Written by Julia Richards Krapfl, Community Outreach Coordinator
When I talk to kids about food groups, I tell them that the dairy group is very simple. It consists of milk and things made out of milk, such as yogurt and cheese. Although you only need about three servings of dairy a day, skipping those servings can be harmful for your body unless you are replacing those nutrients with other foods.
For many people, milk is the main source of calcium in their diet. Calcium is the main building block of bones and teeth. Bone mass is built when we are children and teenagers. As we get older, we need to eat foods with calcium to maintain bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.
Milk also contains protein, potassium, and Vitamin D. Each of these nutrients is important for healthy growth in children and for maintaining health as adults. Potassium is important in helping your blood pressure to stay in healthy range. Vitamin D helps your body maintain the right levels of calcium and potassium.
Other important nutrients found in milk include Vitamins A and B12, riboflavin, niacin, and phosphorus. Studies have shown that people who eat dairy may have lower risks of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and may even have lower blood pressure than people who do not eat three servings of dairy a day.
Some people may be allergic to milk or have lactose intolerance. For those who need to avoid milk and milk products, there are other options to get your calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D intake such as broccoli, soy or almond milk and bananas. Other options can be found at this website: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy-calcium-sources
What does three servings of dairy look like?
The charts below are from ChooseMyPlate.gov and show the recommended servings per day for adults and children as well as what counts as a serving. In general, one cup or eight ounces of milk or yogurt are a serving as is ½ ounce of natural cheese or two ounces of processed cheese such as American.
When choosing dairy foods, be sure to avoid raw or unpasteurized products due to risk of food borne illnesses. Fat-free and low-fat options are the best choices to limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet while still providing all of the nutritional benefits of milk. Additionally, be aware of added sugars in your dairy products such as chocolate or strawberry milk and flavored yogurt. Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk but is not a sugar to worry about. To find out how much sugar has been added to a product, compare the nutrition labels from a regular product, such as plain yogurt, to the flavored one.
Check out these recipes from the Midwest Dairy Council below for some healthy dairy dishes.