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What are the benefits of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)?

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in milk may protect you against cancer, heart disease and obesity.

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Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is thought to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Milk is the richest dietary source of CLA, but typical intakes may be too low for these beneficial effects to be seen. The amount of CLA in milk and dairy foods can be influenced by feeding practices, with grass-fed cows producing 300–500% more CLA than those that are grain fed. More research is needed before the beneficial effects of CLA in milk can be linked to dietary consumption.

Does dairy contain trans fats?

Yes, milk and dairy products naturally contain some ‘ruminant’ trans fat – less than 2% of the total fat energy health authorities suggest should form part of the diet. Research has shown that there is no significant association between dietary intake of ruminant trans fat and an increased risk of heart disease.

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Yes, milk and dairy products naturally contain some trans fat. This type of trans fat is called ruminant trans fat, because it is produced naturally by bacteria in the gut of ruminant animals such as cows and sheep. The trans fat content of cow’s milk typically represents less than 2% of the total fat energy health authorities suggest should form part of the diet.

In contrast, processed foods such as hard margarine, lard, fast foods, commercially deep-fried foods and baked goods may contain industrially produced trans fat. A high intake of trans fat has long been known to have a negative effect on heart health. However, numerous recent studies have shown that there is no significant association between dietary intake of ruminant trans fat and an increased risk of heart disease.

Are dairy fats good or bad?

Despite a large proportion of milk fat being saturated, research has shown that these saturated fats have a neutral, and in some cases even a protective, effect on coronary heart disease.

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Latest research suggests that milk fat is good to include in the daily diet. Milk fat is but one of the types of fat that form part of a typical diet. About two-thirds (65%) of the fat in full-cream milk is saturated, a quarter (25%) is monounsaturated and 3% constitutes poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Despite a large component of milk fat being saturated, research has shown that these saturated fats have a neutral, and in some cases even a protective, effect on coronary heart disease. The saturated fatty acid in milk, oleic acid, is known to have a lowering effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Are dairy products fattening?

No. Research has shown that the combination of nutrients in dairy, especially calcium and protein, promotes weight loss and maintenance owing to the impact on energy metabolism.

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For weight loss, it is important to include nutrient-rich foods in the diet while decreasing the total energy intake. The kilojoule (kJ) value of a food is merely an indication of the energy content. Dairy contributes to weight loss owing to its naturally high calcium and protein content. Research has shown that the combination of nutrients in dairy, especially calcium and protein, promotes weight loss and maintenance owing to the impact on the energy metabolism. A diet rich in calcium suppresses the influx of calcium into fat cells, which, in turn, stimulates the breakdown of fat and inhibits fat storage. Including low-fat and fat-free dairy products as part of a kilojoule-restricted diet can give positive results in weight management.

Is milk fattening?

No. The term ‘full-cream’ when used to describe milk may contribute to the idea that milk is fattening. Standard fat contents are as follows:
  • full-cream milk = 3.4% fat
  • low-fat milk = 1.5%
  • fat-free (skimmed) milk = <1% fat.

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The perception that milk is fattening may be due to the use of the term ‘full-cream’ in relation to milk. However, full-cream milk is standardised to have approximately 3.4% fat, low-fat milk has 1.5% and fat-free (skimmed) milk contains less than 1% fat.

Milk is, in fact, considered to be a nutritious component of a healthy, balanced diet. Research indicates that the mix of nutrients naturally found in dairy products (referred to as the dairy matrix), especially calcium and protein, may have an important role in weight management, although the precise mechanism governing the positive link between dairy and weight management is still uncertain. As dairy products naturally contain calcium, protein and other essential nutrients, consuming three servings of dairy daily may not only contribute to weight management but will also improve the overall nutritional quality of the diet.