Food writer An­nie Bell re­ports on all things dairy

It was once as­sumed that for­go­ing full-fat dairy from your diet would lead to bet­ter health and flat­ter stom­achs but, as An­nie Bell re­ports, the lat­est find­ings sug­gest oth­er­wise. It’s time milk, but­ter and cheese are back on the shop­ping list

Food and Travel (UK) - - Contents -

The calm white of milk be­lies its so­phis­ti­ca­tion. The daz­zling ar­ray of pro­duce from around the world that re­sults from this liq­uid is down to an ex­tra­or­di­nary union of cli­mate, soil and grass, the an­i­mals and the hands that tend them. Dairy is the bedrock of the way that peo­ple eat in the West.

The fact that dairy has been wel­comed back into our lives is good news. The more stud­ies that are car­ried out, the more science ad­vances and the more we learn. Dairy is in from the cold and fat is no longer to be feared – re­spected per­haps, but also rel­ished. And the way it is pro­duced has ev­ery­thing to do with good nu­tri­tion and its af­fect on our bod­ies.

All too of­ten, we find qual­ity and health pulling in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, where one is at the ex­pense of the other. So it is both rare and spe­cial that dairy of­fers us taste and health in a sin­gle pack­age. The key is that we look to grass-fed cat­tle and ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­tion in­stead of grain-fed stock and in­dus­trial prod­ucts that have al­tered the make up of dairy over the past 60 years. We nearly all have ac­cess to or­ganic milk, fine but­ters and cheeses, and re­gional tra­di­tions by way of creams and yo­ghurts. The re­nais­sance of small-scale dairy farm­ing is one that we should cling to and se­ri­ously cel­e­brate.

The most help­ful way of in­clud­ing the right amount of dairy in a daily diet is to treat it like five-a-day fruit and veg, by aim­ing for three a day of dif­fer­ent dairy types. In prac­tice, this changes from one day to the next so bear­ing in mind that a por­tion can in­clude a yo­ghurt serv­ing of about 150g, a 30g hunk of cheese, or 200ml of milk, this pro­vides a good bench­mark to aim for. In short: lit­tle and of­ten, and as var­ied as pos­si­ble. Vari­a­tion lies at the heart of good nu­tri­tion. A mod­est amount of ev­ery­thing will al­ways be bet­ter than a large amount of just one food.

While most in­gre­di­ents tend to have a fairly static pro­file (meat and fish is high in pro­tein, while fruit is high in car­bo­hy­drates), dairy is unique in the way that the pro­por­tion of the macronu­tri­ents can vary markedly be­tween dif­fer­ent dairy prod­ucts. For ex­am­ple, 100g of Parme­san typ­i­cally con­tains around 30g fat, 36g pro­tein and 1g car­bo­hy­drates, whereas quark, a sour-milk or acid-set cheese, con­tains less than 1g fat, 12g pro­tein and 4g car­bo­hy­drates for the same amount. This is es­sen­tial to dairy’s po­ten­tial health ben­e­fits as it is uniquely flex­i­ble. Dairy can be what­ever you want it to be. No other food group can match its va­ri­ety in that sin­gle sense.

Eat fat, get thin?

The qual­ity of a macronu­tri­ent is as im­por­tant as the amount you are con­sum­ing. Opt­ing for a low-fat straw­berry yo­ghurt in­stead of a full-fat nat­u­ral yo­ghurt is a step back­wards be­cause the ‘low-fat’ ver­sion has re­placed the but­ter­fat and its pre­cious mi­cronu­tri­ents with free sug­ars, which have no nu­tri­tional value. They are empty calo­ries; en­ergy with­out good­ness. This is an­other rea­son why low-fat di­ets have fallen out of favour and di­ets higher in fat are mak­ing a come­back. It is a high-qual­ity food­stuff pro­vid­ing we eat it in a way that is sen­si­ble.

There is good rea­son to be­lieve that it is the qual­ity of dairy fat rather than dairy fat per se that is at fault when it comes to obe­sity. Fatty acids con­tained in dairy fat are bi­o­log­i­cally ac­tive and the con­tent of these is steered by the feed of the cow, in par­tic­u­lar fresh grass, its nat­u­ral diet. The up­shot of the science is that, while we can’t travel back in time, as con­sumers we can use our aware­ness to ben­e­fit nu­tri­tion­ally.

One as­sured route is or­ganic dairy pro­duce. The stan­dards are likely to dif­fer marginally from one coun­try to an­other but within the UK, for in­stance, after wean­ing, 60 per cent of the dairy herd’s diet must con­sist of or­ganic grass and clover or con­served for­age and roots, only mod­estly sup­ple­mented with ce­re­als or pulses. The word ‘or­ganic’ on pack­ag­ing is a good start­ing point. So here, you have a com­plete food that of­fers va­ri­ety and scope for en­joy­ment, from the sim­ple plea­sure of cheese with a se­lect pickle to the many dif­fer­ent ways of in­clud­ing it in both sweet and savoury dishes. Sam­ple the very best in the recipes to fol­low.


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