Feature Articles: Eating Well
June is Dairy Month
Contributors: Christeena Haynes, MS, RD, LD, former Nutrition & Health Education Specialist; Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension
The dairy food group (milk, yogurt, cheese) is an important part of following a healthy diet. Consumption of milk and milk products has been linked to improved bone health, particularly in children and adolescents, as well as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Milk and other dairy products provide many nutrients that are beneficial to the body. According to the National Dairy Council, milk is the main food source in the U.S. diet for calcium, potassium and vitamin D. It also contains phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin and magnesium.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies. It makes up about 2 percent of our total body weight. Most calcium is stored in our bones and teeth to keep them strong, but it is essential for other very important functions as well. Calcium helps in blood clotting and healing wounds, helps our muscles to contract, makes our heart beat and controls our heart rhythm. If we don’t include enough calcium in our diet, calcium is pulled from our bones to perform these needed functions.
Vitamin D is added to milk because it helps us absorb calcium and regulates how much calcium remains in the blood. It also helps assure calcium is deposited in bones and teeth. Vitamin D plays a role in immunity and helps regulate cell growth.
To assure adequate intake of calcium, the most recent dietary guidelines recommend 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk or the equivalent each day for those 9 years of age or older; 2½ cups for children ages 4 to 8; and 2 cups for those 2 to 3 years old. An equivalent amount of one cup of milk would be 1 cup of yogurt, 1½ ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
It is best to choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk and milk products because they provide the same nutrients as full-fat milk but with less saturated (unhealthy) fat and calories. Consuming more milk and yogurt and less cheese also helps to reduce sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet. For those who are calorie or weight conscious, switching to low-fat and fat-free milk products is more beneficial than reducing or cutting out dairy because of all the nutrients milk products provide.
There are low-lactose and lactose-free milk products available for those who are lactose intolerant. Soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D is another good option for people who cannot consume dairy products because it has a similar nutrient makeup.
Use June as a time to making sure you're getting enough of these important nutrients in your diet. Just drinking one cup of milk with a meal can provide nearly 1/3 of your calcium for a day. Here are some other ways you can incorporate more dairy in your diet:
- Make oatmeal and soups with milk instead of water
- Add powdered non-fat milk to soups, casseroles or meatloaf
- Top baked potatoes with Greek yogurt
- Use yogurt as a dressing for fruit salads
- Make smoothies for snacks with yogurt, milk, fruits and vegetables
- Freeze flavored yogurt or pudding as popsicles
For recipes, see the DairyGood section on the National Dairy Council website.
National Dairy Council. Improve diet quality with 3 daily servings of dairy. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from https://www.nationaldairycouncil.org/
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.
Last update: Tuesday, June 14, 2016