At the 2019 International Dairy Federation (IDF) World Dairy Summit, several high-level international speakers discussed the latest science on dairy and sugar in our diets, addressing common misconceptions.

The speakers pointed out that there are many misunderstandings around the naturally occurring sugar, lactose, that is found in milk, plain yoghurt and other unsweetened dairy products.

Lactose in dairy is part of a nutrient-dense package, providing an abundant supply of high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, and vitamins B2 and B12, unlike added sugars which contribute plenty of calories but no nutritional value.

Furthermore, speakers pointed out that studies have clearly indicated a differential role for foods that are inherently nutritious such as milk and yoghurt. When children and adolescents consumed dairy products such as flavoured milk and yoghurts, the quality of their diet improved, and in the case of studies looking at the impact on weight, no adverse effects were found.

Dr Michel Donat, team leader, IDF Action Team on Flavoured Dairy said: “The global obesity crisis is something that the dairy sector takes very seriously.

"However, the discussions at the IDF World Dairy Summit show it is wrong to assume that the natural sugars in milk and dairy products are the same as other added sugars. The dairy sector needs to help consumers to become educated on the sources of sugar in their diet and learn to strike the right balance between nutrients and sugar intake.”

The sessions concluded that there is no evidence that sugars naturally present in milk and dairy foods (lactose and galactose) have adverse effects on health. In fact, a growing body of research indicates that dairy may play a protective role against certain non-communicable diseases including type 2 diabetes.

Recently, nutritionists and scientists have increasingly begun to consider that the effects of milk and dairy foods on health extend beyond the benefits of the individual nutrients they contain. In a process known as the Dairy Matrix, the different structures and textures of dairy products have an impact on how these nutrients are absorbed in the body. This could have important positive impacts for health.

Dr David Everett, chair of the IDF Standing Committee on Dairy Science and Technology and leader of the IDF Action Team on the Microstructure of Dairy Products said: “Scientists investigating the health effects of the Dairy Matrix have already noted its positive impact on bone health and some non-communicable diseases.

"Going forward, greater understanding of dairy food structure and nutrient absorption could pave the way to developing innovative dairy products that improve the nutritional status. It’s imperative that when discussing dairy within diets, a ‘whole food’ rather than an ‘isolated nutrients’ approach is taken.”