'Ditching dairy' is a potentially dangerous trend that doesn't seem to be going away.
New research commissioned by The Grocer and published this past week showed a frightening amount of people are planning to cut back on their dairy consumption.
Worryingly, the trend is greatest in our young generation of 16-24 year olds who are shunning dairy at the fastest rate, despite needing it the most during their strong bone-forming years to prevent health issues such as osteoporosis or thinning bones later in life.
When asked to rank cows' milk compared to plant-based alternatives as most to least healthy, a frightening 39% of the teens ranked dairy as the least healthy. This is in direct contrast to the over 55s surveyed with 44% ranking cows' milk as the healthiest.
Surely this is a ticking 'teenage time bomb' for our young people's future health?
Much of the marketing jargon used to promote the 'healthy' and 'natural' aspects of plant-based milk alternative drinks is frankly misleading. In reality, these products are far from natural; they are packed with additives and fortified with harder-to-absorb artificial nutrients to try and emulate the real thing - cows' milk.
In the survey, the biggest health concerns around dairy were cited as it being high in fat (38%) and high in sugar (24%). Given that recent research has shown a lack of connection between fat content in dairy products and heart health, and that an intolerance to lactose, the sugar in milk, affects only a minimal 5% of the population, these misunderstandings need to be corrected by the industry if we are to safeguard young people's long-term health.
Finally, worries about dairy intolerances, which 15% of respondents reported, show that consumers need ongoing education to understand the differences between allergies and intolerances. This includes those associated with the A1 protein found in regular dairy which may be attributed to much of the extent of so-called 'lactose intolerance' symptoms.
Given the rising sales of dairy-free products, this dangerous messaging is likely to continue. People deserve to know the risks associated with ditching dairy; I for one will continue to question the rationale of young patients I see who decide to go 'dairy free' on a whim, and will properly inform them about the options available to them if they don't get on with regular milk.
Yet, there is a 'silver top' lining to this cloud.
In spite of the strong 'ditch dairy' message, support for British farmers remains high. 53% of respondents stated British dairy farmers need more financial support from supermarkets and 21% went even further to say they would be happy to pay more for their milk and dairy.
Maybe now is the time to embrace more innovation, with 24% saying that they would buy more dairy if there was a greater range of natural, unprocessed products. We pale in comparison to our European neighbours whose dairy consumption dwarfs ours - I have seen first-hand the huge range of dairy products lining their supermarket shelves.
Perhaps it's time for new dairy brands such as a2 Milk to get a bit of limelight in a tired industry and bring more young people back to real dairy.
Photo credits: iStockPhoto