Health Benefits of Dairy


Foods in the dairy group supply approximately 75 percent of the calcium we consume. In addition, they provide protein, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin. Although milk, yogurt, and cheese offer significant amounts of calcium and other key nutrients, most people eat only half the recommended daily servings from this group. That means many people -- adults and children -- may not be getting enough calcium and other nutrients essential to staying healthy.

Certainly, foods from other groups contain calcium, but foods outside this group generally contain less, and the body may not absorb it as well. In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of dairy. Eating the right amount of dairy can make your body stronger and be part of an alternative treatment against illnesses. Let's begin by taking a look at calcium and vitamin D, which are both provided by dairy products.

Calcium for Health

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It is well known that calcium plays some pivotal roles in maintaining good health -- from keeping bones healthy and strong and helping prevent high blood pressure to more recent findings that the calcium in dairy products may make it easier to lose weight. Calcium also helps your blood to clot and keeps your muscles and nerves working properly.

If your body doesn't get enough calcium from food, it steals calcium from your bones to help keep a steady amount in your blood. Fortunately, it can be fairly easy to meet your daily calcium needs if you regularly enjoy milk, yogurt, and cheese.

The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It is a unique vitamin -- your body can make its own vitamin D when sunlight makes contact with your skin. To get enough, it only takes a few minutes of sun exposure, three times a week, on your hands, arms, or face (without sunscreen). However, if you live in Northern climates or don't get outdoors much, especially in the winter, you should not rely on sunshine. Also, as you age, your body may not be as efficient at making vitamin D, so food sources become even more important.

Your most reliable source of vitamin D is milk. Although milk is fortified with the vitamin, dairy products made from milk such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are generally not fortified with vitamin D. Only a few foods, including fatty fish and fish oils, naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D. Other foods that contain smaller amounts of vitamin D include eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, and margarine.

Serving Up Dairy

To meet your calcium requirements, most people should have about three cups of dairy foods each day. Teens have the highest calcium requirements and should get about four cups daily. Each of the following equals one cup of dairy:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese (cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, etc.)
  • 2 ounces processed cheese (American)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup pudding
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cream
Note: For some of these, such as frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream, a typical or reasonable portion is smaller than the amount that equals a one-cup serving -- for example, you're more likely to have only one cup of cottage cheese in a sitting -- so count your actual portion for what it is, such as half a serving in the cottage cheese example. Also note: Other dairy-based foods, such as butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, are not considered dairy servings. These foods are made from the cream portion of milk and contain mostly fat and little, if any, calcium.

Milk is perhaps the most prominent member of the dairy group. In the next section, we will discuss milk's health benefits, including how much to consume each day.

CALCIUM AT EVERY AGE AND STAGE

Age (years)
Daily Calcium Needs (milligrams)
1 to 3
500
4 to 8
800
9 to 18
1,300
19 to 50
1,000
51 and older
1,200
Pregnant/breast-feeding woman
1,000
Pregnant/breast-feeding teen (less than 18)
1,300

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Milk Varieties

There are many varieties of milk -- with different flavors and nutrition profiles. The easiest way to enjoy milk is ice-cold with a meal or snack. Most types of milk have about the same amount of calcium, protein, and most other nutrients per cup. The main differences are in calories and fat.

Obviously, you're better off nutritionally if you choose fat-free, or at least 1 percent, milk to keep fat and excess calories to a minimum. However, if you have children under the age of two, give them whole milk. Young, rapidly growing children need the calories and fat that whole milk provides.

You might also want to give buttermilk a try. With its distinctively tart, sour taste, it's not for everyone, but many people prefer its flavor. Buttermilk is not as fattening as it sounds. Though originally a by-product of butter, today buttermilk is made by adding bacteria cultures to fat-free or low-fat milk. Read the carton to be sure you're getting the low- or nonfat variety. Buttermilk tends to be saltier than regular milk, however (a concern if you have or are at risk for high blood pressure), and it may not be fortified with vitamins A and D.

Beyond Straight up

There are other ways to include milk beyond drinking it plain:
  • Many recipes call for milk, and in others, you can easily substitute milk for water. For example, use milk to make hot cereals; pancakes and waffles; soups; packaged potato, pasta, and rice mixes; baked goods; desserts; and drink mixes.

  • Cereal and a cup of milk makes a good anytime snack -- and it meets about a third of your daily requirement for calcium.

  • Try blending milk with yogurt, fruit, and ice cubes for a refreshing fruit smoothie. Add a flavor twist by using chocolate-, banana-, vanilla-, or strawberry-flavored milk.

  • Have some coffee with your milk. Try a café latte or cappuccino to get a healthy amount of milk with your coffee.

