The Sun News

CREASY: Dairy products part of a healthy diet

As the month of June begins and temperatures begin to rise, I can’t think of a better way to cool off and celebrate National Dairy Month than to enjoy homemade peach ice cream, a fruit and yogurt parfait or a fruit and yogurt smoothie.

Many of us indulge in the rich, creamy taste of dairy foods. But, did you also know that dairy foods are a nutritional powerhouse containing nine essential nutrients that can help with weight management and reduce risk of high blood pressure?

Dairy products are good sources of protein, rich in calcium and are fortified with vitamin D. These nutrients are especially important for growth and strong bones in growing children and teenagers. Calcium and vitamin D are also essential nutrients for adults as they help maintain bone strength and structure. With more than 53 million American adults either having osteoporosis or being at risk due to low bone mass, many of us can benefit from adding a glass of milk or some lowfat cheese to our daily diets.

The National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board recommends that adults get 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day to reduce risk of osteoporosis. Just think, one cup of milk alone provides about 25-30 percent of our daily calcium requirement.

Intolerance to lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk, and allergies to animal milk proteins may present a challenge when it comes to meeting daily calcium and vitamin D needs. However, simple food substitutions can help consumers receive adequate amounts of these bone-building nutrients. Lactose intolerant individuals can opt for foods with low or no lactose, such as yogurt and lactose-free milk. Consumers with milk protein allergies can substitute cow’s milk with calcium- and vitamin D-fortified soy milk, rice milk or almond milk. Other foods that are good sources of vitamin D and/or calcium include leafy, green vegetables, fatty varieties of salmon and sardines (canned with bones), tofu and tempeh.

Adults and older children should aim to include three cups of dairy or dairy substitutes in their daily diet. Children 4-8 years old should consume 2½ cups of dairy, and those 2-3 years old should consume two cups of dairy each day. The following foods are equivalent to one cup from the dairy group:

1 cup (8 fluid ounces) cow, goat or other animal milk

1 cup (8 fluid ounces) yogurt

1 1/2 ounces natural cheese

1/3 cup shredded cheese

2 ounces processed cheese

1 cup frozen yogurt

1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk, almond or other plant-based milk

Although dairy products pack a powerful punch of essential nutrients, they can also be high in saturated fat. Consuming excess saturated fat may raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in blood, putting us at higher risk for heart disease. In order to limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet and still enjoy dairy, choose skim, reduced fat, or low-fat milk; low fat or fat free yogurt; reduced fat cheese or cheese made from 2 percent milk.

For many of us, getting in enough dairy is easier said than done. Because of work, child care and running errands, nutrition is often the last thing on our minds. With a little bit of planning, however, getting in the recommended servings of dairy each day can be easier than you might imagine. At the beginning of each week, try to plan out your meals and a variety of snacks that include dairy. Simple suggestions for easy, inexpensive snacks are:

cheese and vegetable kabobs

apple slices with lowfat or fat free yogurt dip

fruit and yogurt smoothie

string cheese and whole grain crackers

1/2 English muffin with reduced fat cheese

These snacks are perfect finger foods for adults and kids alike. You can also sneak dairy products into main dishes and side dishes by replacing half of the mayonnaise or sour cream in salad recipes with plain, lowfat yogurt. This replacement eliminates more than 100 calories from a dish for each tablespoon of mayonnaise that is replaced with yogurt.

The health significance of nutrients contained in dairy and the ease with which dairy products and substitutes can be incorporated into meals and snacks make it easy for you to celebrate National Dairy Month during June and year-round by incorporating “3-A-Day” into your diet.

Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or