I'm a Dietitian, and I'll Never Give Up Dairy—Here's Why
I live in Vermont, and grew up in Michigan. Both states are big on dairy production… and consumption. I'm sure many of us can remember being required to take a small carton of milk to pair with school lunch every day. But lately, things have changed. There are endless types of non-dairy milks and milk-alternatives on the market, from oat to cashew milks. All the while, dairy's formerly glowing reputation seems a little more foggy as these plant-based milks have taken center stage, perpetuating the thought that dairy is somehow "bad for you". However, there is a lot to be gained from consuming dairy. It's packed with nutrients, affordable and has been used in many different ways by many different cultures for centuries. As a registered dietitian, my professional opinion is that if you enjoy dairy and are not lactose intolerant or allergic, there is no reason to ditch it. I personally love dairy and eat it most every day. Here are a few reasons why I'll never give it up.
It's super nutritious.
As a registered dietitian, I would be remiss not to mention how dairy stands in a league of its own when it comes to nutrition. Here is the nutrition for 1 cup of 2% cow's milk:
- 122 calories
- 8g protein
- 4g fat
- 12g carbs
- 12g sugar
- 0g added sugar
- 0g fiber
- 309mg calcium (25% DV)
- 1.3mcg vitamin B12 (50%)
- 390mg potassium (15% DV)
- 2.3mcg vitamin D (15% DV)
For many athletes, it's the preferred recovery drink after a workout due to its combination of protein and carbs. Milk also is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin B12 which are important for bone health, brain health and healthy metabolism. Milk is also fortified with vitamin D, which also keeps bones strong and supports healthy immunity, and vitamin A, which helps support healthy vision. Manufacturers add these nutrients to milk to work together with the calcium and nutrients naturally found in milk to round out its nutritional profile. Non-dairy milks are often fortified with calcium and vitamin B12 to try and mimic milk's impressive nutritional profile, though it's not required.
Other dairy products like cheese and yogurt have impressive nutrition, too, especially if you're trying to boost your protein intake. One ounce of cheese contains around seven grams of protein and one cup of yogurt has 14 grams of protein for some serious vegetarian-friendly staying power. Greek yogurt has even more with a whopping 23 grams per cup.
Beyond being healthy, dairy is incredibly versatile to use. Yogurt is perfect for smoothies or parfaits, but you can also use it to make Two-Ingredient-Dough Bagels. And cheese can be added to basically everything (I'm testing the limits every day). Cream cheese can top a bagel, thicken up a soup or add richness to Slow-Cooker Buffalo Chicken Dip. Ricotta goes just as well in baked goods (like this Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake) as it does in pasta. Dairy can add creaminess, flavor and nutrition to most any dish. As a person who loves to cook, I'll never swear it off.
It's an affordable vegetarian protein.
Products like milk, yogurt and cheese are affordable and can be found at most any grocery store. They are a great vegetarian protein option, especially if you're on a budget. For example, dairy milk costs around $3.69 per gallon, this is less than what most non-dairy milks charge for a half gallon. Plus, eating dairy helps me eat less meat. If my meal has satisfying protein in it from dairy, I won't hesitate about skipping the meat altogether. Eating less meat can benefit your health, your wallet and the health of the plant too.
Cheese is my favorite food.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love cheese. Soft cheeses, hard cheeses, mild cheeses, stinky cheeses—they're all delicious in my book! One of the most important parts of sustaining a healthy eating pattern is to include foods you like. Whether you're also a self-proclaimed cheesehead or lean towards sweeter treats, it's not healthy to omit your favorite foods from your diet because you think they're unhealthy (read that again). All foods contain nutrients and none are inherently "good" or "bad", so instead think of what it's giving to your body. And sometimes, that might just be giving a peace of mind by satisfying a craving. As a wise woman once wrote: life is short, eat the dang cookie... or, in my case, the cheese.