Has Milk Been Put Out To Pasture? Young People (And Canada) Are Ditching Dairy

"We're moving in a plant-based direction," confirms Canadian scientist.

Ditched the dairy in your morning brew? More partial to milking an almond than an animal? You’re not alone – dairy-free diets are becoming more mainstream.

A study found 23% of 18-24 year olds in the UK have reduced their dairy intake in the last two years. This isn’t only a fad among the very young – 12% of 25-34 year olds have reduced their intake, as well as 10% of 45-54 year olds.

And across the pond in Canada, official dietary guidelines reflect this shift as the government has almost entirely removed dairy as a required daily food group.

The Canadian food guide was last updated in 2007, but for the past three years, nutritionists and experts have been examining the health merits of a diet which long had dairy and meat as central building blocks.

Canadians, like Brits, had been encouraged to eat or drink several servings of dairy a day – the NHS ‘Eatwell Guide’, last updated in 2016, still recommends a daily intake of milk, cheese, yoghurt or fromage frais.

Now, Canadians are advised to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with starches or grains, and a quarter with protein – with the noticeable absence of the dairy group. The changes also include a huge reduction in meat consumption, a move which has been praised by plant-based advocates.

Dr David Jenkins, Canadian research chair in nutrition and metabolism and a professor at the University of Toronto, who created the Glycaemic Index in the 1980s, says he fully supports the move to a plant-based diet. “I think [the guide] is moving in a plant-based direction, which will ruffle some feathers, but I think that’s the direction it needs to go,” he said.

He added that western society has erroneously placed “cow’s milk next to mother’s milk” in terms of its importance for human health.

The NHS Eatwell Guide divides the foods we eat and drink into different categories, including fruit and vegetables; starchy foods; milk and dairy; proteins; and oils and spreads. “You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week,” the NHS states.

The NHS Eatwell Guide.
The NHS Eatwell Guide.

What The ‘Eatwell Guide’ Tells Us To Eat

Fruit and vegetables: Fruit and vegetables should make up over a third of the food we eat each day. Aim to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg each day – fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced.

Carbohydrates: Starchy food should make up just over a third of the food we eat. Choose higher-fibre, wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta and brown rice, or leave skins on potatoes. Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet.

Dairy: Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein and some vitamins, and they’re also an important source of calcium, which helps keep our bones strong. Try to go for lower-fat and lower-sugar products where possible, like 1% fat milk or plain low-fat yoghurt.

Protein: These foods are good sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Pulses such as beans, peas and lentils are good alternatives to meat because they’re lower in fat and higher in fibre and protein, too. Choose lean cuts of meat and mince and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.

Fat: Unsaturated fats are healthier fats and include vegetable, rapeseed, olive and sunflower oils. Remember all types of fat are high in energy and should be eaten sparingly.

Sugar: These foods include chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary soft drinks, butter, ghee and ice cream. They’re not needed in the diet and so should be eaten less often and in smaller amounts.

You should also be drinking plenty of fluids – the government recommends six to eight cups or glasses a day. This can include tea and coffee.

  • CORRECTION: The article originally stated 51% of 18 to 24 year olds had a negative attitude towards dairy. The study actually said 51 people from a group of 18 to 24 year olds. The article has been updated accordingly.