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MyPlate and the Update on Dairy

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The dairy food group is one of the five food groups found on MyPlate. Why is it so important?  Because dairy contains nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein, needed for bone health and for the health and maintenance of our bodies.  This makes dairy an important part of the MyPlate icon, reminding Americans that for optimal health, we should all have fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy at each meal.  You may be wondering if you have to eat dairy to get these nutrients, and the answer is no, you don’t.  So if you and your family don’t eat foods made from dairy products, no worries.  Keep reading for non-dairy sources of calcium and other nutrients.

MyPlate and the Update on Dairy

Which foods are included in the dairy group?

Fluid milk products as well as products made from milk that retain their calcium content are considered part of the dairy group.  Foods made from milk that contain little or no calcium are not in the dairy group.

What are the health benefits associated with consuming dairy products?

  • Consuming dairy products is important for children since their bodies are building bone mass.
  • Consuming dairy products is also important for bone health and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Lastly, consumption of dairy products is associated with a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and with lower blood pressure in adults.

What nutrients are found in dairy?

For children ages 2 to 3 years old, the daily recommendation is 2 cups.  For children ages 4 to 8, the daily recommendation is 2.5 cups.  And for everyone else, the daily recommendation is 3 cups.

MyPlate and the Update on Dairy

What is considered a serving of dairy?

In general, one cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk, as well as 1.5 ounces of natural cheese and 2 ounces of processed cheese, are each considered to be one cup from the dairy group.  A more detailed chart showing what counts as a cup of dairy is shown here.

What are some things to think of when choosing dairy?

  • Choose low fat or fat free milk, cheese or yogurt to avoid excess calories and saturated fat.
  • If lactose-intolerant, choose lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy alternatives or consume lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, before drinking milk. Some individuals who are lactose intolerant can consume small amounts of regular dairy (up to 4 ounces of milk at a time).  Not all dairy products contain the same amount of lactose, so through trial and error, you can determine what you can tolerate.

What are some non-dairy calcium sources?

Additional sources include calcium fortified cereals, juices, bread, rice milk, almond milk and other fortified non-dairy milks, some canned fish (sardines and salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products, garbanzo beans, navy beans, white beans, oatmeal and quinoa.  The amount of calcium available in these foods varies.

Some sources of other important nutrients that are provided by dairy:

  • Protein-meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans, peas, processed soy products, eggs
  • Potassium-sweet potato, baked potato, white beans, halibut, tuna, kidney beans, lima beans, banana, spinach, winter squashes, dried apricot
  • Phosphorus-dried beans and peas, seeds, nuts, whole grain products
  • Vitamin B12-meat, salmon and other fish, poultry, eggs
  • Vitamin A-sweet potato, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, fish
  • Riboflavin-enriched grain and bread products, eggs, lean cuts of meat, spinach
  • Niacin-peanut butter, fish, poultry, meat, enriched and fortified grain products, avocado

Dairy products are an important part of the diet, though if your family chooses not to eat dairy products, making sure that you receive the nutrients provided by dairy from other sources, as well as consuming foods from the fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein groups gives Americans, the optimal mix of nutrients needed to be healthier now and in the future.

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

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