Niki Bezzant: Does a bit of butter butter better?

Photo / Andrew Warner
Photo / Andrew Warner

I've been thinking about dairy.

Not just because I love cheese, and was unexpectedly able to put my experience as a judge in last year's NZ Champions of Cheese Awards to good use over the holidays.

I'm not sure who was more thrilled when the tourists from Seattle asked me, randomly, in the supermarket: "What's the best cheese in New Zealand?".

I've been thinking about dairy because posters have appeared in my neighbourhood telling me that milk is cool. Or, in fact, "cool again".

Butter, apparently, is back, too.

These retro-cool posters are brought to us by Fonterra, mounting a dairy awareness campaign.

Leaving aside, for now, the environmental issues of dairy farming - which are well worth discussing, by the way - let's talk about nutrition and health.

I was a bit surprised to see this campaign, mostly because I wasn't aware that dairy had become uncool.

It's true a few years back, when paleo and raw diets became prominent, there was a bit of anti-dairy talk.

That hasn't really gone away, but I haven't noticed most people shunning dairy.

Butter sales globally are on the rise; possibly on the back of the 2014 Time Magazine cover which declared "Eat Butter" and the media hype about butter now being a health food.

Fonterra says its campaign was partly motivated by "dietary fads and special interest groups" who are "chipping away" at dairy's reputation.

They were reluctant to elaborate, when I asked, but I assume we're talking vegan and paleo dieters here. Being anti-dairy would be one of the few things those groups have in common.

The fads haven't really hurt sales of milk, butter and cheese, though.

Euromonitor statistics show dairy consumption in New Zealand has been steadily growing for the last 10 years.

In the main, I think most nutrition professionals would agree with Fonterra. Nutritionally, unless you have an allergy or intolerance, dairy is definitely cool.

Milk, cheese and yoghurt are useful sources of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Dairy is our main source of calcium, which is important for bone health, especially for women.

The potentially harmful fats in dairy have even been rehabilitated slightly, with emerging evidence suggesting saturated fat from dairy foods may not have the negative effect on heart health that other sources do.

As for butter; while it's still not a health food (sorry), there is wider acceptance that - as with most things - in the context of a great, healthy diet packed with plant foods, a little butter is unlikely to kill you.

The combination of saturated fat and refined carbohydrates is bad news all round, though, so that doesn't mean slathering your white bread rolls and scones with slabs of butter.

The same goes for milk. Low-fat milk is still probably better for most people (and, by the way, it is a myth that low-fat milk is "more processed" or contains added sugar).

But bottom line: including all kinds of dairy in your healthy diet, if it suits you, is - and always has been - cool.

- Herald on Sunday

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