Dairy foods are rich in nutrients that work together to support overall health.
Milk and dairy foods provide many nutrients that are essential for human health, including calcium, protein, fat and more. Nutrition science continues to uncover new benefits of dairy, providing even more reasons to include it in healthy eating patterns. For instance, scientists are learning more about the dairy matrix, or the physical structure of nutrients which facilitates their digestion, absorption and bioavailability. The dairy matrix essentially demonstrates how key nutrients in milk and dairy foods do not work in isolation; rather, they interact with one another to provide health benefits beyond individual nutrients, playing an important role in supporting the overall health of both children and adults.
When high-quality foods are eaten together, their nutritional benefits are enhanced. This concept, known as food synergy, demonstrates that whole foods and combinations of foods eaten together are greater than the sum of their parts, which is why an overall healthy eating pattern is important. For example, when yogurt is eaten with fruit or whole grains, the benefits of the probiotics are enhanced.
Nutrition experts agree that focusing on overall diet quality is more important for health than emphasizing specific amounts of single nutrients. For a high-quality diet, emphasis should be placed on consumption of nutrient-dense, wholesome foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed while reducing refined starches, added sugars, processed meats and other highly processed foods. High-quality and nutritious dairy foods include milk, cheese, yogurt and other fermented dairy foods.
For many years, dietary recommendations focused on limiting foods high in fat, in particular saturated fat, on the basis that fat intake leads to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Yet medical and nutrition experts are beginning to understand that not all dietary fats are equal in terms of their effect on cardiovascular health. Given what is understood about food synergy, whole foods and healthy eating patterns should be emphasized instead of focusing on individual nutrients.
Consuming a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods will help close nutrient gaps that exist for many Americans and ensure lifelong health and optimal growth and development, especially for children and other vulnerable populations. Dietary recommendations should emphasize eating patterns that include high quality foods from all food groups, including milk and dairy, to support the optimal health of all children and families.