Are dairy products good for you? | Milk, Cheese, Yogurt
Willett and Mozaffarian both say that dairy products are not essential for good health. If you let it go, “you can still have a healthy diet,” Mozaffarian says, “but it’s trickier.” Keep your personal health goals and tastes in mind when considering these tips.
You don’t need three daily servings. That’s the Dietary Guidelines recommendation, but most Americans eat less, which both researchers say very well. Mozaffarian recommends two servings, one of yogurt and one of cheese, for general health. Willet says a serving is a good target.
But if you eat little or no dairy, be sure to get the key nutrients they provide from other foods. Legumes, nuts, eggs, and lean meats provide protein, while fruits, vegetables, and grains contain potassium, but it’s harder to get calcium and vitamin D. You need lots of kale, broccoli, tofu, nuts and white beans. to match the calcium in dairy products. When you don’t drink milk, you are eliminating one of the main sources of vitamin D. Oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms also contain it. Or talk to your doctor about supplements.
Concentrate on the yogurt. Yogurt is probably the best choice in dairy, Willett says, perhaps because of its healthy probiotic bacteria. (So if you’re skipping yogurt, consider adding other natural sources of probiotics, like kimchi and sauerkraut, to your diet.) Some cheeses, including cheddar and mozzarella, also contain probiotics. Plain yogurt, with fruit or a little honey or syrup for sweetness, is best. The high sugar content of many flavored yogurts may outweigh some of the health benefits of yogurt.
Don’t obsess over fat. If you eat one or two servings a day, it probably makes little difference whether it’s fat-free, low-fat, or high-fat. Plus, swapping fat for fat can backfire. “When people switch from whole dairy products to low-fat dairy products, they aren’t reducing their calorie intake,” Mozaffarian explains. “Over months and years, they naturally compensate for this decrease in fat by eating more carbohydrates. And without a doubt, dairy fat is better for you than starch and sugar.
Choose the milk you like. Drinking cow’s milk, regardless of its fat content, “does not appear to have any major advantages or disadvantages,” Mozaffarian says. So let yourself be guided by the taste. If you go for a plant-based milk, choose one that contains no added sugars and provides roughly the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk.