Research has shown that including dairy as part of an overall healthy eating pattern may help reduce risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as well as improve bone health. Whether it's protein to help build and repair muscle tissue or vitamin A to help keep skin and eyes healthy, dairy products are naturally packed with nutrients, reports Nebraska Extension Educator Brenda Aufdenkamp.

The amount needed daily from the Dairy group depends on your age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity. The amount can also depend on whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Find the right amount for you: 12 - 23 months old 1⅔ to 2 cups, 2 - 8 year olds 2 to 2½ cups, 9 years old and older 3 cups.

The following equals one 1 cup equivalent serving from the Dairy group: 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk and 1½ ounces of natural cheese.

The benefits of consuming foods from the Dairy group include providing vital nutrients for health and maintenance of your body.

Calcium - builds bones and teeth and maintains bone mass. Dairy products are the primary source of calcium in many American diets. Eating dairy products is linked to improved bone health and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Potassium - Eating foods that are a good source of potassium may help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Dairy products, especially yogurt, milk, and fortified soy milk, provide potassium.

Vitamin D - functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus, thereby helping to build and maintain bones. Milk and soy milk fortified with vitamin D are good sources of this nutrient. Other sources include some fish such as salmon and vitamin D fortified foods.

If you are one that tries to avoid eating or drinking foods from the Dairy group, try alternatives that are lower in lactose such as cheese or yogurt, consume lactose-free milk, or consume the enzyme lactase before consuming milk products.

For more information, contact your local Nebraska Extension Office or on the web at: Nebraska Extension In Our Grit, Our Glory.

UN–L for Families
Nancy Frecks, Extension Educator
Nebraska Extension