since 1937, June has been officially dubbed “dairy month.” However, a lot has changed over the past 80 years in regard to public perception of dairy products – particularly milk.
There’s no doubt that dairy products still hold a meaningful place in American diets, but many of us may actually be consuming too much dairy.
Ironically, this is why National Dairy Month was initially established. In 1937 dairy production was at a surplus, and the month was used to raise awareness and boost dairy consumption.
What does the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” say?
According to the guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) it is recommended we consume three servings of dairy each day.
However, the “plate” created by Harvard defines a recommended limit of 1 to 2 servings of milk per day, significantly less than the recommendation by the USDA. In fact, dairy products as a whole receive a minimal mention on Harvard’s plan. Instead, Harvard’s design places an emphasis on vegetable consumption.
What is the difference between dairy milk, soy milk, and almond milk?
As a source of protein, dairy milk leads with 8 grams per cup. Soy milk is not far behind with 7 grams per cup while almond milk has just 1 gram per cup. This can vary from brand to brand. However, some brands use pea protein or other tactics to boost protein and put their products more in line with the nutrition facts found on traditional dairy milk.
While the high amount of protein can make dairy milk seem like the best option, the Mayo Clinic recommends keeping a close eye on the added sugar content in milk. You can find this information via the nutrition facts label.
Not everyone’s body responds well to the lactose found in dairy milk. Both soy milk and almond milk can be great alternatives, but soy milk is the more nutrient-rich alternative.
The calcium balance
Another driving factor in consuming dairy products can be the calcium they offer to help strengthen our bones. Harvard points out that while calcium can lower our risk for osteoporosis and colon cancer, consuming too much can create issues of its own including increasing your risk for prostate cancer and ovarian cancer.
Maintaining a regular and adequate calcium intake is key, but you can eat foods other than dairy milk. Good alternative sources for calcium include “collards, bok Chou, fortified soy milk, baked beans, and supplements that contain both calcium and vitamin D” (source).
More than just milk
Thus far we have talked primarily about milk in connection to being a common key dairy product many of us may consume. But obviously, there is plenty of other great dairy products you can consume like yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese. These are also great sources of calcium but should be kept in moderation.
What if I can not tolerate the lactose?
With dairy currently caught in an on-going debate regarding its importance, it is critical to remember why we consume dairy products in the first place – because of the calcium, protein, vitamin D, and other nutrients.
If you stop consuming a dairy product and replace it with an alternative just be careful to ensure you are still making up for the nutrients in other foods you are consuming. Additionally, you can check for lactose-reduced or lactose-free versions of the products you may have already been consuming.