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Power of Dairy

Consumption of dairy has been associated with improved bone health, improved weight management, and reduced risk of heart disease. This month the National Dairy Council is highlighting the health benefits of dairy, and I thought they were worth passing along.

Many people avoid dairy because of lactose intolerance or perceived intolerances or allergies. For some background on lactose intolerance and milk allergies, check out my post from back in May here. If you've been away from dairy for awhile, I want to encourage you to reconsider. 

The USDA recommends 3 servings of dairy per day, to help provide the recommended daily amount of calcium. The best sources in a typical American diet are milk, yogurt, and cheese. 

First of all, milk is a nutritional powerhouse! Just look at this picture from the National Dairy Council, showing the variety of nutrients 1 cup of milk provides. It is these nutrients that are providing the health benefits listed above. In 1 cup of skim milk, you get all this for about 90 calories, and 1% milk is only 20 calories more. 

Yogurt provides the health benefits of milk, but also includes probiotics. What are probiotics? Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in our digestive system and help keep it healthy, aid in digestion and support the body's immune system. Sure, you can get them in a supplement form, but it's a whole lot easier (and cheaper!) to get them through yogurt or kefir (another fermented milk product).  

The many choices of yogurt at a supermarket!

The many choices of yogurt at a supermarket!

People get really confused about what kind of yogurt to buy. Isn't it crazy how many brands and types of yogurt there are now, compared to just 10 years ago?? My biggest recommendations when buying yogurt is to look at the sugar content. Many yogurts are really glorified puddings or desserts. Depending on the brand, you might see as much as 24g of sugar in a single-serving cup - that's the equivalent of 6 sugar packets!

To be fair, some of that sugar is naturally occurring lactose. In 6oz of plain yogurt, there are about 10g of sugar. In 6oz of plain Greek yogurt, that number drops to about 7g. And maybe 2-3g is from the fruit - if that is how the yogurt is flavored. But be sure to read the ingredient list to find how many kinds of added sugar is hiding in your yogurt.

My second recommendation is to consider the fat and protein content. Low-fat and fat-free dairy options will help keep your daily saturated fat and total fat levels down a little. Using the same 6oz size to compare, you get about 8g of protein from regular yogurt and between 15-20g from Greek yogurt. Both fat and protein are going to help you feel full longer, which is a nice benefit for our waistlines. 

And let's not forget cheese, my true love in the dairy group. One ounce of cheese is considered a "serving". This is equal to one slice in most pre-sliced cheese packages, or about the size of 4 small dice. Cheese, unfortunately, is a significant source of saturated fat and sodium. Two nutrients that most Americans get way too much of in our diets.

But, cheese can easily be incorporated into a healthy diet as well. Choose your favorite kind of cheese and use it well! I would recommend not wasting those calories on cheese that is "hidden" in foods, or where you can't really appreciate it in all it's glory! 

Stay tuned tomorrow for some simple recipes and easy ways to get those recommended 3 servings a day into your diet!