Why is it important to eat dairy?
Consuming dairy products provides health benefits, especially improved bone health. Foods in the dairy group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body including:
- Calcium is used for building bones and teeth, and in maintaining bone mass. Dairy products are the primary source of calcium in American diets. Diets that provide 3 cups or the equivalent of dairy products per day can improve bone mass.
- Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Dairy products, especially yogurt, fluid milk, and soymilk (soy beverage), provide potassium.
- Vitamin D functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous, thereby helping to build and maintain bones. Milk and soy milk (soy beverage) that are fortified with vitamin D are good sources of this nutrient. Other sources include vitamin D-fortified yogurt and vitamin D-fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
Milk products that are consumed in their low-fat or fat-free forms provide little or no solid fat.
If you don’t eat dairy products, it is important to make sure you still get enough calcium. Other sources of calcium include:
- Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk.
- Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones).
- Soybeans, soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), and some other beans.
- Some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy).
The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies.
How much dairy should you eat?
The amount of food from the dairy group you need to eat depends on your age. For everyone over the age of 9, the recommended amount is 3 cups per day. For younger children, the recommendation ranges from 2 to 2 ½ cups per day.
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the dairy group.
Tips for eating dairy
- Include milk or calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) as a beverage at meals. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk.
- Have fat-free or low-fat yogurt as a snack.
- Make a dip for fruits or vegetables from yogurt.
- Make fruit-yogurt smoothies in the blender.
- Top cut-up fruit with flavored yogurt for a quick dessert.
- Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from unpasteurized milk.