Independent Expert Highlights Beneficial Role of Dairy Nutrients Throughout Life

Tremendous Support for West Cork Health & Wellbeing Event

Pictured at the West Cork Health & Wellbeing Evening are (L-R) Richy Virahsawmy, Richy's Bar & Bistro, Clonakilty; RTE's Sharon Ni Bheolain; and James Grimes, Prestige Catering, Cork.

“Daily dietary guidelines are set at levels to help Irish people to achieve the recommended intake of essential nutrients which our bodies need. Insufficient intakes of these essential nutrients could negatively impact on health - but it is equally very encouraging to think that some very simple steps could make very big differences to your health and wellbeing, both short and long term.”

This is the view of one of the country’s leading independent dietitians and TV commentators on nutrition, Paula Mee. She was in West Cork for the health & wellbeing evening on Wednesday 6th April, 2011, organised by the National Dairy Council, Carbery Group, Clóna Dairy Products and West Cork Co-ops. The event was packed to capacity at Inchydoney Lodge and also included advice on mental wellbeing from Confidence-Building Coach Fiona Hoban; and a cook off with Richy Virahsawmy from Richy’s Bar & Bistro, Clonakilty and James Grimes from Prestige Catering, Cork. Sharon Ní Bheoláin, RTÉ Six-One News anchor and award winning journalist, was master of ceremonies.

In a lively presentation on ‘Dairy Throughout the Life Stages’ Paula Mee took the audience on an expert exploration and interpretation of scientific research related to milk and dairy products as part of our diet throughout our life stages; and looked at some of the potential health benefits of the nutrients in dairy as part of a balanced diet.

Inadequate Calcium Intakes in Ireland

National surveys tell us that 42% of Irish teenage girls and 23% of Irish teenage boys have insufficient calcium intakes. Very recent findings from the National Adult Nutrition Survey also showed that 16% of Irish women had inadequate calcium intakes. (Refs 1 & 2) We also know that, according to the Slan survey 2007, 61% (nearly two thirds) of people generally, consume less than the ‘three servings of dairy a day’ recommended by the Irish Department of Health and Children within the food pyramid dietary guidelines.

“There are wide reaching health implications for these dietary trends and insufficiencies. Many of us traditionally understand the relationship between dairy products and calcium - and benefits associated with dental health and bone health,” said Paula Mee. “However there is much more to dairy than calcium, with evidence from scientific studies indicating that dairy and the nutrients in dairy could also provide us with a variety of other important health benefits.”

At one end of the spectrum Paula looked at the importance of encouraging families to teach children to manage a balanced diet from the early years. She highlighted the importance of having fun with food from childhood, involving children with food preparation, sharing mealtimes as much as possible, planning healthy lunchboxes and limiting less nutritious foods and drinks.

Whole milk can be introduced as a drink from 12 months of age (small amounts can be used from the age of 6 months in the preparation of food). Older children (from the age of two years and as long as they are consuming a mixed, varied diet and are thriving) and adults can switch to semi-skimmed or semi-skimmed fortified milk options. To note, however, skimmed milk is not advisable before five years of age.

Teenagers Should Use Credible and Professional Information Sources

“Children and teenagers can be tempted to make food choices based on assumptions, which are not always correct; or that are increasingly based on information they may find in places like the internet, which is not always reliable or which may not be tailored to Irish dietary requirements,” says Paula Mee.

According to Paula Mee, accessing accurate information from professional sources becomes very important when teenagers make serious dietary choices, such as deciding to become a vegetarian.
“Where teenagers make this kind of choice – either on a temporary basis or for the long term - they also need to be capable of properly planning how they will replace the nutrients they cut out of their diet as a consequence of that choice,” says Paula Mee.

“Diet and food choices really can have a big impact on how we feel and on our health, both now and in the future, so where advice is needed, it is important that it is from a genuinely credible source - from a qualified dietitian, nutritionist or medical professional,” said Paula.

Vegetarians and B Vitamins

“In some cases, teenagers who switch to a vegetarian diet put themselves at an increased risk of insufficient intakes of vitamin B12 or iron, which may lead to anaemia,” says Paula. She explains that Vitamin B12 is predominantly found in animal not plant foods, and has many functions including the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system.

“Milk and dairy produce can be a very important part of the vegetarian diet as they are good sources of vitamin B12, when other foods are avoided or excluded. The natural package of nutrients milk and dairy can provide such as calcium, Vitamin B12, and protein, make it valuable for both bone development and general health at this life stage.”

Dairy Calcium – In Weight Management

“Unfortunately we see trends where teenage girls in particular and women often cut back on dairy unnecessarily in a perceived effort to maintain their body weight, which means they are limiting their intake of the valuable nutrients milk and dairy can provide,” said Paula Mee. “The introduction of an array of low-fat dairy products to the market means increased consumer choice are there for those watching their weight.”

Paula Mee says that milk and dairy should be part of our diet, even when we are trying to control or lose weight. She points to scientific evidence suggesting that consumption of calcium, particularly calcium from dairy products, may play a role in weight management. (Ref 3) In fact, the Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity refers to the fact that people who meet the food pyramid recommendations from the Milk Cheese and Yogurt shelf are less likely to be obese. (Refs 4)

DASH Diet & Blood Pressure Management

“There is also no reason why people with high blood pressure should avoid milk,” said Paula Mee, who quoted evidence from scientific studies suggesting that dairy may play a role in blood pressure management. Studies looking at The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet shows that this dietary pattern, which in summary emphasises a high intake of fruit and vegetables, the intake of low-fat dairy products and an overall reduced salt and fat intake, is effective in blood pressure management. (Ref 5)

“Balance, variety and moderation are at the heart of maintaining a lifestyle which will support our health,” said Ms Mee.

What are the Recommended Daily Allowances for Calcium?

Generally adults and children should be consuming a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 800mg/d of calcium; with teenagers (11-17 yrs) and women who are pregnant (second half of pregnancy) or breastfeeding (first six months) needing a higher level of 1200 mg/d. To convert that into practical terms the Department of Health’s Food Pyramid recommends “3 portions of dairy per day”. In order to meet the increased requirements associated with the teenage years, pregnancy and breastfeeding, people during these life-stages should aim for “5 servings of dairy per day”. (Refs 6 & 7)

According to Paula Mee, this should not be difficult to include in a balanced diet - a serving is 1oz or 28g of hard cheese (about the size of a matchbox); a 1/3 of a pint glass of milk; or one carton of yoghurt.

Calcium is available in other non-dairy food sources, but consumers have to know how to assess these both in terms of calcium content and ‘bioavailability,’ which means whether it is in a format that can be easily absorbed by the body. Some plant sources may have calcium - but they also have levels of oxalates and phytates which inhibit the absorption of calcium. This can make it very difficult to meet daily calcium requirements exclusively from these plant foods alone.

The County Cork based COPE Foundation, which supports children and adults with intellectual disability, received the proceeds from the raffle ticket sales and entry fee on the night.

Fact Sheets

The National Dairy Council nutritional team has produced fact sheets a Guide to Healthy Eating and a Guide to Weight Loss and a booklet about Osteoporosis. These are available free of charge by calling the NDC on 01-290 2451, completing our Online Enquiry Form or by downloading here.


Click here for References & Sources of Information


For further information about the NDC, return to our Home Page


Media Enquiries to:

Antonina Ni Dhuinn, Progress Communications - 01-276 6117 - -


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