Monday, October 11

Milking the Dairy Debate

When it comes to dairy foods, everyone is pretty divided on whether we should dub it a “healthy” food group and how much of it we should eat.  How much calcium do we need?  Are dairy foods the best way to get calcium?  Should I only consume fat free dairy foods?  Does this mean I need to stop smothering everything I eat in cheese?
Disclaimer:  For our discussion today, I’m completely ignoring the antibiotics/organic debate and looking purely at dairy foods from a nutritional standpoint.  Also, many of my in-laws are dairy farmers so I would appreciate if they stopped reading right here (as I would like nice Christmas presents this year).
Generally, most people need about 600 to 1000 milligrams of calcium each day.  However, your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams at once (about one third of what you need), so it’s impossible to get all the calcium you need in one dose.  Dairy foods are often the easiest, and quickest, ways to get doses of calcium into our diets; but did you know that calcium is naturally found in many other foods?
Salmon, tofu, almonds and broccoli are just a few natural foods that are great sources of calcium.  Leafy green vegetables are the best low-calorie source of calcium (not to mention a slew of other nutrients).  An orange actually has more than half the calcium that a serving of cottage cheese has.  An artichoke has more calcium than a serving of cream cheese.  Interestingly, sesame seeds are the most abundant source of calcium in nature (cup of sesame seeds = 2200 mg, cup of milk = 280 mg).
However, dairy foods can be high in saturated fats, so we need to be careful of the quantity of dairy foods in your diet (remember that small amounts of saturated fat in our diets is fine).  Reduced fat dairy foods are great sources of protein.  There are many fat free dairy foods that actually taste pretty good as well.
So what’s the verdict?  Well, that’s up to you!  Personally, I take daily calcium supplements, sometimes eat greek yogurt for breakfasts, and eat low fat cheese sticks as snacks.  All in all, it really only comes to about 2 to 4 servings of dairy each day.  Do you find that less dairy each day would works better for you?   More?  Just make sure to track those calories and watch the fat.

2 comments:

Arya said...

Alright Dr. Becky - how about slow churn ice cream. Does that count as a serving of dairy? I know it is higher in calories, so it should be a desert, but is it better for me than having a cookie because of the dairy (assuming they are the same calories)?

Becky said...

Actually, I'd say slow churn ice cream isn't that bad. A serving has less calories and fat than many ice creams. AND, because it's dairy, you're getting a few grams of protien in each serving as well. As long as the slow churn ice cream doesn't have a lot of add-ins (like candy or chocolate), the carbs actually stay on the low side. So, in the end, slow churn ice cream is defintely better than a cookie (which is all fat and carbs, no protien). :D


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