June is National Dairy Month. Dairy, which can come from several different animals, takes many different shapes, flavors, and textures, all while being an important source of essential nutrients. Quick, think about the foods you have in your house right now. How many different forms of dairy are there? I’m willing to bet you have quite a few: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, whipped cream, buttermilk, kefir, etc. However, many of us are not getting the recommended 3 servings of each day.
Dairy is one of the 5 food groups and important in our diets for the calcium it contains. Calcium builds and maintains strong bones and teeth. Not only does dairy provide calcium, it’s a good source of 8 other important nutrients – potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure and is used in muscle contractions. Phosphorus also forms strong bones and teeth and is an important part of energy production and DNA is made of phosphorus molecules. Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood and bones. Vitamin A is important for healthy eyes, skin, and cell reproduction. B12, riboflavin, and niacin are used in energy metabolism. Diets rich in dairy products may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Choose Low-Fat Dairy
Dairy is also a major source of saturated fat, which should be limited in our diets. Choosing low-fat (1%) and nonfat (skim) dairy products saves saturated fat and calories while providing all the other essential nutrients dairy foods contain. Dairy foods high in saturated fat include whole milk, half and half, cream, full fat cheeses or yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, and butter. Low-fat (1%) and nonfat (skim) milk and yogurt are better choices. Focus on getting most of your dairy from these foods. Using reduced-fat cheese is a better choice than full fat, but cheese is also higher in sodium, so it’s best to use cheese in moderation. The same goes for ice cream, and cream cheese.
Dairy foods are known for their calcium, but other foods also contain calcium. These are good options for people who can’t eat/drink dairy foods or choose not to for personal reasons.
- Calcium-fortified foods (juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk)
- Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
- Soybeans and soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh)
- Leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy)
What are your favorite dairy foods? How have you made the switch to low-fat or fat-free dairy options? We’d love to hear from you!