The most recent estimates of food avoidance in Australia came from the 2011–2012 Australian Health Survey, where 17% of those aged two years or older reported avoiding foods due to allergy or intolerance, with dairy products most commonly being blamed (approximately 4.5%). It is likely this figure was an underestimate of those avoiding dairy foods, as there are numerous other barriers to dairy consumption other than just intolerances.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide and CSIRO have recently shown a substantial amount of the Australian population are avoiding dairy foods. In a national population-based survey, 1,184 adult participants completed postal surveys about food allergies and intolerances. This was part of a larger piece of work, with the study originally investigating motivations behind wheat avoidance. 1
Some of the major findings were as follows:
- Approximately 16.6% of the population may be avoiding dairy foods, which ismuch higher than previous estimates
- The majority (60%) of those avoiding dairy foods reported doing so due to associated symptoms including stomach cramps, diarrhoea, mucus build up and skin problems
- Twenty-three per cent reported having a formal diagnosis which required avoidance of dairy foods such as lactose intolerance, high cholesterol and asthma, amongst other causes
- Milk and cheese, two food group foods, were the dairy foods most commonly avoided.
These results highlight that there are likely to be many more cases of dairy food avoidance in the Australian population than first thought. There is a widespread tendency to self-diagnose, especially when it comes to food intolerances and even in those who did seek professional opinion from a health professional, this advice was at times, misinformed. Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese can be consumed by those who have lactose intolerance and research has shown consumption of dairy foods is not associated with high cholesterol, asthma, mucus build-up or skin problems such as acne.
Recommendations to eliminate dairy foods for these reasons are not evidence-based and removing milk, yoghurt and cheese from the diet means some of the population is missing out on the unique package of nutrients that dairy foods provide. Not only are dairy foods a good source of calium, they contain protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, carbohydrate and form an important part of a healthy diet.