Dairy or non-dairy products: which is right for you?

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Growing up, we all heard that dairy products were an essential part of a healthy diet. Milk, in particular, was once revered as a reservoir of calcium, vitamin D, and protein.



Today, however, the picture is very different (sorry, I couldn’t resist). As more consumers are ditching dairy products for various health and environmental reasons, alternative milks have become the new cash cow (I’m quitting now, I promise).




But if the conflicting research on dairy products and the overwhelming number of dairy and non-dairy products stored in the aisles of grocery stores puzzles you. Do not worry ! Here’s how you can choose what’s best for you, according to nutrition experts:

First, let’s weigh the pros and cons

Dairy: Due to their nutritional profile, dairy products can play a key role in improving bone health, Cognitive function and muscle growth as well as facilitate weight loss.




Cow’s milk, in particular, is a great source of protein, says Vandana sheth, dietitian nutritionist based in Los Angeles


and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It also provides a good blend of other essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12 and is fortified with vitamin D,” adds the dietician.




In addition, according to a recent study Posted in The Lancet, people who consume at least two servings of milk, yogurt or cheese each day as part of their daily diet appear to have a significantly lower risk of heart disease and stroke than people who do not eat dairy products.




On the other hand, high consumption of whole dairy products has been linked to inflammation. In some cases, the whey protein and casein found in milk can trigger or worsen skin conditions like acne and rosacea.

Non-dairy: For those who choose not or cannot consume dairy products, alternative milks and other dairy-free alternatives may be a good option.

“The closest dairy alternative to cow’s milk in terms of nutritional profile is soy milk,” says Sheth. Almond milk is another dairy-free favorite. It’s packed with key nutrients like vitamin E, omega-6 fatty acids, iron, calcium, selenium, potassium, and zinc. Plus, it doesn’t contain any saturated fat.

If you are allergic to dairy products, tree nuts, and soy, pea milk can be a great substitute for dairy milk. One cup of pea milk contains 10 grams of protein, which is more than cow’s milk and soy milk. Oat milk is another nutrient-dense option. It’s packed with fiber, protein, and gut-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

In contrast, alternative milks are not suitable for infants, Sheth points out. Plus, if you don’t plan your non-dairy diet carefully, you could be missing out on essential nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and protein. It’s also important to note that overeating non-dairy foods can be just as harmful as gorging on regular dairy products. For example, high consumption of almond milk can cause gastrointestinal inflammation. Likewise, coconut milk should also be consumed in limited amounts as it contains high levels of saturated fat.

So how do you choose what is right for you?

  • Listen to your body: The main consideration is how you feel and perform physically, says Cynthia sass, New York-based performance nutritionist and sports nutrition specialist. Pay attention to your body’s signals whether or not you eat dairy products. If dairy products make you feel bloated or cause headaches, fatigue, or skin problems, you should stop immediately. But if you don’t have any health issues and love to eat dairy products, there’s no need to change anything. The second crucial thing to remember is to practice moderation. Whether dairy or non-dairy, eat in moderate amounts.
  • Read the ingredient list and nutrition label: Just because a food is dairy-free doesn’t mean it’s healthier. “Make sure the dairy-free foods you eat are fortified with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12,” says Sheth. Additionally, avoid milks, yogurts, and cheeses that contain a range of unfamiliar additives. Ingredients like guar gum and tapioca starch are often added to plant-based milks to make them creamy like regular milk. “These thickening agents are generally recognized as safe, but other thickeners like carrageenan may be linked to inflammation,” says Sass. “This is why I do not recommend vegetable milks based on carrageenan, vegetable oils, gums, etc.”, she adds.
  • For infants and toddlers: “Until the age of two, the only milk drink suitable for ideal growth and development in children is cow’s milk (whole) or infant / toddler formula,” explains Sheth. “If your child is sensitive or allergic to cow’s milk, there are specialized hypoallergenic formulas that can be considered,” adds the dietician. Sheth also recommends seeing a dietitian to discuss your child’s unique situation and get advice on how to proceed. “If you want to feed your child over two years old plant-based milk, I would suggest soy milk because it provides seven to eight grams of protein per cup,” she says.
  • Raw milk vs pasteurized milk: Don’t fall for the raw milk craze. It is by no means more nutritious than pasteurized milk, Sheth points out. Additionally, bacteria like E.Coli and Salmonella found in unpasteurized milk can make you vulnerable to a host of foodborne illnesses.
  • Regular milk vs organic milk: Organic milk refers to milk obtained from sustainably raised cattle. Organic milk is said to be free from antibiotics, synthetic hormones and pesticide residues. However, despite the difference in husbandry methods, “conventional milk and organic milk have the same nutritional profile and are safe for consumption,” says Sheth.

And if you’ve decided to cut dairy products completely, here are some nutritionist-approved tips to keep in mind:

  • Start small. It’s best to start with small changes in your diet rather than completely eliminating dairy products on day one. Start with small exchanges. For example, swap regular milk for pea protein milk, soy milk, or almond milk. Replace Greek yogurt with dairy-free soy, cashew, or almond-based yogurts, suggests Sheth. Use avocado instead of grated cheese in taco bowls, tahini instead of sour cream in sauces, and mashed white beans seasoned with garlic and herbs in place of ricotta in your recipes. favorites, Sass recommends.
  • Fill up on non-dairy protein sources. Protein is the building block of everything in our body, from skin and organs to muscles and bones. To avoid protein deficiency after stopping dairy products, increase your intake of foods like quinoa, Brussels sprouts, tofu, chickpeas, asparagus, black beans, eggs, fish, and meat. skinny.
  • Make up for the lack of calcium. Lack of calcium in your daily diet can weaken and make your bones porous, putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Include more calcium-rich foods in your meals, like cooked collard greens, white beans, black-eyed peas, chia seeds, sesame seeds, and seaweed, suggests Sass. Broccoli, kale, and mustard greens are also great non-dairy sources of calcium, explains Sheth.
  • Don’t skimp on vitamin D. Portobello mushrooms, especially those exposed to UV light, are a great source of vitamin D, says Sass. In addition, animal foods like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines and whole pasture-raised eggs also contain high amounts of vitamin D, the nutrition coach explains.

Plus, consult with a registered dietitian who can help you identify your exact nutritional needs and tailor recommendations based on your dietary preferences, budget, and more, suggests Sheth.

To find a dietitian in your area, visit mangerright.org and click on the “find a dietitian” tab.

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