Inside the new Dietary Guidelines: Dairy

May 17, 2011

If you were inventing a perfect food, it might look something like skim milk. Packed with calcium, protein, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A and D, it has no saturated fat and contains just 90 calories per cup.

That neat package of nutrients is the reason the federal government, through its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, suggests you add more milk and milk products, particularly reduced-fat varieties, to your diet. Just as Mom always told you, the stuff is good for your bones. Turns out it’s good for the rest of your body, too.

Greg Miller, executive vice president of science and research for the National Dairy Council, says milk is “the number one food source” of three of the four nutrients that the guidelines say Americans need more of: calcium, potassium and Vitamin D (fiber’s the fourth; alas, milk has none). Milk comes by the first two naturally; almost all milk sold in the U.S. is fortified with Vitamin D.

This column is part of a series about incorporating the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans into your diet.


Cheese accounts for nearly half of the milk products Americans consume, but low-fat milk and yogurt would be better options, one nutritionist says. (iStockPhoto)

Test your knowledge

How many cups of milk or milk products should you consume per day?

A. 3

B. 4

C. 8

Answer: A. The guidelines recommend three cups of low- or nonfat milk or milk products for people age 9 and older. The typical U.S. adult consumes only half that amount.

What constitutes a dairy food, according to the dietary guidelines?

A. Milk, cream and cheese

B. Milk, yogurt, cheese and eggs

C. Milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream

Answer: C. The new “milk and milk products” category includes milk, yogurt, frozen yogurt, dairy desserts (such as ice cream) and cheese. Cream doesn’t count. The guidelines explain that “cream, sour cream and cream cheese are not included due to their low calcium content.”

Soy milk is part of the guidelines’ dairy group.

A. True

B. False

Answer: A. “New with this set of guidelines, soy milk, which is essentially a plant-based milk, is a full-fledged member of the dairy group,” says Trish Britten, a nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. That’s good for vegetarians and for people with lactose intolerance, because fortified soy milk “is similar to milk across a range of nutrients.”

What is skim milk?

A. Whole milk that’s diluted with water to make it less fattening

B. The milk that’s left after the fat is skimmed away from whole milk

C. Milk that comes from specially bred, leaner cows

Answer: B. USDA-sponsored focus groups have shown that some people believe skim milk is just full-fat milk with water added, says Jackie Haven, director of nutrition marketing and communication for the USDA. In fact, skim milk is what’s left when the fat is skimmed away from whole milk. The key nutrients remain intact.

Which has more calcium?

A. Greek yogurt

B. Regular yogurt

Answer: B. Regular yogurt is generally higher in calcium. Greek yogurt, which is made by draining most of the liquid from regular yogurt, has more protein, says Greg Miller of the National Dairy Council.

Benefits of milk

Your health. Milk consumption is associated with bone health in children and adolescents, the guidelines say. Among adults, drinking milk may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes and may help lower blood pressure.

Workout recovery. Research has shown that milk, especially chocolate milk with its extra calories and carbs, is an excellent post-workout recovery drink.

It’s cheap. For folks on a budget, you can’t beat milk. A gallon of milk costs about $4.39 and provides 16 one-cup servings, for 27 cents per serving.

Consumer concerns

Shopping for milk. Look for skim (nonfat) or 1 percent (low fat). Both deliver all the nutrients whole (full-fat) milk offers but with substantially less saturated fat, and therefore fewer calories. (Reduced-fat milk, with 2 percent fat, and whole milk outsell the lower-fat versions.)

Milk myth. USDA-sponsored focus groups have shown that some people believe skim milk is just full-fat milk with water added, says Jackie Haven, director of nutrition marketing and communication for the USDA. In fact, skim milk is what’s left when the fat is skimmed away from whole milk. The key nutrients remain intact.

Chocolate milk is okay. Despite the controversy over whether sweetened, flavored milk should be served in schools, the guidelines give chocolate milk (and other flavored varieties) a thumbs up. “If it’s the deciding factor whether someone’s going to drink milk or not, we’d rather have them consume the milk and the nutrient package, even with the extra sugar,” says Colette Rihane, a USDA nutritionist. “It just has to be balanced with the calorie intake for the rest of the day.”

Easy on the cheese. The guidelines note that cheese (mostly full-fat) accounts for nearly half of the milk products Americans consume. Because of the way it is made, though, cheese contains way more sodium, fat and calories and far less potassium than low- or nonfat milk or yogurt, and usually no Vitamin D, says Trish Britten, a nutritionist with the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. “We don’t say ‘never eat cheese,’ ” she says, “but low-fat milk and yogurt offer a better package.”

Go for yogurt. You don’t have to rely solely on milk to meet your daily needs. Yogurt — particularly that made with low-fat or nonfat milk — fits the bill, too. If you choose sweetened varieties or those with sweetened fruit mixed in, be sure to account for the extra calories and sugar and cut back elsewhere.

Adding dairy to your diet

One way to meet your daily dairy needs is to have a cup of skim milk with every meal. If that’s too boring, try these ways to add milk products to your diet, from Dee Sandquist, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

- Make a cheese quesadilla with a corn or whole-wheat tortilla and reduced-fat cheese.

- Snack on a reduced-fat mozzarella stick.

- Blend plain yogurt and frozen berries for a treat “with the consistency of ice cream.”

- Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in dips and salad dressings and to top baked potatoes.

- Instead of a juice box, pack an individual-serving carton of skim milk for your child’s lunch.

- Use reduced-fat buttermilk or yogurt in baked goods and pancakes. Also, try adding a bit of powdered milk to the dry ingredients in place of some of the sugar.

- Use milk instead of water when making hot chocolate or heating canned soup. With the soup, though, heat it slowly to keep milk from curdling.

Food section recipes: Try Blueberry Yogurt Coffee Cake or Peaches and Cream with Raspberries. Learn how to make both at washingtonpost.com/recipes.

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