Wednesday, January 26, 2011


The milk or dairy food group includes milk and all products that are made from milk and retain their calcium content. Cream, cream cheese and butter do not form part of this group; they are fats.

Milk and milk products are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. That being said, they are not the only sources, or even necessarily the best. I can't emphasize enough that the best route to health is to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups.

These days there is a wide range of milk and milk products to choose from, and we are not restricted to cow's milk. Although sheep's milk and goat's milk are not readily available in South Africa, cheeses made from these milks are. Soy milk is available, and in some countries (I've never seen it here) rice milk.
Different milk treatments, such as drying, long-life, canning and ultra-heat-treating, provide products with a longer shelf life.

Although full-fat milk is only about 6% fat, products made from whole milk are comparatively high in saturated fats, so always choose the low-fat (about 2% fat) or fat-free (0.1%) varieties of all dairy products. Only children under the age of two need the full fat product - but NO dairy before six months of age, please. And no cheese before twelve months. Cow's milk is actually designed for calves, not humans, and it is very different in composition from human breast milk. Early feeding with cow's milk can lead to the development of allergies.

If you find it difficult to switch from full-fat to skim, then take it in stages. It is only the fat content that changes; the protein, vitamin and mineral content are unaffected. Use low-fat milk for a month, and then switch to fat-free. In South Africa, we now have a 1% fat milk option, too.

Admittedly, fat reduced cheddar is not terribly nice, although it is fine for cooking. For cheese sauce, I often stir through some fat-free cottage cheese for creaminess, and I add a bit of parmesan for extra flavour. The fat free feta, mozzarella and fromage frais are all good, as are low fat cheese spreads and cottage cheese. Be careful of ricotta and soft cheeses - they can be high in cholesterol. And try to buy white (un-dyed) cheeses - who needs artificial colourants, anyway? Cheeses often have high sodium (salt) levels, too. Substitute fat-free fromage frais or natural yoghurt for cream or sour cream in soups and sauces. Do this right at the end, and off the heat. If you reheat your soup or sauce, do so gently otherwise the yoghurt or fromage frais will separate out and spoil the appearance of your food.

The recommended ingestion for dairy products is 3 servings per day.
One serving equals:
200ml of milk;
OR 150gm of yoghurt;
OR 40gms hard cheese or feta;
OR 60gm processed cheese;
OR 125gm cottage cheese or fromage frais.

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