Dairy debate

Should we be drinking milk? Arguments for and against dairy

It was once seen as an integral part of a healthy diet. White-moustached grinning children on billboards, the ultimate accompaniment to your lunchtime sandwich or a hot curry, and essential to a brew of tea. Nowadays, falling popularity means milk is even cheaper than water, putting huge pressure on the UK dairy industry. A look at the pros and cons…

CONSUMPTION of dairy in the UK has dropped by 30% over the last 20 years, with soy, rice and nut milks enjoying a surge in popularity. Food scientists are constantly finding new ways to develop vegan alternatives to milk, butter and cheese, using everything from cashew nuts and agar to genetically modified yeast to replicate the flavour and texture. So when did good ol’ fashioned cows’ milk start getting such a bad rep?

Perhaps the backlash against milk started with the the low-fat movement in the 1970s. Suddenly fat was the enemy, and anyone who’s anyone knows that dairy contains fat. Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk, as well as 0% fat yoghurts and ultra-lite cheeses, flooded the market, and suddenly women would baulk at a friend if she was brazen enough to take a drop of full-fat in her coffee.

Then came the age of intolerance. More people started to seek alternatives to milk as they struggled with dairy intolerance, citing digestive issues, lethargy and skin conditions. Those who cut out dairy often say that problems like acne, bloating or even catarrh disappear within weeks.

“I used to get bloating and stomach cramps after having dairy,” said food blogger Ariana Gernet. “It improved when I cut it out – my skin got much better too.” Marketing executive Samantha Joy agrees: “I swapped cow’s milk for almond milk – my IBS is completely manageable now.”

Wave of alternatives

With the backlash against dairy, so too came a wave of innovations in the effort to find a palatable alternative to milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt. Whereas in the past dairy-free milk was gloopy and cheese nothing but an anaemic paste, there is an increasing number of very palatable alternatives on shelves.

In California, a group of ‘biohackers’ have even found a way to make, as they call it, Real Vegan Cheese. They use bakers yeast with water and vegan oil to faithfully mimic the cheese making process and make a credible alternative that, they say, is a far more sustainable food source.

Nutritionist Bethany Eaton spotted the gap in the market while seeking dairy-free alternatives, and founded the CO YO range of coconut yoghurts and ice cream. It quickly became a cult product, and now even has a partnership with Pret a Manger.

“I think people are becoming more aware of their health and how eating dairy can cause issues with skin, digestive problems,” says Eaton. “They are looking for alternatives that taste good and are actually a good alternative to eating dairy. Some people that eat CO YO don’t have to avoid dairy but once they try it they say they would never go back to dairy yoghurt.”

It is thought that one in five people have some kind of dairy intolerance, although only 5% have a lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is caused when people don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase needed to break to down the lactose, or sugar, in milk so that it can be more easily absorbed. The lactose stays in the digestive system where it ferments with the bacteria, producing gases and leading to flatulence, bloating, cramps and even diarrhoea.

A study commissioned by the a2 Milk Company showed that, while 10 million people have cut dairy out of their diets, 53% of them relied on self-diagnosis, and assumed their discomfort was being caused by lactose intolerance.

Something other than lactose intolerance

However, it is thought that a larger proportion of people have an inability to digest casein, a protein found in dairy. The casein in cow’s milk is divided into two types – A1 and A2. Interestingly, only cows milk in the western world contains A1, due to an evolution of the protein over the years as cows were bred to be larger and produce greater quantities of milk.

All other milk, including human, goats and sheeps milk, contains A2 casein, which is easier to digest, perhaps explaining why many people who struggle with cows milk find they are fine with goats and sheep. The a2 Milk Company claims that by removing the A1 protein, its milk is easier to digest and therefore suitable for those who struggle with dairy but are not lactose intolerant. Unfortunately, the symptoms of both casein and lactose intolerance are similar, but a blood test can indicate or rule out lactose intolerance…..

The Independent: Read the full article