Summer is here, and in June we celebrate National Dairy Month. Finding ways to incorporate nutrient-rich, low-fat dairy foods into meals or snacks can help us take advantage of dairy’s many health benefits. Here are a few examples:
Positive effects on bone health, blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes
Dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, which help build and maintain strong bones. Another benefit of consuming low-fat dairy products as part of a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan is better blood pressure.
But there’s more. One large research review found that eating dairy can lower your risk of high blood pressure. The same study also found that people who eat low-fat dairy and yogurt have a lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Great news.
Eating to decrease inflammation
One of today’s most popular diet trends involves choosing more foods that may help reduce inflammation. A new study suggests that low-fat yogurt may be one such food. This study showed that eating eight ounces of low-fat yogurt prior to a high-fat, high-calorie meal reduced inflammatory markers and improved blood sugar usage by the body after the meal in women. Does this mean you can “un-do” the negative health effects of a cheeseburger and fries by eating yogurt before these items? Unfortunately, a meal like that will likely contain too much sodium, fat and calories, none of which can be “erased” by eating yogurt. But the potential anti-inflammatory effect of low-fat yogurt does provide another reason to consider adding a serving or two to your daily diet. Check out this link to learn about other anti-inflammatory foods.
Dairy rock stars: Greek and Icelandic yogurts and lactose-free alternatives
In addition to the benefits listed above, yogurt also contains probiotics (active cultures of good bacteria similar to those found in your digestive tract). You can find more information about probiotics here. Additionally, if you choose a Greek-style or Icelandic-style yogurt you will get more protein which helps keep you full and satisfied.
If you are lactose intolerant, you can still reap the benefits of yogurt by trying a lactose-free yogurt (available in many grocery stores), or a non-dairy yogurt (which at least has active cultures and is therefore a probiotic food, even if it doesn’t have some of the other benefits of dairy).
Whichever type of yogurt you choose, look for a product with a lower amount of sugar in it by reading the food label. All yogurts contain some naturally-occurring sugar, but certain products have more added sugar than others, which can amount to excess calories.
There are multiple ways to enjoy yogurt, such as with cereal or in a smoothie. For a cool treat, try placing your yogurt in the freezer for a couple hours before you enjoy it. And for those of you who don’t like yogurt, I have a yogurt “hack” for you to try: use plain Greek yogurt in any food or recipe that calls for sour cream. Plain Greek yogurt is tart and creamy, just like sour cream, but it has more protein and very little fat which makes it a much better choice on your baked potato, etc. Give it a try.
For more information on food and lifestyle changes to improve your health, ask to see your VA PACT dietitian. We look forward to meeting with you.
Anne Koth hails from Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland,” and provides nutrition care to veterans at the Rockford, IL Community-Based Outpatient Clinic and at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center in Wisconsin. She is also a Veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve.