June is national dairy month. Dairy products play a major role in many favorite foods in the forms of cheeses, yogurts, cream or just plain milk. Dairy products contain protein and calcium and are fortified with two important vitamins, A and D. These nutrients work together to help improve bone and muscle health and other processes in our bodies. They can also be a good source of magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and B12. Milk is fortified with Vitamin D for many reasons, one is that it helps our body absorb and maintain calcium. Bodies use vitamin D to help absorb and maintain calcium. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth in addition to being used by muscles.
Outside of drinking a glass of milk with a meal or snack, there are many ways to include dairy in your diet. Flavored yogurt can easily be paired with granola and fruit as a sweet snack and plain yogurt can be used in place of sour cream in savory or baked dishes. Cottage cheese can be a quick dip or filling for fruits and vegetables.
An appropriate amount of low-fat dairy in a well-balanced diet can reduce the risk for heart disease and provides the calcium needed to reduce the risk for weak bones later in life. Adults under the age of 50 need 1000 milligrams of calcium a day, while women over 50 and men over 71 need at least 1200 milligrams of calcium a day. The protein in dairy can also help prevent the loss of muscle mass with old age.
American Heart Association recommends fat free or low-fat dairy products as whole milk and other whole-fat products are higher in saturated fats. If your diet is already high in fat, consider using fat-free or low-fat alternatives as too many saturated fats in your overall diet may lead to higher blood cholesterol levels and a higher risk for heart disease.