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Dive into Dairy

By: Anabelle Charles, Emory Dietetic Intern

Take a moment to close your eyes. Visualize a classic, retro, all-American dinner. What comes to mind? Personally, I picture mashed potatoes, meat loaf, peas, and a tall glass of milk. However, over the years we’ve seen this rich creamy beverage less preferred to water or juice. There has been a shift. In recent years, dairy has been under scrutiny, and the role milk and dairy plays in our nutrition has begun to be questioned. More and more consumers are concerned whether it is harmful.

All the confusion has led many to ditch cow’s milk all together and turn to plant milks such as almond, oat, cashew, pea, rice, soy, and pretty much any plant that liquid can be squeezed out of. With all the options out there, it is nearly impossible to milk up your mind! In this article we will discuss what the research says about dairy and hopefully help you decide whether dairy deserves a place at your dinner table.

Alright, let’s get mooooving,

Beyond milk

June is National Dairy Month, so let’s first define what exactly dairy is. Dairy products include any items made from milk. This includes cheese, ice cream, sour cream, butter, yogurt, kefir, and cream. So even if you do not drink milk there are many other ways to meet the three daily dairy servings suggested by the USDA. Personally, I would love to meet those recommendations solely through Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream. However, not all dairy is equally beneficial for our body.

Why is it so udderly important for our bodies?

Dairy products are packed with essential nutrients, including calcium, protein, carbohydrates, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, D, B12, riboflavin, and niacin. Just one 8-ounce serving of milk has 8 grams of protein (in case you’re wondering 1 egg has 6 grams). All these components support bone health and possibly cardiovascular health. Research has proven dairy products to be beneficial at every stage of life.

Not all dairy was made the same

When shopping for dairy there are a milk-titude of options. How can we know which to choose?

  • Organic: includes dairy from cows that are not given antibiotics, hormones, or feed grown with pesticides or fertilizer. Cows are also mandated 120 days of outdoor access per year.
  • Raw: is dairy that has not been pasteurized and is usually found in farmers markets. Currently the FDA does not recommend raw milk due to its disease-causing pathogens. In general, milk purchased in stores is safe and is regulated by the government.
  • Lactose free: This option is great for lactose intolerant folks because it has added lactase which breaks down the offending component, lactose.
  • A2 milk: This relatively new milk is produced from cows that only produce A2 proteins as opposed to A1 protein. A1 protein has been linked to negative gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain. Although this milk may decrease gastrointestinal symptoms it should be noted that it contains the same amount of lactose as ordinary milk.
  • Non- bovine animal milks: Includes camel, goat, sheep, yak, buffalo, and horse milk. These may be difficult to find at your local store, however they can have some potential benefits as well. For example, camel milk is rich in vitamin A, E, D, C, antioxidants, and zinc. It also has a very small amount of lactose making it easier to digest.   

Children and adults above the age of 2 are recommended to consume only low- or non-fat dairy items as they are lower in saturated fat (the type of fat that in excess can increase risk of heart disease). Some options to meet these recommendations include fat free (skim), or 1% milk.

Dairy is not the only source of calcium

Maybe you are lactose intolerant, follow a vegan diet, or maybe dairy is not part of your cultural foods. That’s okay! There are many ways to get the nutritional benefit of dairy without consuming it. For example, green leafy vegetables, like broccoli, kale, and collards, are packed with calcium. Calcium absorption of these vegetables is higher than cow’s milk! Tofu, beans, and fortified plant milks are also great sources of calcium.

Now that you have the facts, are you feeling moooo-tivated to include dairy in your diet? Share with us how you will do that by tagging us at @goodmeasuremeals on our Instagram account.

Want to read more about how dairy consumption benefits your health and your community? Visit to learn more.

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