Milk is a remarkably complete food, providing us with protein, fats and carbohydrates from which we derive our energy
We bandy around the expression ‘superfood’, yet there is not one single ingredient that comes anywhere close to matching milk for nutrition and health benefits.
Milk is a remarkably complete food, providing us with protein, fats and carbohydrates from which we derive our energy, and a range of minerals, vitamins and trace elements to support a vast array of bodily functions.
But for me, as a chef and nutritionist, it is the range of produce that can be made from milk – from yogurts to creams, butters and, many people’s favourite, cheeses – that really sets it apart.
And this isn’t just the foodie in me talking. Most ingredients tend to have a fairly static nutritional profile.
Meat and fish will be high in protein, while fruit is high in carbs, for instance. But the nutritional content of dairy varies hugely depending on what form it’s in, making it a massively versatile addition to the diet.
For example, 100g of parmesan contains about 30g of fat, 36g of protein and 1g of carbs, while quark, a cream cheese made by straining yogurt, contains less than 1g of fat, 14g of protein, and 4g of carbs.
AVOID DAIRY...AT YOUR PERIL
Almost half of young people today believe they are intolerant to cow’s milk.
The figure was shown up in a British Nutrition Foundation survey of 16- to 24-year-olds.
Only one in ten older adults said they had a problem with dairy – and medical studies suggest that under five per cent of people actually have a problem digesting lactose, the sugar in milk that most commonly causes difficulties.
The trend in youngsters is alarming because dairy is a key source of calcium, an essential nutrient for the health and strength of bones, especially for younger women.
The National Osteoporosis Society recently warned that the fad for cutting dairy is leading to a sharp rise in bone problems in later life.
It seems a poor diet in adolescence can lead to irreversible damage. And, on the plus side, a study of almost one million people published earlier this year found there was no raised risk of heart attacks or stroke in those who regularly consumed dairy.
The research actually found a very slightly lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause death among those who ate cheese.
AIM FOR A DAIRY THREE-A-DAY
Health guidelines recommend that men should consume no more than 30g of saturated fat a day, and women 20g.
If you’re watching your waistline, a good dessert or snack idea is a ‘healthy’ low-fat yogurt, right?
Well, no. Low-fat yogurt is made by removing butterfat and all the micro-nutrients it contains, and replacing it with added sugar, which has little nutritional value.
They are ‘empty’ calories; energy without goodness.
A recent Spanish study found that people who ate at least one small 125g pot of full-fat yogurt a day were 19 per cent less likely to be obese compared to those didn’t.
However, eating low-fat yogurt did not appear to have any impact on the risk of obesity. Experts believe this may be due to the extra sugar added to low-fat versions.
The good news is that these are generous allowances in terms of enjoying dairy produce.
That doesn’t mean you can drown yourself in a river of double cream, and you still need to watch out for treats such as those innocent-looking chicken kievs with half a pack of butter concealed within their breadcrumbed breasts.
But if you are looking to lose weight, it might be that you need to look at your penchant for takeaways and sausages, cakes and croissants, rather than trying to cut out fat by limiting your dairy intake.
I find the most helpful way of including the right amount of dairy in my daily diet is to treat it as I do my five-a-day veg and fruit, by aiming for three-a-day of different types.
This changes from one day to the next, so a portion can be a 150g pot of yogurt, a 20g to 30g hunk of cheese or a 200ml glass of milk.
With this in mind, in my new book The Modern Dairy, I have devised delicious recipes that harness the power of dairy, but all of them keep saturated fat to well within the lower limit of a woman’s recommended daily intake. The majority of the dishes have no more than half that amount.
And if you do have a lactose intolerance, I’ve included a number of dairy recipes that will be OK for you, too. So what are you waiting for, let’s get cooking!
The Modern Dairy, by Annie Bell (Kyle Books), £16.99, kylebooks.co.uk.
Very tomatoey mac 'n' cheese
In this alternative version, tomato sauce replaces the usual rich white one but you still get generous pockets of gooey cheese, and a lovely crispy top. The gold-standard version would involve you making your own slow-cooked sauce, but a couple of tubs of a good ready-made fresh tomato sauce will work
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and preheat the oven to 190C fan/210C/ gas mark 6½.
Sat Fat 10.2g
Add 300g macaroni to the pan, give it a stir and cook until almost tender, then drain it into a colander and return it to the pan.
Toss with 2 x 350g tubs (or 700g) fresh Napoletana tomato sauce and mix in 75g sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped and 175g gruyère, cut into thin strips a few centimetres long.
Transfer to a 30cm oval gratin or other similar-size ovenproof dish. You could also make it in large individual bowls, so each one serves two.
Toss 150g cherry tomatoes, quartered, with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, seasoning and scatter over, then top