Dairy products provide nutritional requirements such as proteins, vitamin D, calcium and potassium. However, they are also known to provide excess calories and saturated fatty acids.1
Some studies suggest that the components in the dairy products result in less weight gain and can also lower the risk of obesity.1 Since dairy products are obtained from animal sources, people who follow a vegan diet do not eat dairy products or meat, eggs or any other animal product.2 In this article, we will discuss the association between the consumption of dairy products and obesity.
How are dairy products associated with weight gain and obesity?
Milk is the most commonly marketed dairy product processed by dairies in various forms. Other milk products include yoghurt, butter, ghee, cheese, skimmed milk, condensed milk, milk powder, evaporated milk, cream, whey and casein.3 Dairy products contain different complex ingredients which have a diverse effect on our weight.4 Long-term studies state that there is no weight gain after consuming dairy products; instead, it may reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass.4
What is a vegan diet?
A vegan diet is basically a vegetarian diet that is completely devoid of any type of animal products such as milk and dairy products, poultry, all kinds of meat, honey, gelatin, some food colours and even some types of alcohol.5 Although a small percentage of the population follows a vegan diet, its use is trending upwards as it seems to offer certain health benefits. Reports indicate that a vegan diet is effective against obesity, diabetes mellitus and hypertension.5 The prevention of cruelty towards animals could also be another reason for going vegan. A vegan diet offers some advantages; however, it is necessary to ensure that you maintain an adequate intake of proteins, vitamin D, calcium and zinc to stay healthy.5
How can people having vegan diet get the nutrients commonly obtained from dairy products?
Dairy products provide a good amount of calcium, proteins and vitamin D. However, as vegan diet is a plant-based diet, you will have to choose certain foods that contain these nutrients to get adequate amounts of them.
The following vegan foods are rich in these nutrients:2,5,6
- Proteins from beans, nuts, lentils and oats.
- Calcium from soy, rice, coconut or oat milk, leafy vegetables, almonds, broccoli, sesame seeds, dried fruits, pulses and white or brown bread.
- Vitamin D from plant-derived oral supplements, tofu, mushrooms, fortified soy, almond milk and sunlight.
Is it necessary to go vegan to avoid obesity?
Recent studies indicate that whole-fat dairy products do not lead to weight gain. In fact, dairy products reduce body fat and increase lean body mass.4 Some studies show that cheese, yoghurt and dairy fat may protect against diabetes mellitus. High-fat dairy products are reported to be inversely associated with obesity and cardiovascular diseases.7 However, several studies also indicate that the consumption of milk resulted in weight gain in children. Children who drank one percent and skimmed milk showed higher weight gain.8 In adults, weight gain due to milk consumption is linked to the presence of growth hormones in commercial milk. Studies carried out on yogurt consumption show that low-fat yogurt did not have any beneficial effects on the risk of overweight or obesity.9 Hence the choice of whether or not dairy foods should be eaten is a personal decision that is best taken after consulting a healthcare professional.
Going vegan should also be a well-informed decision. You can get all the essential nutrients from several non-dairy vegan products;5 however, you will need proper planning so as to not miss out on some of these.2 Moreover, there should not be concern about weight gain from the consumption of dairy products as scientific studies have shown that along with providing vitamin D and calcium, dairy proteins also help reduce adipose tissue and body weight.7 You can seek your dietician’s advice regarding your food choices.
We hope this article will give you an insight into the association between dairy products and obesity, and you will be able to decide if going vegan is necessary for you. A well-planned and well-balanced vegan diet started under the proper guidance of a dietician or doctor will keep you in the best of your health.
Have a healthy weight while having dairy products rather than going vegan just to avoid obesity!
- Rautiainen S, Wang L, Lee IM, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Dairy consumption in association with weight change and risk of becoming overweight or obese in middle-aged and older women: a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Apr;103(4):979-988.
- NHS. Vegetarian and vegan diet: Eat well [Internet]. [updated 2018 Aug 2; cited 2019 Dec 12]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations. Gateway to dairy production and products [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 12]. Available from: http://www.fao.org/dairy-production-products/products/types-and-characteristics/en/.
- Mozaffarian D, Dairy foods, obesity, and metabolic health: the role of the food matrix compared with single nutrients. Adv Nutr. 2019 Sep 1;10(5):917S-923S. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz053.
- Obesity Medicine Association. The vegan diet [Internet]. [updated 2018 Apr 20; cited 2019 Dec 12]. Available from: https://obesitymedicine.org/vegan-diet/.
- People for the Ethical Treatment to Animals. Animals are not ours [Internet]. [updated 2018 May 31; cited 2019 Dec 12]. Available from: https://www.peta.org/living/food/5-ways-to-increase-your-vitamin-d-intake/.
- Visioli F, Strata A. Milk, dairy products, and their functional effects in humans: a narrative review of recent evidence. Adv. Nutr. 2014 Mar 1;5(2):131-143. doi:10.3945/an.113.005025.
- Harvard Medical School. Is a vegetarian and vegan diet for you. [updated 2014 Apr; cited 2019 Dec 12]. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-a-vegetarian-or-vegan-diet-for-you.