Calcium is a major dietary mineral that has a direct impact on your health. As a vegetarian, you have many choices when looking to fill your body’s calcium requirements. You can get calcium from dairy products as well as non-dairy products such as fruits, vegetables, tofu, white beans, etc. This article will focus specifically on dairy products. Stay tuned for future articles that will focus on non-dairy calcium sources. Don’t forget to take the quiz at the end to test your knowledge. Let’s get started! Daily recommendations Dairy foods are an important component of a healthy diet and are an excellent source of many essential nutrients necessary for bone health. They are rich in calcium, protein, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorous, and magnesium. When milk is fortified, it also becomes an excellent source of vitamin D. Dairy foods often come up short for children, teens, and even adults. Dietary Guidelines advise us to consume 3 servings of low fat dairy products each day. One serving equals 1 cup milk or 1 cup of yogurt, 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese. Because dairy foods also contain saturated fat and cholesterol, low fat options are recommended. You can get nutrients with less fat and fewer calories by choosing low-fat or fat free dairy products. If you cannot consume milk products, try lactose free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages (see table below). For more details about lactose intolerance, please visit www.nationaldairycouncil.org and click on the lactose intolerance facts under the health and wellness tab. Benefits Incorporating dairy foods can help you improve your health, dietary habits and prevent chronic diseases. Consuming adequate amounts of dairy foods is one important factor for building strong, healthy bones, and to receive protection against osteoporosis – bone loss. It’s never too late to get the benefits from consuming more dairy foods, even if you’re starting right now. Have you ever wondered if calcium supplements or calcium-fortified foods can substitute for dairy foods? For most people, fortified foods and supplements are meant to supplement, not replace, foods with naturally occurring calcium. Although they may fill the calcium gap, supplements and calcium-fortified foods (such as in some juice, cereal, pasta, and rice) do not supply all the other nutrients found in dairy foods, so it is important to supplement the missing nutrients with a balanced diet. Disease Prevention Aside from the benefits of building strong bones, numerous research shows that dairy foods play a role in reducing the risk of medical disease including high blood pressure, obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers (colon and breast). Cooking With Dairy Products Cooking with milk – Milk isn’t just for drinking and pouring on cereal. It’s also used to prepare delicious cooked foods, including atole (popular breakfast hot cereal/beverage), sauces, and soups. Milk is sensitive to heat, therefore it must be cooked at a low temperature and for a very short time. If overcooked, it may result in a rubbery skin, scorching, or curdling. Cooking with yogurt – Yogurt works well as a low fat substitute for sour cream, cream cheese, and mayonnaise. You can use yogurt in many recipes, including dips, soups, sauces, salads, and main dishes. Cook yogurt at low temperatures for only the time needed. Yogurt is as delicate as other dairy foods and curdles if overcooked. Cooking with cheese – Many cheeses are delicious when eaten plain or as a snack or appetizer. Many dishes include cheese as an ingredient; this offers the perfect opportunity to save calories. Substitute high fat cheeses for low fat version of your favorite cheese. Cheese is high in protein and fat, so it requires that you cook it at low temperatures until melted. If you cook cheese for too long or use a temperature that’s too high, the cheese becomes tough and rubbery. Cheese should be cooked just until it melts. To reduce cooking time, cut the cheese into small pieces, or grate it. Some cheese varieties blend more easily than others during cooking. Processed cheese mixes easily with other ingredients. Because cheddar blends well, it’s a favorite for cooking. Fresh cheeses, such as cottage cheese and cream cheese, don’t blend well unless beaten into the mixture. Low Fat Option By drinking 1 cup of fat free milk instead of whole milk you can save 8 grams of fat and 70 calories, yet the health benefits are virtually the same.
It is very easy to incorporate these low fat options into your favorite recipes. Use plain yogurt or fat free sour cream instead of regular sour cream – you will save 3 grams of fat per tablespoon. Even a low fat variety of ice cream, which is a dairy food, may save you even 4 grams of fat per serving. For a low fat version, Try low fat frozen yogurt and soon you won’t even know the difference. Additional ways to incorporate low fat dairy foods into every meal: Breakfast – Scrambled eggs with low fat milk, add low fat cheese to an omelet or a whole wheat tortilla, add yogurt to your favorite smoothie, add low fat milk to any cereal (cold or hot), and add low fat milk to your coffee or hot chocolate. Lunch – prepare soups with low fat milk or fat free yogurt, add low fat cheese to any sandwich, sprinkle low fat cheese to a salad or make your favorite vegetable dip with low fat yogurt, low fat cottage cheese or fat free sour cream. Dinner – for a kid pleaser, add fat free sour cream and low fat parmesan cheese to your favorite marinara sauce. Use low fat cheese whenever a recipe calls for regular cheese. Have a cold glass of low fat milk with dinner, for tastier vegetables, sprinkle low fat cheese over your favorite vegetable and use low fat milk every time you make a creamy sauce. Snacks – Mix low fat cottage cheese with pineapple or your favorite fruit for a delicious and healthy snack. Low fat cheese with whole grain crackers are a great (and quick) pick me up, make puddings with low fat milk and try mixing low fat yogurt with your favorite fruit. Testing your knowledge 1. How many dairy servings are recommended per day? a. 1 serving per day b. 2 servings per day c. 3 servings per day 2. What are some of the main nutrients in dairy foods? a. Calcium b. Protein c. Vitamins and minerals d. All the above 3. Dairy foods can help you live healthier by a. Building stronger bones b. Prevent type 2 diabetes c. Prevent heart disease d. Prevent obesity e. All the above 4. What is the difference between low fat dairy and regular dairy? a. Less fat grams b. Less Calories c. Same nutrients d. All the above 5. If you want to make a dip recipe that calls for regular sour cream, what will be a healthier substitute? a. Use low fat sour cream b. Use heavy cream c. Use whole milk