Volume 82, Number 5 September/October 2011
The recent focus on nutrient-dense foods is attributed to the public health need to ensure that all Americans consume adequate nutrient intakes to optimize growth and development and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products (e.g., cheese, yogurt) are nutrient-dense foods that hold a key position as a separate group in dietary guidance such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov), USDA’s education tool to help consumers make healthy food choices consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.
The current Dietary Guidelines recommends 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products every day for Americans 9 years and older, 21/2 cups for children 4 to 8 years, and 2 cups for children ages 2 to 3 years. Although most Americans fall short of consuming recommended daily servings of dairy foods, adding just one more serving of dairy a day can help meet recommended servings and close some of the nutrient gaps in Americans’ diets.
The dairy food group – milk, cheese, and yogurt – is a substantial contributor of many nutrients in the U.S. diet that are important for good health, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and riboflavin. Even at current dairy intakes, total dairy foods contribute only 10% of the calories in the diets of Americans aged 2 years and older, yet deliver 58% of the vitamin D, 51% of the calcium, 28% of the vitamin A and phosphorus, 26% of the vitamin B12, 25% of the riboflavin, 18% of the protein, 16% of the potassium and zinc, and 13% of the magnesium.
Consumption of dairy foods helps close nutrient gaps and is associated with overall diet quality and nutrient adequacy. The Dietary Guidelines identifies potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D as nutrients of concern for Americans and recommends increasing intake of foods that provide these nutrients, including milk and milk products. Milk is the number one source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D in the American diet. Studies in children, adolescents, and adults show that consuming dairy foods can improve the overall nutritional quality of the diet
Consuming recommended servings of milk and milk products as part of a healthful diet confers a variety of health benefits, such as improved bone health, and may help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases. These include reduced risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, among other diseases/disorders. Emerging data suggest that consuming an adequate intake of milk and milk products may be associated with an overall survival advantage.
Recognition of dairy foods’ unique nutritional package and health benefits has led to their inclusion as a separate group in dietary guidance and support from the U.S. government and major health professional organizations. A basic premise of dietary guidance is to enjoy your food. Dairy foods are tasty, nutritious, convenient, and versatile, evidenced by their inclusion in a variety of healthy eating patterns.
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