In Defense of Dairy

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Due to the myths that surround dairy foods, grocery store shelves are booming with dairy-free milk, yogurt, and cheese choices. These increased milk options are great for those facing dairy allergies and intolerances, but for the majority of people, dairy is still the best option.

Two of the myths driving plant-based milk sales is that dairy is “unhealthy,”  when in fact it is the healthiest option and that dairy foods are easily replaceable. Containing all 9 essential nutrients (protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, Riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin D, and Niacin), makes no other milk option an equal replacement for cow’s milk. For this reason, the USDA recommends three servings of dairy a day.

More than 80% of the U.S. population does not meet daily dairy recommendations resulting in nutrient gaps. When dairy is removed from daily eating patterns, or replaced with sugar-sweetened beverages, calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin D, potassium, and choline intake drop. To replace the calcium of three servings of dairy each day, would take 17 cups of raw kale. It would take 6.5 ounces of sardines to replace the vitamin D levels.

This doesn’t mean that other kinds of milk are lacking in nutrition or are good options for some people. Soy milk is a good source of protein, but it is a common allergen and not an option for everyone. Unsweetened almond and cashew milk are good low-calorie options for dieters. These kinds of milk are often sweetened with added sugar, unlike dairy which contains only natural sugar. Coconut milk is a good option for cooking but has no protein and is very high in saturated fat.

Because of limits on the daily intake of saturated fat, low-fat and non-fat milk are recommended. The trick to consuming dairy, or any food for that matter, is sticking to serving sizes. A serving of milk is 8 fluid ounces. A serving of cheese is a tablespoon or about the size of your thumb. Eating cheese has many health benefits. It can decrease the risk of heart disease and diabetes, improves cholesterol, helps you live longer, and makes you stronger.

Anyone working towards being healthier in the new year should make sure they are getting at least three servings of dairy every day. But If you do remove dairy from your diet, don’t forget to replace every health-giving nutrient it has to offer.

N.C. Cooperative Extension of Richmond County’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, health, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Janice Roberts, MS at 910-997-8255.