Got your dairy?

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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What is the truth about dairy products? The blanket statement that “dairy is bad for you” should be met with skepticism.

Although it’s possible to have a healthy diet without dairy, consuming dairy products makes it much easier to get critical nutrients.

Arguments from the “anti-dairy” side are numerous. Some people are concerned about the saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates and even protein in dairy. Others are troubled about hormones, which occur naturally in milk from cows regardless of whether they are treated with synthetic growth hormones to boost milk production.

Some people do have dairy-related health issues. A small number are allergic – they must stay away from milk and dairy to avoid a reaction. More are lactose intolerant. Their intestines don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase to break down natural milk sugar, which can cause gas pain and bloating if they’re not careful.

Still others are anxious about other issues – weight gain or even acne. But talk to a registered dietitian, and you’ll hear a different story. Dairy foods provide many important nutrients, such as potassium, vitamin D and, of course, calcium.

Most people, particularly adolescents, don’t get enough calcium in their diet. Dairy products are an easy, convenient way to get the calcium you need. A few of the best choices include those that are low-fat such as milk, puddings, yogurt and cheese, as well as calcium-fortified soy milk.

Consuming enough calcium and vitamin D during our younger years helps strengthen bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and related bone fractures later in life. As we age, we still need to consume enough to prevent the body from robbing calcium from our bones for other uses, such as the proper functioning of nerves and blood vessels. Recommended calcium intakes range from 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams a day from age 4 through adulthood. The dietary guidelines for Americans recommend three servings of non-fat or low-fat dairy a day to help people meet those goals.

It is vitally important for people who choose not to consume dairy products to make sure they’re getting the calcium they need. Non-dairy sources include orange juice, soy beverages, tofu and breakfast cereals that are fortified with calcium; bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale and other leafy greens; and some beans including black, Great Northern, navy and white beans.

For information concerning consumption of a healthy diet, call the Extension office at 940-627-3341.

Tanya Davis is a Wise County Extension agent.

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