New Delhi, January 20, 2019: Dairy has been both vilified and glorified in the nutrition world, so we get how it can be confusing to understand if the creamy stuff is actually even good for you. Spoiler alert: It is! Assuming you don’t have an allergy or intolerance, dairy is a good source of protein, calcium, and yes, fat, and when fortified, vitamin D.
Last summer, a study came out that found, contrary to what we’ve previously believed, the saturated fat in dairy was not linked with heart disease over the long term. “We found no actual evidence of harm,” says study author Marcia Otto, Ph.D., nutritional and cardiovascular epidemiologist at UTHealth Houston’s School of Public Health.
Researchers also told Runner’s Worldthat their findings were important because it can help fight the perception that dairy fat can increase the risk of heart disease.
Sports dietitian and co-author of Run to Lose, Pam Nisevich Bede, R.D., says this study only makes her more confident to recommend full-fat dairy for her athletes, so let’s take a quick look at how dairy can help support a healthy lifestyle and power your runs and recovery according to runnersworld.com.
It’s Good For Your Muscles
There’s a reason chocolate milk is a favorite postrun snack. One cup of milk has eight grams of protein and 12 grams of carbs, regardless of whether you choose fat-free or whole milk. The carbs, in the form of sugar from the chocolate, top off the glycogen stores in your muscles, while the protein from the milk kick-starts your muscle recovery. Dairy is also a good source of the electrolyte potassium, which helps with healthy muscle function.
… And Your Bones
Weight-bearing exercises like running are an excellent way to improve bone strength, but your bones still need calcium to grow and stay strong. While dairy isn’t the bestsource of calcium, it’s a good one. The recommended intake for calcium is 1,000 milligrams per day. A cup of milk has about 300 mg and a cup of yogurt has 450 mg. Milk is also often fortified with vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium, says Lisa Bruno, R.D., a dietitian for Work It Out.
The Fat Helps Your Body Absorb Nutrients
Without fat, your body is unable to process important fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. And some fats, like omega-3s, are crucial for the health of your brain. With nine calories per gram, fat also helps you feel full, which will keep you from mindlessly snacking.
But that doesn’t mean the saturated fat in dairy shouldn’t be monitored at all; the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping your calories from saturated fat to less than 10 percent per day. So while studies are showing that it may not be linked to heart disease after all, it’s still not a great choice to chug a gallon of whole milk followed by some ice cream after a workout.
“I wouldn’t recommend whole milk to people because of its nutritional profile, and the fact that you can get the nutritional benefits from other foods or milk that’s lower in fat,” says Bruno. “But it’s all about moderation and what else you’re eating the rest of the day.”
So, for example, if you have a cup of whole milk yogurt with breakfast, opt for a lower-fat glass of milk after your workout, says Bruno.
And because dairy—milk, cheese, or yogurt—has all of these nutrients, you’re still better off choosing full-fat dairy as a snack than say, a donut, which may have the same caloric breakdown but carry no nutritional benefits, says Melissa Majumdar, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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When Dairy Might Be Bad for You
This all said, there are times when dairy is not a good choice. If you have an allergy or are lactose intolerant, there are other ways to get protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D into your diet.
G.I. distress—diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas—is the most common symptom of an intolerance or allergy, and runners have enough of that as it is. People with a dairy allergy, however, also experience allergic reactions, including rash, swelling, and trouble breathing. In people with lactose intolerance, symptoms usually occur within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming dairy.
For those who can’t have dairy, non-dairy milks—almond, oat, and soy, for example—are good alternatives, says Bruno, although they do not have the same nutritional profile as dairy milk. “You may need to supplement with vitamin D or calcium,” she says.
Flavored milk alternatives (think: vanilla and chocolate flavors) can also be high in added sugars, so choose unflavored options to avoid excess calories or do a close read on the label to make sure the sugar content is low.