Nutritious dairy foods are often forgotten in the American diet. In fact, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 85 percent of Americans fall short of the current dairy recommendations.
Most Americans need just one more serving of dairy a day to meet the guidelines.
"Dairy foods are delicious, nutritious and an affordable choice for today's families," said Lindsey Stevenson, nutrition and health specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
Milk, cheese, and yogurt provide a unique package of essential nutrients that can include calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, niacin as well as vitamins A, D, and B12.
"Cow's milk is the richest source of well-absorbed calcium. Many non-dairy kinds of milk use fortification to mimic the nutrient profile of cow's milk. Researchers from Creighton University found the calcium in cow's milk is absorbed 25 percent better than the calcium added to soy milk," said Stevenson.
Dairy's nine essential nutrients help our bodies repair muscle tissue, maintain healthy red blood cells, build strong bones, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Dairy foods are also a convenient and affordable way to boost protein intake throughout the day.
"Protein is a powerhouse nutrient for our bodies. It keeps us feeling fuller longer, helps us build strong muscles, strengthens our immune system and regulates metabolism as we age," said Stevenson.
Milk provides eight grams of high-quality protein and costs about 25 cents per eight-ounce serving. Dollar for dollar, dairy is one of the most affordable protein and nutrition sources available.
Cheese is another high-protein snack that's easy to eat on-the-go and provides our bodies with calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A.
Yogurt not only provides protein, calcium, and potassium, it also contains live and active cultures called probiotics that can help maintain a healthy digestive system.
There is a difference between Greek yogurt and tradition yogurt. Greek yogurt has a noticeably different texture. That's because it has been strained to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose, and sugar, giving it a thicker consistency than traditional yogurt.
In some cases, Greek yogurt packs double the protein and roughly half the carbohydrates as regular yogurt.
The Dietary Guidelines published by USDA and HHS calls for families to increase their intake of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt, with a goal of three servings daily for those ages nine and older. A serving size is eight ounces of milk, eight ounces of yogurt, or one and one-half ounces (about four dice size cubes) of cheese.
Consider these strategies for increased dairy intake. One, prepare oatmeal with low-fat milk instead of water. Two, make a yogurt parfait for breakfast or a snack. Three, add low-fat milk and yogurt to a smoothie. And four, add low-fat cheese to a sandwich, salad, or wrap.