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The Briefing

Dairy Council Hosts Annual Nutrition Webinar

by Aiken PR


Plant–based alternatives cannot be considered nutritional replacements for dairy foods. That was one of the key takeaways for academics and health care professionals who attended The Dairy Council for Northern Ireland‘s What’s New? Nutrition and Health webinar on 6th September. 

The webinar was chaired by Professor Sean Strain from Ulster University and 145 attendees heard the latest findings of research projects from leading experts including Dr Sokratis Stergiadis from the University of Reading. Dr Stergiadis presented a study comparing the nutrient composition of UK milk, dairy and plant–based alternatives and the nutritional implications for consumers, which was a collaboration between the University’s Schools of Agriculture Policy and Development, and Food and Nutritional Sciences and the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health.

Dr Stergiadis told the virtual audience, “This study, which was published last year, found plant–based drinks contained less protein, vitamin B12 and iodine than milk. These differences were reflected in the nutrient intakes of different age groups. Our study concluded that plant–based alternatives cannot be considered nutritional replacements for dairy foods and therefore there are potential implications for those who use them as such not getting sufficient iodine, which is already falling short in some diets, particularly those of teenage girls and young women.”

The adverse effect of iodine deficiency was also the subject of a presentation from Professor Jayne Woodside from Queen’s University Belfast. Professor Woodside, gave an update on iodine in the diet in the UK and Ireland. She reported that a study her team were part of found that in the UK the majority of plant–based alternatives to dairy such as plant–based drinks are not iodine–fortified, and as such using unfortified alternatives in place of milk, which is a good source of iodine, may put consumers at increased risk of iodine deficiency.

Her work is also looking at iodine in relation to pregnancy: “Iodine is important to support normal growth and cognitive function, and is an essential nutrient in pregnancy,” said Professor Woodside. “Our work has found low iodine levels in pregnant women in Northern Ireland. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy can have lasting implications for a child’s cognitive development and we are currently investigating the effect of increased milk intake on iodine status on both mother and child, providing a group of pregnant women with an extra pint milk per day for 12 weeks and recording the outcomes.”

The focus of a third presentation from Dr Therese O’Sullivan from Edith Cowan University, Australia was of particular interest as she reported her research has changed her professional stance in relation to advice on full fat dairy. Dr O’Sullivan’s Milky Way study, involved giving 4– to 6–year–old children either regular or reduced fat dairy products for three months and looking at what happened to their weight, body fat levels, blood lipids and other health measures. There was no difference between the children in any of the measures of weight or fat or of heart health.

“Our study suggests that public health guidelines to introduce lower fat milks and other dairy after the age of two may not be necessary, and healthy children can have either,” said Dr O’Sullivan. “As someone who, when working as a clinical dietitian, recommended consumption of reduced fat dairy products rather than regular fat versions to countless people to improve their health. But the evidence from my own research, along with that of others, now suggests that whole fat dairy doesn’t need to be avoided.”

Dairy Council for Northern Ireland nutritionist, Dr Carole Lowis remarked: “This year’s webinar has been extremely interesting, providing local health professionals and academics with ‘what’s new’ in nutrition research into dairy. We continue to discover more about the important role that dairy has to play in the diet, including how the nutrients work together in the dairy matrix, to bust myths and present the latest science to help inform public health policy.

“We are delighted to have been able to bring the work of such acclaimed experts to our Northern Ireland audience,” she concluded.