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The Scoop on Milk and Dairy

(As published on TheTownDish.com, April 11, 2013)

If you're searching for a quick and tasty way to stock up on nutrients, look no further than the dairy family. Milk products give you a great bang for your buck when looking at the nutrient-to-calorie ratio, so stock up on the good stuff. Read on for how much and what kinds you should be getting.

Drink up! We know that dairy is good for our bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Kids especially should make sure they are getting enough dairy intake while their bone mass is being built up to be big and strong. Enjoying daily doses of dairy can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease as well as type 2 diabetes -- not bad, huh?

But what exactly is a daily dose? Choose My Plate breaks down recommended dairy amounts by age. Except for little ones under the age of 9, we should all be getting 3 cups of dairy each day. If you want to see what counts as a cup, check out this dairy breakdown.

Dairy is a nutrient-packed package. The king of dairy nutrients -- calcium -- probably comes readily to mind. Dairy is the biggest source of calcium in our diets, and calcium helps to build strong teeth and bones while maintaining bone mass.

Potassium is another key player; diets rich in potassium may help to maintain a healthy blood pressure. You may see some dairy products that claim they're "fortified" with vitamin D. This vitamin helps the body maintain just the right level of calcium, so it goes hand-in-hand with the calcium component.

Fat-free, low-fat, 2%, whole ... does it make a difference? You bet. Choosing a product with high saturated fat and cholesterol levels kind of defeats the healthy aspect of dairy. Whole milk and cheeses tend to be high in saturated fat, so, while these are fine in moderation, concentrate on the lower fat versions for maximum health benefits. High saturated fat raises cholesterol levels, increasing your risk for coronary heart disease. Watch out for those flavored and sugary milks and yogurts, too.

Give me the milk! It may seem like a daily 3 cups of dairy isn't so much, but how much are you getting each day? Here are some tasty ways to meet the requirements:

  • Ask for fat-free milk in your latte.
  • Make a fruit dip out of plain yogurt and cinnamon.
  • Cook your oatmeal with milk instead of water.
  • Enjoy yogurt as an afternoon snack.
  • Top soups or stews with shredded cheese.
  • Use plain yogurt as a baked potato topper.
  • Have a fruit and yogurt smoothie.
  • Drink a glass of milk before bed.

Keep it cool. One bad thing about dairy is the temperature component. It's a little more difficult to grab dairy products to go or pack them for lunch because they need to be kept cold. Any dairy product should really live in the fridge -- ice packs in a lunch bag don't always provide the chill needed to keep you safe. And in case you were wondering about those milk myths, not to worry -- no research has conclusively tied dairy to the cause of eczema, acne or asthma.

So, where do you stand with dairy? Whether you love it or hate it, we can all agree that it's a good thing for our bodies. Enjoy milk, yogurt and cheese knowing you're packing in calcium and other nutrients your body needs. An occasional scoop of ice cream couldn't hurt either, right?

With warmer weather approaching, you may not only be in the mood for some ice cream but also ready to cook up some fish dishes in anticipation of summer. Cooking Spotlight is hosting a Seafood Cookery & Wine Pairing on April 17, to get your palette prepped for summer cooking. Click here for more information or to register ... scallop ceviche and cedar-planked salmon are on the menu. Yum!

Last Updated: 4/12/2013