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Should we really be drinking milk? The jury is out on this one

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Milk consumption may be on the decrease, but whether that's a good or bad thing for our health remains to be seen

From SheKnows Australia

Should we be drinking milk? This is a question that we have been asking for years and there's still no definitive answer. However, what we do know now is that the number of Australians avoiding milk and dairy products is dramatically increasing — one in six Australians now avoid dairy, for no medical reason at all.

More: Sorry, Mom, milk may not make our bones stronger, after all

According to a new study by the CSIRO and the University of Adelaide, published in the Public Health Nutrition, of the 1,184 Australian adults who participated in the study, most of those who avoided dairy had been influenced by the internet, media, friends or alternative practitioners, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

But why are so many people avoiding dairy? In the study, 74 percent of the participants revealed that they chose to avoid dairy in an attempt to relieve symptoms such as bloating, stomach cramps and wind — which brings us to another issue: many people seemed to self-diagnose their discomfort and end up blaming lactose.

A smaller group revealed their decisions were based on bad taste, weight management and the belief that cow's milk was inappropriate for human consumption.

According to Daily Mail, dairy is the biggest source of calcium in the Australian diet and provides other essential nutrients such as protein, and consuming less dairy without a good medical reason could actually lead to increased health problems.

Bella Yantcheva, a behavioural scientist and part of the CSIRO's research team, shared her thoughts on the matter, saying, "The scale of people restricting their diet without a medical reason is very concerning in terms of the public health implications, especially for women. It means there is potential for nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, or the risk that an underlying health condition could be going untreated."

It's not hard to see why people are confused about whether dairy should be a regular part of their diet: celebrities, including Khloé Kardashian, have spoken out about how eliminating dairy from their diets helped them to lose weight, and there are arguments that the milk industry has a negative effect on animal welfare and the environment (cows produce a lot of waste), as well as several studies that suggest that dairy is actually bad for us.

Dairy has been marketed in the Western world as being good for bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis, but Swedish researchers from from Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institutet claim that this is far from the truth. According to Alliance for Natural Health, researchers analysed food questionnaires detailing the intake of milk and other dairy products of 61,443 women aged 39 to 74 years, and 45,339 men aged 45 to 79 years, and then followed the health outcomes in the following 20 years.

Their findings? "A higher consumption of milk in women and men is not accompanied by a lower risk of fracture and instead may be associated with a higher rate of death… Our results may question the validity of recommendations to consume high amounts of milk to prevent fragility fractures."

This claim is echoed by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and head of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, who told WebMD, "One of the main arguments for USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommendations is that drinking milk or equivalent dairy products will reduce the risk of fractures. But in fact, there's very little evidence that milk consumption is associated with reduced fractures."

According to Eat for Health, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends dairy as one of the food groups important for a balanced diet, and Willett states that "consuming a cup or two of milk or equivalent dairy is fine." However, if you're still unsure about whether or not to eliminate dairy from your diet, CSIRO behavioural scientist Sinead Golley revealed during an interview with 891 ABC Adelaide's breakfast program that it should be done under medical supervision, to ensure that individuals do not miss out on essential nutrients.

"If you are going to be cutting [dairy] out, be aware that even though it might make you sick, it actually had some benefit as a delivery vehicle for some important nutrients," she said.

More: What happens to your body when you cut dairy

Have you cut back on dairy products in the last few years? If so, what has been your reason for doing so? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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