  • If you're a soda drinker, consider choosing fat-free milk instead of regular soda once in a while to save about 90 calories and get milk's nine essential nutrients.
Milk Storage

All milk should have a "sell by" date stamped on the carton. This date is the last day the milk should be sold if it is to remain fresh for home storage. It does not mean that you need to use it by that date. Generally, if milk is stored in a closed container at refrigerator temperatures, it will remain fresh for up to a week after the "sell by" date. Pasteurization -- the process of rapidly heating raw milk, holding it for a short specified period of time, then rapidly cooling it -- removes most of the bacteria from milk. However, some of the remaining harmless bacteria can grow and multiply, although very slowly, at refrigerator temperatures, eventually causing the milk to spoil.

Store milk on a refrigerator shelf rather than in the door, which is not cold enough. To safe-guard quality and freshness, store milk in the original container. Keep milk containers closed and away from strong-smelling foods. To avoid cross-contaminating milk, do not return unused milk from a serving pitcher to the original container. If milk has been left at room temperature for longer than two hours, throw it out.

Milk in plastic jugs is more susceptible to loss of riboflavin and vitamin A than milk in paperboard cartons. That's because light, even the fluorescent light in supermarkets, destroys these two light-sensitive nutrients.

Today, you may find milk not only in the refrigerated section but also out on the shelf with packaged goods. This is called UHT (ultra-high-temperature) milk, referring to the processing technique. Though it must be refrigerated once you open it, unopened UHT milk will keep at room temperature for up to six months. UHT milk is just as nutritious as the milk you buy in the refrigerated section.

Drinking raw milk, or products that are made with raw milk such as some cheeses, can be risky. Raw milk has not been pasteurized and often carries bacteria that can make you sick. It's especially dangerous to give raw milk to children, the elderly, or people with impaired immune systems.

Cheese is another high source of calcium if it is part of a healthy diet. We will review the benefits of cheese in the next section.

THE BASIC FACTS ABOUT MILK

1 cup
Calcium (mg)
Calories
Fat (g)
Fat-free (skim) milk
300
80
0
Low-fat (1/2%) milk
300
90
1
Low-fat (1%) milk
300
100
2.5
Low-fat (1%) chocolate milk
290
160
2.5
Low-fat (1%) buttermilk
280
100
2.5
Reduced-fat (2%) milk
300
120
5
Whole (3.25% fat) milk
300
150
8

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Cheese

Cheese can be made from whole, low-fat, or skim milk or combinations of these. Regardless of the type of milk used to create it, cheese is a concentrated source of the nutrients naturally found in milk, including calcium. Indeed, many cheeses provide 200 to 300 milligrams of calcium per ounce.

"Low-fat cheese" used to be an oxymoron. No more. Today, there are dozens of reduced-fat, low-fat, and fat-free versions of American, cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, and other cheeses that you may find worth biting into. Fat in this new generation of cheeses has been cut anywhere from 25 to 100 percent. The average fat reduction is about 30 percent. Most of these contain added gums and stabilizers that help simulate the creamy texture and rich taste of full-fat cheeses.

The taste and texture of lower-fat cheeses vary considerably. Some people find them fine substitutes for the full-fat varieties, while other folks don't, preferring to forgo cheese rather than settle for a low-fat substitute. Cheese connoisseurs will probably never be true fans of reduced-fat cheeses, but if you're trying to cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol, they do offer alternatives.

The one nutritional drawback of reduced-fat cheeses is that they are usually higher in sodium than full-fat natural cheeses. An ounce of regular Swiss cheese, for example, contains only about 74 milligrams of sodium. A reduced-fat Swiss may contain 300 to 400 milligrams or more
per ounce.

Are reduced-fat cheeses the answer for a diet hopelessly high in fat? Hardly. Unless you're a big cheese eater, chances are other elements of your diet -- such as fatty meats, whole milk, buttery muffins and croissants, chips, and ice cream -- are more in need of a good fat-trimming. But substituting reduced-fat for full-fat cheese can't hurt. When it comes to the war on fat, every gram counts.

Another option for cheese lovers is to use strong-flavored cheeses, such as Parmesan, blue, or gorgonzola. With these, a little can go a long way in terms of adding flavor.

Cheese Selection and Storage

Many cheeses have considerably more fat per serving than a cup of milk. When shopping for lower-fat cheeses, here's what the label will tell you:
  • Low-fat cheese: three grams or less of fat per one-ounce serving
  • Reduced-fat cheese: 25 percent less fat than the same full-fat cheese
  • Fat-free cheese: less than 0.5 gram of fat per one-ounce serving.
For reduced-fat cheeses, opt for varieties that provide no more than five grams of fat per ounce. Regular cheeses provide eight to nine grams per ounce. Brands vary a lot in taste and texture. Shop around until you find one you like. You're better off choosing a reduced-fat cheese based on taste and then trying it in recipes. Remember, the less fat a cheese contains, the harder it is to use in cooking.

Because of their high moisture content, lower-fat cheeses turn moldy more quickly than their full-fat counterparts. Keep them well wrapped in the refrigerator, and use them as soon as possible.

Cooking with Cheese

In general, the further you get from traditional cheese in terms of fat content, the more careful you have to be about applying heat. It's the high fat content of regular cheese, generally about 70 percent of its calories, that gives full-fat cheese its smooth, creamy texture and allows it to melt easily.

