While you probably know that getting the recommended three servings per day of dairy products will help you keep your bones strong, this isn't the only heath benefit of dairy products. These nutrient-rich foods also make you less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to North Dakota State University Extension. Opt for low-fat or nonfat versions to avoid consuming too much saturated fat.
Milk provides a number of essential nutrients, including protein, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamins A and B-12, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc. Get more milk in your diet by drinking a glass with meals, making your oatmeal with milk instead of water or using milk to make condensed soups. Choose low-fat or nonfat milk fortified with vitamin D, since not many foods are natural sources of this essential vitamin.
Yogurt isn't quite as high in calcium as milk. However, if you choose yogurt with live active cultures, which will be noted on the label, it contains beneficial bacteria called probiotics. Eating yogurt may help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to a study published in "The Journal of Food Science" in May 2011. Another study, published in "Nutrition Research" in January 2013, found that people who eat yogurt tend to have a higher quality diet overall, as well as lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance. Opt for plain yogurt instead of flavored, which is high in sugar. Greek yogurt, which is regular yogurt that has been strained to remove the whey, has more protein but less calcium than regular yogurt, since some of the calcium is drained off along with the whey. Have a fruit and low-fat yogurt smoothie for breakfast, top your baked potato with low-fat yogurt and salsa or make a yogurt parfait with low-fat granola and fruit for dessert.
While cheeses typically aren't as healthy as milk or yogurt due to their high fat and sodium content, they do provide some of the same vitamins and minerals. Hard cheeses have the least calcium, according to an article published in "The Journal of the American College of Nutrition" in October 2011, so choose soft or semi-soft cheeses more often to help insure you get enough calcium. If you don't like the flavor of reduced-fat cheeses, which can be quite mild, choose a more strongly flavored cheese and use just a small amount. Feta cheese tends to be lower in fat and calories than many cheeses, as well as being flavorful, so it makes a relatively nutritious choice, although it is still high in sodium.
Although some people prefer the taste of raw milk and dairy products and believe they are healthier than the pasteurized alternatives, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends avoiding them. Pasteurized milk is just as nutritious as raw milk, and raw milk is at higher risk of being contaminated with microorganisms that can cause Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli infections.
- Journal of Food Science: Yogurt Can Beneficially Affect Blood Contributors of Cardiovascular Health Status in Hypertensive Rats
- North Dakota State University Extension: Benefits of Choosing Dairy
- MayoClinic.com: Fats: Choosing Healthy Dairy Products
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Milk, Cheese, and Dairy Products
- Choose My Plate: Tips for Making Wise Choices in the Dairy Group
- BreastCancer.org: Which Cheeses Are Better Than Others?
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.