A Jan. 8 letter to the editor questioned the wisdom of consuming dairy foods. However, the majority of nutrition experts and government health officials disagree with the claims that were made.
As a longtime dairy farmer in the Tampa area, I feel compelled to set the record straight.
The dairy food group (milk, cheese and yogurt) is a substantial contributor of nine essential nutrients in the U.S. diet. And milk is the No. 1 food source of three of the four nutrients the USDA identified as lacking in the American diet — calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
The USDA says consumption of dairy products is linked to improved bone health, and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also is associated with lower blood pressure in adults.
For consumers who are sensitive to milk products, lactose intolerance doesn't mean giving up dairy foods. Studies have identified simple strategies to make dairy easier to digest — such as drinking lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, eating yogurt, consuming hard cheeses such as cheddar or Swiss that are naturally low in lactose, or drinking small amounts of milk at meals.
The recent letter also singled out members of ethnic groups who suffer from lactose intolerance. A recent article by the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University recommends all Americans, including African-Americans and Asian-Americans, include dairy in their diets.
By avoiding milk and other dairy foods, consumers may be depriving themselves of milk's nutrients and thereby increasing their risk of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes and colon cancer.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages consumers to increase their intake of healthy foods, including fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products. "It is especially important," the DGA notes, "to establish the habit of drinking milk in young children, as those who consume milk at an early age are more likely to do so as adults."
The federal government's MyPlate illustrates the five food groups — including dairy — that are the building blocks for a healthy diet. It recommends two to three cups daily of fat-free or low-fat dairy.
And at just 25 cents per glass, milk is one of the best options for consumers looking to stretch their budget.