When you reduce the fat content, the cheese becomes less pliable and more difficult to melt. The lower the fat content, the tougher the melting problem becomes. Trying to make a cheese sauce with a reduced-fat cheese can truly be an exercise in futility because the product is prone to breaking down into a clumpy, stringy mess.

Nonfat cheeses are best served "as is" in unheated sandwiches or in salads. They generally have milder flavors than regular cheeses and sometimes have what cheese purists sometimes describe as slightly "off " flavors.

To lighten the calorie and fat load of recipes without dramatically altering the flavor or texture, try replacing one-half to two-thirds of a full-fat cheese with a reduced-fat variety. Grated cheese blends best. Or combine a small amount of full-fat, full-bodied cheese like extra sharp cheddar or Parmesan with a reduced-fat cheese. A little full-fat cheese can go a long way toward improving the flavor of the dish. Most reduced-fat cheeses melt smoothly when they are layered in a casserole; the layers serve as insulation and help prevent the cheese from separating or becoming stringy.

The lower the amount of fat in a cheese, the longer it takes to melt and the more likely it is to produce a "skin" and scorch when baked. To counter this problem, top casseroles and baked pasta dishes with reduced-fat cheese only near the end of the baking time, and heat until just melted. Serve immediately.

Meltability on top of dishes like casseroles or pizzas varies among varieties of reduced-fat cheeses just as it does among traditional cheeses. You may find, for example, that a fat-reduced mozzarella melts much more smoothly than a fat-reduced cheddar. Meltability, texture, and taste may also vary among brands within a variety. Therefore, you'll probably need to do some shopping around and some experimenting to determine which varieties and which brands suit your needs and tastes in various situations; you'll probably prefer some kinds for snacking and other kinds for cooking or as toppings.

Yogurt is another major source of calcium that can strengthen the body. In the next section, let's review its benefits and the best ways to include it in your daily diet.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Yogurt

Yogurt was a long-established staple in Eastern Europe and the Middle East before it reached our shores. And there was a time when yogurt eaters in this country were considered "health nuts." Our attitudes have changed considerably. Today, yogurt is commonly consumed by men, women, and children of all ages. Walk into any supermarket today, and you'll see the varieties and flavors of this nutritious food take up considerable space in the dairy section.

Friendly Bacteria

Yogurt may not be the miracle food some have claimed, but it certainly has a lot to offer in the health department. Besides being an excellent source of bone-building calcium, it is believed that the bacterial cultures Lactobacillus bulgaricus (L. bulgaricus) and Streptococcus thermophilus (S. thermophilus), that are used to make yogurt, carry their own health benefits.

For example, research has suggested that eating yogurt regularly helps boost the body's immune-system function, warding off colds and possibly even helping to fend off cancer. It is also thought the friendly bacteria found in many types of yogurt can help prevent and even remedy diarrhea.

For people who suffer from lactose intolerance, yogurt is often well tolerated because live yogurt cultures produce lactase, making the lactose sugar in the yogurt easier to digest (see Lactose Intolerance for advice on coping with this condition). Be sure to check the label on the yogurt carton for the National Yogurt Association's Live and Active Cultures (LAC) seal. This seal identifies products that contain a significant amount of live and active cultures. But don't look to frozen yogurt as an option; most frozen yogurt contains little of the healthful bacteria.

Yogurt Selection and Storage

There is a dizzying array of brands and flavors and varieties of yogurts in most supermarkets. But there are some basic traits to look for when deciding which to put in your grocery cart. Choose a yogurt that is either low fat or fat free. It should contain no more than three grams of fat per eight-ounce carton.

Some yogurts are also sugar free (these are often signaled by the term "light," but check the label carefully to be sure, since this term might also refer to fat content) and contain an alternative sweetener instead of added sugar. Consider choosing plain, vanilla, lemon, or any one of the yogurts without a jamlike fruit mixture added. The mixture adds mainly calories and little if anything in the way of vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Your best health bet is to add your own fresh fruit to plain fat-free yogurt.

Yogurt must always be refrigerated. Each carton should have a "sell by" date stamped on it. It should be eaten within the week following the "sell by" date to take full advantage of the live and active cultures in the yogurt. As yogurt is stored, the amount of live and active cultures begins to decline.

Preparation and Serving Tips

Yogurt can be enjoyed as a low-fat dessert, snack, or meal accompaniment; just add sliced berries, nuts, wheat germ, bananas, peaches, fruit cocktail, mandarin-orange slices, pineapple chunks, low-fat granola, or bran cereal. Yogurt also works well as a low-fat substitute in a lot of recipes that call for high-fat ingredients such as sour cream or cream. Yogurt is especially well-suited as a base for vegetable and/or chip dips and salad dressings.

Milk, cheese, and yogurt are all important sources of calcium. Selecting and consuming the right amounts are important for a strong body. A well-balanced diet will always include servings of each.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.