Most people have eliminated dairy products from their diet to prevent gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and cramps. A study conducted by CSIRO and the University of Adelaide found that one in six Australians do not consume dairy products and majority have not sought medical advice before making the dietary change.
People who avoid dairy products due to stomach discomfort are wasting their time and putting themselves at risk by eliminating the entire food group, says Melanie McGrice, an accredited practicing dietitian, and spokeswoman for the Dietitians Association.
‘People with lactose intolerance who choose plant-based milk alternatives should prefer calcium-fortified products to meet their daily calcium requirement.’
"People are not only skipping dairy; they are not replacing it with an alternative which is a big problem. Some people have legitimate food intolerances to cows milk or lactose found in dairy, but even if you do have an intolerance, usually cheese or yogurt can still be consumed because it's so low in lactose."
Yogurt has little or no lactose in it because the good bacteria breaks it all down. Hard cheese is also very low in lactose. Parmesan or cheddar has just 0.1g of lactose per 40g serve, compared to 12g of lactose in a 250ml glass of milk.
According to the CISRO study, women are avoiding milk and dairy products than men.
Dairy foods are essential for women as they are at higher risk of osteoporosis.
"In terms of nutrients, it's not just calcium that's valuable from dairy. Dairy products are good sources of protein, iodine, Vitamin A and D, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, and Zinc," said McGrice.
"All of those nutriments are really important for healthy blood, immune system, muscle and nerve functionality, as well as healthy skin, growth, and repair."
The trend of eliminating certain food groups from the diet without consulting a dietitian has left experts involved with the study. "The scale of people restricting their diet without a medical reason is very concerning in terms of the public health implications, especially for women," said Bella Yantcheva, CSIRO's behavioral scientist.
There is a potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances or the risk that an underlying health condition could be going untreated said, Yantcheva.
Including plant-based milk alternatives in the diet has an impact and many consumers opting for such products fail to meet acceptable nutritional requirement said McGrice.
"If people are using dairy alternatives, they need to make sure what they are choosing to consume is calcium fortified. The product should be at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml consumed. There's a lot of brands of oat, rice, soy, and almond milk that don't have a great deal of calcium added," added McGrice.
People who consume other food groups for calcium should be informed about the calcium content in other food groups. "One cup skim milk provides approximately 375mg of calcium, while one cup of broccoli provides around 30mg calcium," said McGrice.
"So you'd need to consume 12 and a half cups of broccoli to get the equivalent amount of calcium of one cup of milk."
"Intolerances usually come and go, and they can sometimes be developed after certain gastrointestinal problems. Often dietitians do wash out period if someone has an intolerance, but then bring that food back in and build it up slowly."
People with lactose intolerance tend to cut the dairy food group entirely. But, they should be bringing it back in slowly with small doses in their diet to try and minimize the intolerance, said McGrice.
"It's quite simple, if people have a problem, they should see a dietitian instead of just cutting it out entirely."
According to the Australian Dietary Guideline, people should consume at least two or three serves of dairy on a daily basis, such as milk, cheese or yogurt. For instance, one 250ml cup of milk is equivalent to one serving.