Dairy in the Diet: Family Eats Delves Deep into Dairy

by Laura on October 19, 2011

in From the Experts


This month we talk with Trina Robertson, MS, RD Project Manager at Dairy Council of California about the ins and outs of dairy in our diets. She provides lots of great insight into the topic. You can follower her on Twitter @TrinaR_RD

Discuss the USDA dietary guidelines (specifically dairy) including the nutrients found in dairy. 

The USDA Dietary Guidelines were released January 2011 and they recommend consuming more low-fat and fat-free milk or milk products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These food groups contribute substantially towards the “under consumed nutrients” in American’s diets: calcium, potassium, vitamin D and fiber. Milk products are the largest food contributor to the first three of these four nutrients. A serving is equivalent to 1 cup of milk or yogurt and 1-1/2 ounces of cheese. All milks, regardless of fat level or added flavorings, contain about the same amount of calcium. The recommendations, which are based on promoting bone health, can be reached by consuming three servings of milk & milk products each day for those who are 9 years and older. Children age 4-8 should consume 2-1/2 cups of milk & milk products each day and 2-3 year olds need 2 cups of milk products daily.

How are Americans falling short on their dairy consumption? And, what can this deficiency lead to – i.e. health problems?

Calcium is one of the four nutrients most likely to be lacking in the American diet.  According to government statistics nine out of 10 women and six out of 10 men fall short of calcium recommendations.  Only 12% of females and 32% of males get enough calcium to build bone mass during their critical teenage years. Children and adolescents today are more likely to break a bone than their parents were. The latest research shows calcium helps protect against fractures, osteoporosis, hypertension, colon cancer and may help with weight management.

Milk and milk products also provides vitamin D, which is important not only for bone health but also boosts our immune system and reduces the risk of same cancers. Milk is the largest contributor of potassium in American’s diets and this vitamin helps to maintain normal blood pressure.

MyPlate.gov gives new recommendations for daily intake, with dairy receiving its own place on the plate.  The recommendations are to consume more ‘low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products’ can you explain this a bit more, and why?

The new MyPlate came out in June 2011 and is a symbol of what should make up the foundation of a healthy diet based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. MyPlate reinforces the importance of family meals and including milk and milk products with each meal. The circle representing dairy is a great call-out to pour a glass of milk with meals. It recommends low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products as a simple way to lower calories in our diet while still obtaining the nutrients. In light of the obesity epidemic it is an easy strategy to recommend. Plus, research indicates that lowering the fat in the diet, particularly saturated fat, may help lower the risk of heart disease.

That said, depending on individual tastes, health concerns and goals, whole milk, yogurt and cheese are nutrient-rich options for many. I would suggest talking to your healthcare provider or a dietitian to evaluate best choices for you and your family to meet your individual needs.

Milk gets a bad rap sometimes. Some say there is no need for it, you can get your calcium and other vitamins/minerals elsewhere. How valid/how true is this claim?

Experts agree that it is best to consume adequate calcium from nutrient-rich food sources rather than supplements whenever possible. Milk and milk products are the number-one food source of calcium and vitamin D in the diet. Another benefit of consuming nutrients from foods rather than supplements is that foods provide intakes of beneficial nutrients and food components for which recommendations may not exist.

If you agree with the food first philosophy then there is the matter of the types of food to obtain calcium. There is nothing in the diet that we can’t do without. (I once read that one man did not like the taste of water and refused to drink it; he just ate fruit to get enough fluids.) You could get nutrients through a variety of sources if you choose your diet carefully. I believe that it is a more satisfying approach to eat a wide variety of foods that taste good. Milk & milk products offer a package of nine nutrients that taste good, are affordable and are good for your health.

Dairy is an important source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D – obviously consumers can get these nutrients with other foods  – is dairy ( milk) simply an all-in-one contributor to the diet?

Milk’s package of nutrients makes it an essential part of nutrient-rich eating patterns. Research continues to expand the positive role milk and milk products play in an individual’s health including and beyond bone health. Other nutrients besides calcium are critical to bone health. Vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12 and zinc are all needed in bone deposition. Consuming a well-balanced diet composed of a variety of foods, including dairy products and fruits and vegetables, grains and meat or beans on a daily basis is the best way to ensure an adequate intake of all these important bone-building nutrients.

Any suggestions on how to increase dairy consumption?

Eating more meals at home is a great way to offer more variety of foods, including milk and dairy products. In fact, nearly 80% of milk is consumed at home so sitting at the table is a great start. Kids can pour a glass of milk with meals, getting them involved in the food preparation process. Parents should role model good eating habits including consuming enough milk & milk products. Offering cheese and yogurt at snack time is an ideal way to consume extra dairy servings, and generally appeal to even the most selective of children and adolescents.

What if one replaces dairy with a composite of substitutes? (pertaining to the slide in your presentation). Does it matter? 

Other calcium-rich foods, such as beans, nuts and dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and bok choy, are also dietary sources of calcium and can help to make up the difference, but it takes many more servings of these to get the same amount of calcium as that in 1 cup (or serving) of milk. For example, you would need to eat 7-1/2 cups of spinach or 2-1/2 cups of broccoli to get as much calcium as you do in one cup of milk or 1.5 ounces of cheese. Or you could eat a 3.8 ounce can of salmon with bones or a 2.8 ounce can of sardines to equal one cup of yogurt. It can be done although milk’s package of nutrients, along with the good taste, makes it an easy, tasty and very affordable choice for most families.

How to decide which milk is right for you? (i.e. skim, 2%, etc.)

Public health recommendations are whole milk for children under 2 years old and low-fat or fat-free milk over 2 years of age. Let your family’s taste preferences and your dietary goals determine what type of milk you purchase. Here in California non-fat milk solids are added back into milk to enhance the nutritional content, texture, taste and look of skim milk, low-fat (1 percent) and reduced fat (2 percent) milk.

Anything else?

You can learn fun facts through our Dairy Farm Game and try our Calcium Quiz is a great way to calculate your current calcium intake and to learn what foods are calcium rich. You can use it to calculate the calcium intake of other family member as well. At the end, you will find suggestions for eating more calcium-rich foods, and easy ways to work them into your diet. Planning meals for the week is another way to ensure that food choices include all five food groups: Milk & Milk Products (dairy); Fruit; Vegetables, Grains; and Meat &Bean (protein).

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