Have you had your dairy today?

Dairy foods have been eaten for centuries, but in recent years there’s been a debate as to their place in a healthy diet, primarily because of their levels of saturated fat.

For those who are dairy lovers, take heart. It turns out that recent research is showing that dairy, enjoyed in moderation, not only provides high-quality protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium, but may help improve cholesterol levels (yes, you’ve read that correctly), and doesn’t necessarily contribute to weight gain.

The USDA recommends three servings a day of dairy (approximately 3 cups) and in the wonderful world of dairy, there are many foods available to choose from including yogurt, kefir, cheese and milk, so it’s really easy to meet your daily requirements.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when incorporating dairy into your diet:

  • Moderation is key. Three servings a day can include one and one-half ounces of cheese, one cup of yogurt and one cup of milk.
  • Dairy can be enjoyed throughout the day. For example, enjoy yogurt with granola and fruit for breakfast; add sprinkles of cheese, like feta, to your favorite salad at lunch. For dinner, spruce up your baked spud by topping it with ½ ounce of cheese and bake again for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
  • Fats, like those found in yogurt, can help increase the absorption of lycopene found in tomatoes, as well as fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K. For an easy and nutritious snack, use plain yogurt with herbs and spices as a dipping sauce. Slice up veggies such as carrots, broccoli, celery, sweet red peppers and grape tomatoes and dip away!
  • When shopping for yogurt, look for “active live cultures” like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles, on the ingredient list to ensure you’re getting the “good” beneficial bacteria that is great for gut health. Whenever possible, buy plain yogurt and add your own sweetness (a drizzle of honey or cut up fruit). Yogurts that are pre-sweetened have added sugar and calories that you may want to skip!
  • Did you know that all forms of milk – skim, whole, low fat — are equally nutritious? The only difference is the amount of fat, so choose the type that suits your taste and your dietary needs.

To learn more about the health studies mentioned as well as other food pairings and tips, refer to our dairy Toolkit. We’ve included guides for buying dairy products along with resources that show how milk is produced and cheese is crafted. And, for those who are vegan or medically unable to eat dairy, we’ve included a resource on dairy alternatives, too.

- Deborah Plunkett