Well-known for building strong bones and teeth, the calcium in dairy products may have another starring role. Some studies indicate it promotes weight loss. Although the verdict isn't in, getting two to three servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy is critical to your overall health regardless of its role in weight loss. Dairy products will certainly protect your bones, and they will provide you with other vital nutrients. In this article we will explain how to make dairy an important and vital part of your life.
How Much Dairy Should I Be Consuming?
Adults need to consume about 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Doing this helps protect bones from calcium loss. Your body uses calcium for other important functions, too, and if you don't consume enough calcium each day for those other functions, your body automatically withdraws it from your bones. To preserve your bones, consume the recommended three cups of nonfat milk, yogurt, or other dairy products each day if you follow an eating pattern of 1,600 or more calories a day. Cheese is measured in ounces, not cups: 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese such as cheddar or 2 ounces of processed cheese equal 1 cup. Remember to count the calories from fat in your discretionary calorie budget if you choose low-fat or full-fat dairy products.
Benefits of Dairy
Got milk? Is it nonfat? Check your yogurt and cheese for sugar and fat, respectively. Next trip to the store, get nonfat milk or skim deluxe. Team that up with "light" or nonfat yogurts and 2% milk cheeses. Inspect your juice. Is it calcium fortified? If not, you know what to do! Check your cold cereals. Do any of them sport the blue calcium-added banner? If not, keep that in mind next time you purchase cereal -- remember to also look for cereals that contain 2 or more grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar.
The potential power of calcium to promote weight loss is a great reason to eat the recommended amount of dairy foods. In addition, you get calcium, vitamin D to help you use the calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, several B-vitamins, and other helpful nutrients in each serving.
Best Bites for Weight Loss
Of course the best bites for dairy foods are those that are fat free. Not everyone likes the taste or texture of fat-free milk, though. Milk producers are aware of this, and some make skim (fat-free) milk with the taste and texture of 2% milk by adding a natural gum to slightly thicken the milk without adding calories. Look for "skim deluxe" or similar wording on the carton.
Compare the amount of fat calories and saturated fat calories in whole milk and nonfat milk. If you drank 3 cups of whole milk in a day, you'd use up 75 percent of your artery-clogging saturated fat budget and consume 450 calories. Drinking 3 cups of nonfat milk would use up only 270 calories and none of your fat budget.
Other calorie-savers in the dairy department are "light" yogurts. Not only is the yogurt fat free, but it's sugar-free too. The sweetener aspartame (brand name Equal) eliminates the seven teaspoons of sugar typically added to fruit-flavored yogurts. Always compare calories when choosing yogurt. When selecting cheese, choose part-skim mozzarella; it's lower in fat than other cheeses. Mozzarella cheese sticks (sometimes called "string cheese") are a good way to control portions -- one stick is one ounce, or almost one serving. Choose cheddar, American, and other cheeses that are made with 2% milk -- look for "Made with 2% milk" on the front of the label. These have one-third less fat than cheese made with whole milk.
Another calorie-cutting trick is to use a strong-flavored cheese in small amounts. A slight sprinkle of Asiago (a hard, grated cheese) or a few crumbles of Gorgonzola (a blue cheese) add a lot of flavor without taking a big bite out of your discretionary calorie allowance. Go easy on frozen yogurt and ice cream. Compare labels and choose "light" versions that are low in fat, sugar, and calories. Keep portion size under control, too. A serving of ice cream is 1/2 cup -- not a huge bowlful.
Incorporating Dairy Into Your Daily Diet
Getting three servings a day can be as easy as having one serving of milk, yogurt, or cheese with each meal. If that doesn't suit you, try these options:
- Cook oatmeal with milk instead of water -- 3 minutes in the microwave and you're ready to eat a calcium-rich, whole-grain breakfast!
- Drink all the milk you put on your cold cereal.
- Enjoy an 8-ounce latte made with nonfat milk and decaf coffee.
- Add reduced-fat cheese to a sandwich.
- Take along light yogurt for a mid-morning snack.
- Eat a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick for an afternoon snack.
- Add a few tablespoons or more of nonfat powdered milk to smoothies, soups, casseroles, sauces, gravies, baked goods, and pudding for a calcium boost.
- Choose lactose-free milk or take enzyme tablets of lactase before eating dairy foods.
- Drink fortified soy or rice milk. Check the Nutrition Facts panel and make sure it lists the calcium content as 25 to 30 percent. This means that one serving supplies 25 to 30 percent of the calcium you need in a day. Choose the "plain" varieties rather than vanilla or chocolate so you get less sugar and fewer calories.
- Drink fortified juices. Look for the blue calcium banner on the front of the label. Check the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure its calcium content is 30 percent. Notice that unfortified juice has very little calcium. Since juice is concentrated and rather high in calories, drink it in moderation to fit into your calorie balance.
- Eat calcium-fortified cereals. These carry a blue banner.
- Eat greens, such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, and cabbage. They are good sources of calcium and low in calories.
- Eat tofu made with calcium sulfate.
If three servings of dairy foods is more than you normally eat, remember to decrease other foods, especially the discretionary-calorie types of food, so you keep calories under control.
Setting Dairy Goals
To get the calcium you need, consider setting a goal similar to one of these:
- I will eat a calcium-rich food at every meal at least five days this week.
- I will take yogurt to work with me for a morning snack and a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick for an afternoon snack at least three days this week.
The last stripe on MyPyramid is for proteins. Your body needs protein, and we'll look at healthy ways to incorporate meats, nuts, and legumes into your diet in the next section.