Dairy is one of the more controversial topics in the health and nutrition world. Some people boast the benefits of diary while others suggest avoiding it completely. So what’s the deal?
The main benefit to consuming dairy is its high calcium content. Dairy products do have the highest amount of calcium per normal serving size; for example, a cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium or 25% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA)*. Other foods contain higher amounts of calcium/gram, but are foods such as sesame seeds that we typically don’t eat in large enough amounts to contribute significantly to our intake.
Unfortunately, dairy is acid-forming, so when we consume it our body has to work to neutralize the acid to keep our body at its desired pH of about 7.4 (1). Too much acidity in the body can lead to inflammation, mood disorders, allergies, skin problems, and bowel issues among other conditions. Under normal circumstances our body can regulate our pH through breathing, sweating, and urinating, but when too many acid forming foods are consumed the body needs to pull from its stores of alkalizing minerals such as calcium to effectively neutralize the body.
For this reason consuming large amounts of dairy can have a negative effect on calcium levels since the body requires more calcium to neutralize the acid than is taken in through the foods. This is the reason Americans, who typically consume large amounts of dairy, have higher rates of osteoporosis than Asians, who eat very little dairy, but receive their calcium from non dairy based sources.
Some examples of non-dairy sources of calcium*:
1 cup sardines- 569 mg
1 cup of fortified unsweetened almond milk- 516 mg
1 cup of soybeans- 504 mg
½ cup raw tofu- 434 mg
1 cup cooked collard greens- 357 g
*Via United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28
The bottom line: all foods can fit, so you don’t have to give up your cheese habit, but decreasing intake can reduce acidity in the body leading to improved health. It is very possible to have a balanced, healthy diet without the inclusion of dairy products.