In the nutrition classes I teach students are asked to assess their calcium intake by noting the foods they eat in a day and then how much calcium they took in. Invariably, the male students meet their calcium needs, but few female students do. Many female students have calcium intakes way under the recommended levels. In another class, I have the students observe a child eating lunch or dinner. It always surprises how these growing children have no milk at their meals but sweetened tea, a sugared soda, or other sugared beverage. There seems to be little understanding of how important dairy foods are for your health.
What are some of the health benefits of dairy products?
Bone Mass - Most people are aware we need dairy foods like milk, yogurt, cheese to build strong bones.
Blood Pressure – a number of research studies have shown that consuming dairy products leads to lower blood pressure levels. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends the DASH diet for high blood pressure. By eating more fruits and vegetables and having 3 servings of dairy a day, they found lower blood pressure levels compared to a group who ate the fruits and vegetables but didn’t eat the dairy foods. So why not just take calcium supplements? Seem calcium supplements are not as good at lowering blood pressure as eating the real thing – dairy foods.
Weight Loss – researchers vary in their opinion of the role of dairy foods in weight loss. Why? It may depend on how the study was conducted. In a recent study, 71 overweight or obese adults were given a low calorie diet that was either adequate or low in dairy foods. To ensure compliance, the food was provided to the participants. Although weight loss wasn’t different between the two groups, those receiving the adequate dairy diet were less hungry and this may be the reason eating dairy foods has been linked to weight loss.
Protein/dairy at meals – dairy is a great source of protein. By eating a low fat yogurt at breakfast or lunch, you will be less hungry later. Try it. A man I know said he was always hungry around 10:30 AM even though he had a good breakfast. I suggested he add some protein to his breakfast and he added a low-fat yogurt. He then stated he could go to lunch time and not be searching for a mid-morning snack from the vending machine at 10:30 AM each day.
Muscle Mass – so many young men wanting to “build mass” go out for the protein powders and protein shakes. It is true that along with strength training, eating high quality protein can help build muscle mass. A great thing about dairy, such as a glass of milk or low-fat yogurt, is the protein in dairy foods is high in Branch Chain Amino Acids. It is these amino acids that are necessary to build up muscle and help prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue. In fact the nutritionist for the Atlantic Braves has stated, Dairy protein, “contains more branched chain amino acids than many other types of protein.” (Eat Dairy Products for Health). For the most benefit, make sure you consume your milk or yogurt right after your workout. Some ways to get dairy protein:
Whey protein powder – add some whey protein powder to a smoothie
Milk – chocolate milk is fine, or low fat milk – have a glass after a workout
Yogurt – have some low fat yogurt after a workout
But building and repairing muscle tissue goes on throughout the day, so dairy and protein-rich foods should be consumed at each meal.
Lactose Intolerant? What if someone is lactose intolerant or allergic to milk? There are now so many options to choose from to ensure adequate intake of calcium and the other nutrients milk provides. Yogurt, with its live bacterial cultures is usually well tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant. Many cheeses are low in lactose as lactose is removed in making cheese. Hard cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan cheese are usually tolerated. There are also “lactose enzyme” pills you can buy at a drug store. Take these with a meal and these pills will help digest the lactose in the dairy you eat. There are also many “milks” on the market, soy milk, almond milk, that are lactose free. But note the protein value as almond milk doesn’t have the protein content of soy milk.
So make sure you are adding dairy products to your diet every day. Check out how much dairy foods you should eat at ChooseMyPlate.
Sources: Eat Dairy Products for Health
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