By Susan Mykrantz
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A healthy diet is important any time when it comes to preventing diseases, said Karen Bakies, RD LD FAND, and a staff member with the American Dairy Assocation Mideast.
“Chronic diseases can occur at any age, so starting early with healthy eating and exercise habits is key to long-term good health,” she said. “The link between a healthy and nutritious eating routine not only can help to prevent disease but can also improve your overall health and well-being.”
Bakies said a healthy eating plan focuses on nutrient-rich foods from all food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
“Dairy foods are an essential part of a healthy eating plan,” Bakies said. “Studies show that including nutrient-rich dairy foods in a diet have been linked to health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in adults and improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents.”
Milk, cheese, and yogurt are not only delicious but they are also an excellent source of high-quality protein, according to Bakies. Extensive research supports the benefits of higher protein diets for active individuals, weight management and healthy aging.
Bakies said that every five years the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) work together to update and release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). “Each edition reflects current nutrition science and provides advice on what to eat and drink to promote health and reduce risk of chronic disease,” she said. “MyPlate, which is based on the DGA, helps you make the food choices that are right for you and can help lead to a lifetime of healthy eating.”
At present, the DGA recommends three servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt for those aged nine years and older.
“Dairy foods are fundamental in multiple eating patterns because of the important nutrients they provide,” she said. “Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt are a core part of a nutritious, sustainable healthy eating pattern because they deliver a unique combination of essential nutrients in an appealing, affordable and readily available way.”
Three daily servings of dairy contribute three of the four under-consumed nutrients of public concern – calcium, vitamin D and potassium. The fourth is fiber, which can be found in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans – all foods that pair well with dairy. An 8-ounce glass of milk delivers nine essential nutrients: protein helps build and repair muscle tissue, calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus help build and maintain strong bones and teeth, and vitamin A to support healthy skin and eyes. Milk also contains B vitamins, which can help your body convert food into fuel: vitamin B-12, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid and Niacin.
“Without dairy in our diet, it would be difficult to fill this nutrient gap,” Bakies said.
She added that the DGA does not include alternative beverages (other than soy beverages fortified with calcium, vitamin A and D) in the dairy group because their overall nutritional content is not similar to dairy milk. For example, an 8 oz. glass of cow’s milk provides eight times more naturally occurring protein (8g) than a glass of almond beverage (1g).
Bakies said that the national health organizations do not recommend plant-based, non-dairy types of milk for children ages 1-5 years because they are not an adequate nutritional substitute for dairy milk (except for fortified soy beverages). The nutrient content of plant-based beverages varies widely, while cow’s milk contains many nutrients essential for healthy growth and development.
“It is important to read food labels, as non-dairy alternatives may also contain added ingredients such as sugar, salt, syrups, and thickeners,” she said.
But what do you do to fill the gap if you don’t like milk?
Bakies said several other dairy foods are good sources of the essential nutrients found in milk and can be used in many different ways. Yogurt is packed with seven essential nutrients and you can buy it in many forms that meet your taste preference such as regular, Greek or Icelandic. Cheese delivers six essential nutrients and comes in many forms from creamy and melty, to firm or soft and in a variety of flavors.
“You can also use milk as an ingredient when you make cream soup, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, pudding, overnight oats or smoothies,” she said.
If you are lactose intolerant and have a hard time digesting the sugar (called lactose) that is naturally found in milk, Bakies said you can still enjoy dairy by trying these tips. Drink a small amount of milk (1/2 cup) with food, look for yogurt with the term “live/active cultures” on the label, choose hard or aged cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, etc.) or try Lactose-free dairy. Lactose-free milk is REAL cow’s milk.
If you are looking for ways to add dairy to your diet, Bakies suggested that consumers can go to sites such as www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy, the ADA-Mideast website, www.drinkmilk.com/recipes or www.usdairy.com/recipes. For more dairy information, visit https://www.drink-milk.com/top-five-questions-about-milk-and-dairy-foods/.