The Dairy Group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soymilk. They provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium, protein, and other nutrients needed for good health throughout life. Choices should be low- fat or fat-free—to cut calories and saturated fat. How much is needed? Older children, teens, and adults need 3 cups* a day, while children 4 to 8 years old need 2½ cups, and children 2 to 3 years old need 2 cups.
Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. If you currently drink whole milk, gradually switch to lower fat versions. This change cuts calories but doesn’t reduce calcium or other essential nutrients.
Choose fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt more often than cheese. Milk and yogurt have more potassium and less sodium than most cheeses. Also, almost all milk and many yogurts are fortified with vitamin D.
Use fat-free or low-fat milk on cereal and oatmeal. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat yogurt instead of higher fat toppings such as sour cream.
Many cheeses are high in saturated fat. Look for “reduced-fat” or “low-fat” on the label. Try different brands or types to find the one that you like.
Regular cream cheese, cream, and butter are not part of the dairy food group. They are high in saturated fat and have little or no calcium.
When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.
Flavored milks, fruit yogurts, frozen yogurt, and puddings can contain a lot of added sugars. These added sugars are empty calories. You need the nutrients in dairy foods—not these empty calories.
If so, get your calcium along with your morning caffeine boost. Make or order coffee, a latte, or cappuccino with fat-free or low-fat milk.
If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk, drink smaller amounts of milk at a time, or try soymilk (soy beverage). Check the Nutrition Facts label to be sure your soymilk has about 300 mg of calcium. Calcium in some leafy greens is well absorbed, but eating several cups each day to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic.
Parents who drink milk and eat dairy foods show their kids that it is important. Dairy foods are especially important to build the growing bones of kids and teens. Routinely include low-fat or fat-free dairy foods with meals and snacks—for everyone’s benefit.
The best sources of dietary calcium are dairy products. One glass of milk has about 300 milligrams of calcium. MyPlate recommendations for dairy:
|3 cups||Milk and foods made
Choose fat-free and low-fat products
1 cup milk
1 1/2 ounces hard cheese
1 cup yogurt
1 cup pudding
Calcium is the most abundant of the minerals in the human body and 99 percent of it is contained in bones and teeth. The human skeleton has 206 bones that are made up of calcium and protein.
Calcium has many important functions in the body:
Adequate dietary calcium intake from milk is a major factor in reducing bone fractures. Physical activity also is an important factor in keeping bones healthy. Physical activity is one of the few ways the body builds up bone density, so when children are inactive their bones become weaker. Activities that are specifically good for bone health include weight-bearing activities such as jogging, walking and dancing.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease common in older adults, marked by lower-than-normal bone mineral levels that lead to increased fracture risk. This disease affects millions of Americans every year, especially women. Women are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as men because of the sudden drop in estrogen at menopause and women’s tendency to live longer than men. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include smoking, old age, ethnicity (whites or Asians have a higher risk than blacks or Hispanics), family history, being very thin, early menstruation and/or early menopause, eating disorders, alcoholism, excess caffeine, low calcium intake and a sedentary lifestyle.
Individuals can reduce the risk for osteoporosis by eating a diet adequate in calcium and vitamin D and engaging in regular physical activity.