milk though.

Milk being such an excellent supplier of protein, calcium and other vitamins and nutrients makes it a perfect food for the younger child. Children need calcium to help bones and teeth grow strong and healthy. A half a pint of whole milk supplies a child aged from one year to three years with all the calcium they need. That’s 350mg per day.

Children under one year old should only be given breast or formula milk which can be topped up with dishes made from fresh full fat milk. No other milk product such as dried milk, evaporated milk or condensed milk should be given. All young children under two years should only drink full-fat milk, this ensures that they get the calories and essential vitamins they need. Lower fat milks may not have enough calories to ensure the body’s healthy growth.

From age two until five years children can drink semi-skimmed milk regularly, but they must also be eating a varied and balanced diet and developing normally. Because skimmed milk and 1% fat milk do not contain enough vitamin A or calories they should not be considered suitable for children under five years old as their main drink.


Pasteurisation has long been standard in the UK. It is actually quite difficult to find any dairy produce that has not been pasteurised. Pasteurisation is the name given to a very simple process of heating the milk which leads to the destruction of all pathogenic, that is harmful to health bacteria. To do this milk must be either heated to 72°C for 15 seconds or 63°C for 30 minutes. Pasteurisation ensures that food poisoning cannot be caused by milk.

Any raw milk, the name given for unpasteurised milk, must carry a warning stating that it is unpasteurised and harmful bacteria may be present. Pregnant women, the aged and very young children should avoid this milk and any food products, such as cheese, made from it.

Pasteurisation also has another benefit, it increases the shelf life of milk. Raw milk can turn in one or two days whereas with normal pasteurised milk there is no reason for it not to last for over a week if refrigerated. Ultra heated milk (UHT) will stay fresh for months.

Intolerance to Milk

Even though milk is a very good food for children there are some people who can get health problems by drinking milk. There are three major issues; lactose intolerance, milk allergy and cow’s milk protein intolerance, also known as milk intolerance. With lactose intolerance the natural sugar within milk, called lactose, cannot be digested successfully leaving the person with a feeling of bloatedness and diarrhoea. This is normally mild.

Milk allergy can cause many symptoms in different people from vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea and sometimes difficulty in breathing. Normally all symptoms are mild but severe symptoms can occur. If anaphylaxis (breathing problems, swollen mouth and throat, and collapse) then it can be life threatening. Phone for an ambulance at once stating that it is an emergency.

Cow’s milk protein intolerance can affect adults and children but is more common in infants. On the first occasion the children drink cow’s milk they may get any or all of the following symptoms; eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. The good news is that most children grow out of cow’s milk protein intolerance grow out of it by the time they go to school. It is rare but some cases do continue to adulthood.

If you think your baby has a problem taking milk then go and talk to your GP or other health professional. Because milk and dairy foods are such good sources nutrients, vitamins, calcium and calories you should not stop your child from having them without first speaking to your GP or health professional.

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