Six Common Dairy Myths You Need to Stop Believing

Say cheese in neon lights

Dairy foods provide an extraordinary nutritional punch! They contain over 10 nutrients that are important for our nervous system, muscle function, energy levels and of course, our bone health, not to mention being great for our general health. More specifically, dairy foods are a rich source of vitamins A, B1, B12, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous as well as protein and low GI carbohydrates. Eliminating dairy foods unnecessarily from your diet means you’ll be missing out on more than just calcium.

That’s why it is troubling to note that most of the population does not meet their recommended intake of dairy foods. In fact, the research reveals that one in six Australians are avoiding milk and other dairy foods despite having no medical reason to do so (1). This is a worrying trend because dairy is a core food group.

Further, rates of osteoporosis are incredibly high in the elderly population, which may be contributed to by a lifetime of poor dairy intake. So, the alarming rates of osteoporosis could be slashed if people increased their intake of milk, cheese and yoghurt.

There are a number of myths that abound about dairy products, and these may be causing some people to shun the milky stuff. However, this post will put to bed some of those myths about dairy foods.

Myth 1: I have lactose intolerance so I can’t have dairy

False: Lactose is a carbohydrate that is naturally found in cow’s milk and other types of mammalian milk. People who are lactose intolerant are unable to break lactose down into its single parts (glucose and galactose) because they lack lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose. However, even those with a lactase deficiency are able to tolerate small amounts of lactose without any symptoms. In fact, those with lactose intolerance may even be able to tolerate yoghurt, as the naturally present bacteria may assist with the breakdown of lactose. In addition, cream cheese and cottage cheese contain only a small amount of lactose and seem to be generally well tolerated. Most cheeses, particularly hard varieties also contain negligible amounts of lactose and can therefore be enjoyed by everyone, even those who are lactose intolerant.

A recent innovation has been the commercial production of lactose-free foods, to which the enzyme, lactase has been added. For those who lack this enzyme, the lactase digests the lactose in the food. In fact, lactose-free products still contain exactly the same amount of nutrition as other dairy foods. Pretty nifty, right?

Barista pouring milk into a coffee

Myth 2: Lite milk has added sugar

False: There is a misnomer that ‘lite’ is synonymous with “contains added sugar”. However, in the case of many dairy foods, lite milk, in particular, this is simply not true. The only major difference between full cream and lite milk is the fat content. Nothing has been added to lite milk to compensate for the lower fat content. In fact, the only properties of the milk that are changed is the calcium and fat-soluble vitamin content – calcium is slightly higher in skim milk, while fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A is slightly lower due to the removal of fat. Otherwise, the nutritional profile is near identical.

Further, the evidence is changing about full fat and lite dairy foods. It appears that full cream dairy does not impact either our weight or our cholesterol levels (2). So your decision about which one to choose may simply come down to personal preference. In any case, wear your milk moustache with pride!

Boy Drinking Glass of Milk

Myth 3: Dairy foods will make me fat

False: No one food is fattening, it’s all about the overall quality of someone’s diet. Cheese, milk and yoghurt (both reduced-fat and full-fat varieties) are not linked to weight gain or obesity (2). To achieve a healthy weight, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend people limit junk foods, reduce portion sizes and find ways to be more active in our everyday lives (3).

Moreover, studies show that people who regularly consume healthy dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are better able to maintain their weight, and have a reduced risk of developing heart disease and diabetes (4). The reason may be due to the impressive nutritional profile of dairy food.

So, how can you meet your recommended daily serves of dairy foods without it influencing your weight? That’s easy. Try adding milk to your cereal or porridge and perhaps including a dollop of yoghurt on top too; snack on yoghurt, custard, or cheese and biscuits if you are looking for a between-meal energy boost; add ricotta or feta cheese to salads and pasta dishes, or down a glass of milk after the gym or before bedtime.

Cheese wedge served with bread

Myth 4: Permeate is unhealthy

False: Permeate is the collective term for the lactose, vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in milk. It is simply a result of milk manufacturing. Permeate is often added to milk in the factory to ensure that the protein and fat content of milk remain consistent. That’s because two different cows will produce nutritionally different milk. So next time you pick up a carton of milk you can be guaranteed that it will be nutritionally identical to the same brand of bottled milk that you purchased previously. And permeate is absolutely safe!

Cows in a field

Myth 5: I can easily meet my calcium requirements by eating non-dairy foods

True: While calcium from dairy foods is the most readily absorbed and utilised, there are a number of non-dairy dietary sources of calcium. Think calcium-fortified soy milk, calcium-set tofu, chia seeds, bony fish and green leafy vegetables. Nevertheless, if there’s no medical reason to avoid dairy foods, then eating a combination of both dairy and non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium is the best practice.

Myth 6: Milk is pro-inflammatory

False: In a nutshell, dairy foods do not cause inflammation. In fact, a recent review of the current clinical evidence actually showed that dairy has significant anti-inflammatory properties (5). The only time dairy causes inflammation is when there is an allergy at play.

So, the take-home message is: embrace dairy foods as part of your diet. Your skeleton, muscles and even your waistline will thank you for it!


Supported by Dairy Australia.

You can see some of Joel’s other work with Dairy Australia here

Joel is an experienced health and nutrition writer. If you’d like to engage Joel to review your product or write for your website, publication or newsletter, please get in touch via the contact page.

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  • Annette Richter
    Posted at 11:38h, 08 July Reply

    Great article! There are so many misconceptions out there. It’s really helpful to have such a clear and concise explanation to help navigate all of the information you hear. Thanks.

    • thenutritionguyadmin
      Posted at 11:46h, 16 July Reply

      My pleasure! Glad to hear I was able to clarify some common misconceptions.

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