6 Reasons to Get Your Dairy

Low-fat dairy offers many health benefits

4 min read

I'll admit to being part of the Baby Boomer generation, albeit one of the younger members. If you're a Boomer, too, you probably recall that many of us grew up drinking milk at every meal. Unlike today, soda was reserved for parties and the occasional trip to the Golden Arches or a downtown diner.

You may no longer have a glass of cold milk with each meal, but mom was right about one thing: dairy foods offer a bounty of health benefits (just make sure to choose low-fat this time around).

And we do love our dairy. Statistics show that while Americans' consumption of whole milk and butter has been going down, cheese and premium ice cream are on the rise (does that mean we're trading one type of high-fat dairy food for another?).

The good news is that while we baby boomers have been climbing toward (and past) 50, the yogurt aisle has exploded with choices beyond our wildest imaginings. Reduced-fat cheeses have taken their permanent place on the dairy shelf as well. Never has it been easier to work in a few servings of healthy dairy every day.

A recent study showed that the more servings of dairy foods that adults consumed, the greater the percentage of their total calories that came from saturated fat (definitely not a good thing).

But the other side to the story is that their intake of many key nutrients -- like protein, calcium, magnesium, folate, B1, B2, B6, B12, and vitamins A, D, and E -- also increased along with the number of dairy servings.

So how do you get all those great nutrients from dairy without the drawbacks? Low-fat dairy is the answer! As you decrease the fat in dairy products, you cut calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, while protein, calcium, and most other vitamins and minerals remain high.

Here are six reasons you should include low-fat dairy foods in your diet:

Calcium and Protein

Some dairy items have impressive levels of two things many of us need more of: calcium and protein. I'm sorry to say that ice cream falls a bit short on these two nutrients, but low-fat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and reduced-fat cheese pack a protein and calcium punch in every serving. Just a cup of lite nonfat yogurt, for example, gives you a third of your daily recommended calcium intake, along with 17% of your estimated daily protein intake.

Calcium (mgs)
Protein (grams)
Kraft 2% sharp cheddar cheese, 1 ounce
Part-skim mozzarella cheese, 1 ounce
Skim milk, 1 cup
Low-fat milk (1%), vitamins A & D added, 1 cup
Low-fat (2%) cottage cheese, 1 cup
Low-fat plain yogurt, 1 cup
Nonfat lite raspberry yogurt, 1 cup

Vitamin D

Many brands of milk are fortified with vitamin D, and now some yogurt manufacturers are joining in. Vitamin D is an important vitamin, yet many of us don't get enough in our diets. Our bodies can actually make vitamin D if we get adequate sunlight, but this can be a problem for people who are housebound or who live in areas that don't get a lot of sun.

Drinking vitamin D-fortified low-fat milk is an easy way to boost your vitamin D. Vitamin D has long been known for promoting healthy bones through its role in calcium absorption. And recent research has indicated that it may be helpful for all sorts of other things, from reducing the risk of certain cancers to lowering blood pressure.

Bone Density

Getting calcium from food, rather than supplements, seems to do your bones good. A study in Finland looked at changes in bone thickness and density in girls 10 years old-12 years old whose diets were supplemented with either cheese, calcium, or calcium plus vitamin D. The cheese-eating group appeared to have bigger increases in bone mass than the other groups.

Blood Pressure

Researchers in Spain who studied more than 5,000 adults found that those who reported consuming the most low-fat dairy (mostly skim and reduced-fat milk) were 54% less likely to develop high blood pressure over a two-year period than those with the lowest intakes of low-fat dairy.

Calcium has been suspected of having an effect on blood pressure in the past. But the Spanish researchers found that only calcium from low-fat dairy products was related to a lower blood-pressure risk. The researchers suggested that this could have something to do with the proteins found in low-fat dairy (caseins and whey), which may have actions similar to those of blood pressure-lowering drugs.

Metabolic syndrome

After studying data from 827 men and women, Iranian researchers concluded that those who consumed the most dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese) were less likely to have enlarged waists and metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.


In a recent review article, a researcher from the University of Alabama at Birmingham noted that although an analysis of overall calcium consumption has not linked calcium to greater weight loss, there is increasing evidence that calcium from dairy products may play a role in body-weight regulation.

For any or all of the above reasons, aim to work in some low-fat dairy each day, whether it's from skim or 1% low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, reduced-fat cheese, or a combination.

Published January 2006.