What do we know about dairy?

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What do we know about dairy foods?

Close to 90% of the U.S. population does not consume enough dairy foods, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Depending on age, the current recommendation is from one to three servings a day of milk, yogurt, cheese, kefir or low-lactose or lactose-free dairy foods.

Dairy alternatives that are closest nutritionally to natural milk include soy-based beverages, cheese and yogurt that have been fortified with calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D.

Some “milks” may contain calcium but do not contribute enough other nutrients to qualify as true dairy foods, according to the guidelines. These include almond, rice, coconut, oat and hemp beverages.

Dairy foods provide important nutrients for brain development, according to the National Dairy Council, a nonprofit organization that provides science-based research and education about dairy foods.

Nutrition is central to brain development, says brain researcher Carol Cheatham from the Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And the critical period for brain development is from conception to a child’s second birthday.

So much so that in 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement to advocate for improving mom’s and baby’s nutrition in those first 1,000 days of life. Dairy foods provide more than half of the key nutrients cited in this report that particularly affect brain development.

Most (about 72%) of the calcium in the U.S. food supply comes from dairy foods, according to the National Institutes of Health. To get the amount of calcium in an eight-ounce glass of milk, you’d have to eat seven oranges or six slices of wheat bread.

Protein, calcium and vitamin D are just a few of 13 essential nutrients contained in dairy foods.

Low-fat chocolate milk — an ideal blend of protein, carbohydrates and fluid — has been found through sports nutrition research to be an efficient recovery beverage after intense exercise.

There is a difference between dairy allergy and lactose intolerance. Dairy allergy is an immune response to the protein in dairy foods. It causes allergic reactions such as itchy eyes, rashes or wheezing. If you have a true milk allergy, you need to avoid all foods that contain dairy protein such as casein and whey.

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the natural carbohydrate in milk. It can cause stomach cramps, gas and/or diarrhea in susceptible people. Good news: People with this condition can still enjoy dairy foods in moderation.

Cheese is usually lower in lactose than milk. And the live active cultures in yogurt actually help the body to digest lactose. Lactose-free milk and yogurt are real milk products with added lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the body.

Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at barbara@quinnessentialnutrition.com. This column was provided by Tribune News Service.

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