Dairy products are often incorporated into the typical American diet because they are nutrient-dense. As a regular part of a balanced diet, dairy products can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. Dairy products provide a lot of nutrients and are specifically rich in several micronutrients, each playing an essential role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, dairy products are rich in protein, and some provide a source of probiotics.
- Calcium: helps build strong bones and teeth, especially in children and adolescents, and helps maintain bone strength with age; may prevent the onset of osteoporosis in adults; may protect against hypertension
- Potassium: promotes healthy blood pressure; helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance
- Phosphorus: helps build up bones, teeth and cell membranes; assists in energy metabolism; helps regulate blood pH
- Vitamin A: promotes immune function and vision; supports growth and development; participates in protein synthesis and cell differentiation; helps maintain the health of tissue and skin
- Vitamin B12: helps with red blood cell formation, cell metabolism and DNA synthesis; maintains central nervous system functions
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): aids in energy production, cellular function, growth and development, and metabolism of fats
- Zinc: promotes robust immune system, metabolism and wound healing; assists in growth and development; helps maintain a normal sense of taste and smell
- Choline: promotes metabolism; aids in the regulation of memory, mood and muscle control
- Magnesium: helps maintain bone health; participates in protein synthesis and energy metabolism; promotes normal muscle and nerve function and blood pressure regulation;
- Selenium: promotes a healthy immune system; provides antioxidants; promotes thyroid function
- Vitamin D: helps maintain the balance of calcium and phosphorus (which helps to sustain bone health); promotes the function of various organs; regulates inflammation and immune function
Dairy products are a source of high-quality protein, containing all the essential amino acids required to support normal body function. Protein supports many body functions and systems necessary for life, making it an important part of a healthy, sustainable diet.
- Builds up and strengthens most body tissues
- Facilitates chemical reactions through enzymes
- Helps maintain volume, composition and balance of body fluids
- Transports substances throughout the body
- Builds up antibodies, helping protect against diseases
- Helps maintain the body’s acid-base balance
- Provides energy the body needs
Probiotics are living organisms found in supplements and certain foods, including dairy products such as yogurt, milk kefir and other cultured or fermented dairy products. These microorganisms maintain or improve the quality of bacterial colonies in the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to several health benefits.
- Alleviate diarrhea or constipation
- Reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease
- Enhance immune function
- May alleviate lactose intolerance
- May help protect against colon cancer
As sources of micronutrients, protein and probiotics, dairy products are beneficial for health promotion, affordable, and easily accessible, further establishing dairy products as a major component of a healthy and sustainable diet.
Choosing Dairy Products
Common dairy products include milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, or milk kefir. Low-fat or reduced-fat dairy options are available for those following a low-fat diet. For lactose intolerant people, lactose-free milk is available, as is yogurt made with live and active cultures (such as Greek yogurt), which results in the breaking down of lactose, making it easier to digest. Several natural kinds of cheese, such as cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack, are considered lactose-free due to the subsequent removal of the lactose during the cheesemaking.
Daily Intake Recommendations by Age:
- 12-23 months: 1 ⅔ - 2 cups
- 2-3 years: 2 - 2 ½ cups
- 4-8 years: 2 ½ cups
- 9-18 years: 3 cups
- 19 years and older: 3 cups
A 1-cup serving of dairy can be defined as 1 cup (8 fluid ounces) of fluid dairy products such as milk, yogurt, kefir or 1 ½ ounces of cheese.