(image courtesy of myplate.gov)
Childhood food allergies are on the rise, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics. A whopping six million kids — or eight percent of the under-18 set — has at least one food allergy. Peanuts are the most common allergen, but milk is a very close second, a potentially alarming statistic given the USDA’s unveiling a few weeks ago of its new MyPlate icon, which, as you can see above, features a side of dairy.
Given the fact that milk allergies among kids are on the rise — and that 75 percent of the world’s population is lactose intolerant — one has to ask: Dairy might be on MyPlate, but does it belong on your plate?
For a balanced perspective, we asked Maggie Ward, MS, RD, LDN for her thoughts. Ward is the Nutrition Director at the Lenox, Mass.-based UltraWellness Center, which is run by functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD. Here’s what she had to say:
Dairy is tough and a “touchy subject.” Overall, for the average healthy adult or child, I am not against dairy. I do always emphasize organic with any animal products in order to minimize not only pesticides but also the hormones and antibiotics that are found in most factory-farmed animals. For those that don’t do well with milk, unsweetened yogurts or cheeses may be a better option. Also, smaller mammals’ milk (e.g., sheep, goat) is often easier to digest and better tolerated.
The other side of the issue, however, is that dairy is one of the most common food allergens and, I think, often overconsumed in both the young and adult populations. For those who are sick or experiencing GI infections, this often becomes even more relevant.
I also don’t think people should be fooled into thinking that they can’t have a balanced diet without dairy. We can get calcium from many other foods sources, such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame), sea vegetables, etc. For children under 2 years of age who do not have dairy, it’s also important they get enough fat in the diet, but this can be easily provided through other foods (avocado, olive oil, coconut, nuts/seeds, etc).