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What does the new dairy research mean for us?

Eventually there could be new recommendations on dairy consumption

Want milk!” exclaimed the little voice in the early hours of morning.

By the time he was a toddler, our son knew exactly what he wanted to quench his thirst. He had whimsical dancing farm animals adorning the walls of his nursery. I guess when the morning light illuminated his room, the smiling cows reminded him it was time to eat.

He didn’t even cry, unless no one showed up at his door. My husband or I would walk bleary eyed down the hall to carry our growing boy downstairs for some cereal and milk.

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Now he’s 21 years old and still a milk enthusiast. Along with a variety of other foods, milk helped him grow to a height of six feet, three inches. Genetics helped, too.

For several years, as our kids were growing, we had several kinds of milk “on tap” in our refrigerator: whole milk when they were toddlers, reduced-fat milk when they reached preschool age and non-fat milk for ourselves. Now we only have non-fat milk in our refrigerator, even though I grew up drinking whole milk and two per cent milk.

Non-fat or low-fat milk has been the recommendation for many years for adults and older kids, primarily because it is lower in total fat and saturated fat, and therefore, it is lower in calories.

Regardless of the type of milk, the other nutrients remain the same. For example, all types of milk, regardless of fat content, provide about 300 milligrams of calcium per cup.

In fact, milk provides nine essential nutrients. It is fortified with vitamin D so the calcium is used by our bodies to build and maintain strong bones and teeth, as well as for other health reasons.

Recently published research may alter the dairy fat recommendations in the future. Some studies have shown that consuming higher-fat dairy might have a neutral effect or a positive effect on our risk for chronic disease.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge examined the results of 72 published studies with 600,000 participants in 18 countries. They found that the intake of saturated fat from dairy did not affect the heart disease rate and may reduce the diabetes risk.

Another study showed a link between full-fat dairy foods and decreased weight gain. Perhaps the fat makes people feel more satisfied and less likely to consume more calories than they need.

Many studies and a body of evidence are needed to change recommendations, so we in the nutrition field will be watching scientific publications about dairy closely. In the future, we may see changes in the dairy recommendations.

For good health, we all need a balanced diet with plenty of variety, including lots of fruits and vegetables, dairy, lean protein and whole grains. The most recent guidelines recommend two or three servings of dairy per day, depending on your age.

If you cannot have dairy due to allergies, you need to find a calcium source to meet your needs. Ingredient labels are required to alert you that the food contains a milk ingredient.

If you have lactose intolerance (difficulty digesting the natural sugar, lactose, in milk), you may be able to handle smaller amounts of milk with meals, or you can try cheese, yogurt or lactose-free dairy products.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, then read and compare nutrition labels on plant-based calcium sources.

So for good health, should milk drinkers grab the milk with the red cap (whole milk) instead of the pink (non-fat milk) when in the dairy aisle? If you prefer higher-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, then enjoy it, but balance your calories. For example, if you are having cookies and whole milk, have one less cookie.

Not all the research is in at this point. Just like any other science, whether it’s the phone technology we use or the type of car we drive, science evolves.

To learn more about nourishing your bones, visit Nourishing Boomers and Beyond on the NDSU website.

Here’s a delicious recipe courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association that’s perfect for busy days when you aren’t sure what to cook. This recipe combines lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and cheese with a little kick.

This beef burrito recipe combines lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and dairy.

This beef burrito recipe combines lean protein, whole grains, vegetables and dairy.
photo: Midwest Dairy Association

Beef Burrito With Pepper Jack Cheese and Black Beans

  • 1/2 lb. ground beef sirloin
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 c. chunky salsa, divided
  • 2 c. cooked brown or white rice
  • 6 (9-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (11-oz.) can corn kernels, drained
  • 2 c. shredded Pepper Jack cheese
  • Sliced green onion, including green tops

Prepare rice according to the package directions, beginning with about 2/3 cup of raw rice. In medium non-stick skillet, brown ground beef and garlic over medium heat. Break up the beef mixture into smaller chunks with a spoon. Drain fat and stir in 1/2 cup of the salsa, then keep warm. Spread 1/3 cup of rice in centre of a tortilla, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Scatter about 2 tablespoons of beans and 1-1/2 tablespoons of corn over rice. Spread 1/3 cup of the beef mixture and 1/4 cup of the cheese over the corn. Top with 2 teaspoons of the salsa and a few pieces of green onion. On opposite sides, fold in 1 inch of the tortilla (to hold in ingredients), then roll, starting from the other edge. Place, seam side down, on microwave-safe dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Place burritos in a microwave oven and heat one minute or until heated through. Serve with remaining salsa.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 2 g fibre and 330 milligrams sodium.

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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