Dairy milk delivers essential nutrients and promotes good health.
Dairy milk is a whole food, providing 18 of 22 essential nutrients that play an important role in growth and development. Both adults and children can benefit from consuming dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese as part of a healthy eating pattern. Despite the many benefits of dairy foods, popular misconceptions promote underconsumption of the essential nutrients found in these foods. The combination of nutrients with their unique interactions in milk, yogurt and cheese enhances the quality of eating patterns and contributes to optimal health.
Milk contains calcium, vitamin D and potassium—three of the four nutrients that the U.S. Department of Agriculture deems underconsumed by most Americans. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that individuals ages 9 and older consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day; children between 4 and 8 years old should consume 2½ cups each day. Additionally, milk and water should be the main beverages for children ages 1–5 years old.
Milk is recognized for its important role in building and maintaining strong bones. The human body doesn't work with one nutrient at a time; rather, a combination of nutrients working together positively affects health and body systems. Milk and dairy foods provide the right amount of bone-building nutrients, specifically calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12 and zinc.
Drinking milk can be an issue for those with lactose intolerance. Milk is typically digested with the help of a digestive enzyme called lactase, which breaks the lactose molecule into two smaller parts—glucose and galactose. If the lactose is not broken down, people can experience uncomfortable symptoms after consuming dairy foods.
A lactose intolerance diagnosis can lead to restriction or elimination of dairy foods. Yet inadequate intake of dairy foods often leads to vitamin D and calcium deficiencies, both of which have been linked to low bone mineral density and higher risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis.
Fortunately, people can enjoy the health benefits of dairy by consuming lactose-free milk. Lactose-free milk has two characteristics that make it different from milk: the enzyme lactase is added to the milk and the lactose molecules in milk are split into their simpler form. Both of these processes aid in digestion. Lactose-free milk is a great way for people with lactose intolerance to enjoy the taste and benefits of drinking milk—without the discomfort.
Sugars are not added to fat-free, low-fat, reduced-fat or whole milk. The sugars listed on the label refer to the natural sugars (primarily lactose) found in plain milk.
The nutrient content of chocolate and other flavored milk is similar to that of plain milk, but with added sugars or sugar substitutes. Consumers should look at the food label to determine the number of grams of added sugars in flavored milk.
The nutrients in milk make it an important addition to a healthy eating pattern. Milk is a component of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet designed to reduce the risk of high blood pressure. This diet, which includes three servings a day of low-fat and fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese and eight to 10 servings daily of fruits and vegetables, has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Milk produced in California abides by higher nutritional standards, exceeding the federal standards for protein, calcium and other nutrients. California milk producers accomplish this by fortifying milk with fat-free milk solids that improve taste and add nutritional benefits. Fortification is crucial in bridging common nutrient shortfalls, specifically of calcium, which is especially important for children and adolescents.