Health Benefits of Dairy Foods

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Dairy is extremely controversial these days. It seems like people are either 100% against it, or all for it. In today’s post, I am going to discuss the health benefits of dairy foods, why dairy doesn’t need to be feared and how you can healthfully include it in an overall balanced diet.

Midwest Dairy Holiday Dinner 2019 Recap

I hope you were able to take some time off work this holiday season to spend quality time with the people you love. I had an awesome holiday and I’m feeling very blessed for all of the people (and pups) in my life.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an intimate holiday dinner at the beautiful home of personal chef, Lauren Lane. Find her on Instagram at @lauren_lane_culinarian.

This meal was hosted by Midwest Dairy and Lauren herself, and each course featured dairy in a delicious and unique way. I was immediately intrigued when I received the invitation because I love dairy, and I always love getting new recipe ideas!

Sometimes I get stuck in a cooking rut and make the same recipes over and over (anyone else?!), so it’s fun to get some new inspiration!

Disclosure: I was compensated monetarily by Midwest Dairy in exchange for social promotion; however, all opinions expressed in this post and others regarding my experience & beliefs regarding dairy are my own. Some resources and facts in this post were provided by Midwest Dairy. 

health benefits of dairy foods; holiday dinner, midwest dairy
Here I am with Lauren Lane, the chef behind this amazing feast!
If there is a dog at the party, that’s usually where you can find me. 😉 

Is dairy healthy or not?

As a Registered Dietitian, I get a lot of questions about dairy. Should I choose low-fat or full-fat? Should I completely avoid dairy? What are the pros and cons of including dairy in my diet?

It’s no secret that there is a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding dairy, thanks to all of the misinformation in the media these days. I’m excited to have the opportunity to highlight all the wonderful health benefits of dairy and share how and why I choose to include it in my diet on a daily basis.

My Favorite Ways to Include Dairy In My Diet

Hands down, cheese is my favorite way to consume dairy. I’m sure a lot of you can agree with me on that, especially my husband! Cheese is basically his love language.

health benefits of dairy foods, charcuterie board
The most gorgeous charcuterie board at the Midwest Dairy dinner!

I pack our lunches for work daily, and without fail, I always throw either sliced cheese or string cheese in. They make a perfect mid-morning or afternoon snack to tide you over between meals, thanks to the perfect combination of protein and fat, and not to mention, it’s just delicious.

Cheese also pairs really well with my homemade trail mix, which you can also always find in my lunch box.

health benefits of dairy; charcuterie board

A few other dairy staples you can always find in our fridge include cream cheese, plain Greek yogurt and milk. Ethan also loves cottage cheese as a snack, and we always add half & half to our coffee in the morning.

We love spreading whipped cream cheese on whole grain toast with homemade chia jam (if you haven’t tried this combo yet, do it and thank me later). I use plain Greek yogurt in tons of recipes, like my Southwest Chicken Enchilada Bake, Whole Wheat Lasagna Roll-Ups, Healthy Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad and more!

We always keep a half gallon of milk on hand to throw into fruit smoothies, overnight oats or just to have a glass as a bedtime snack to wash down our favorite combo, dark chocolate dipped in almond butter. : )

Bringing Dairy Home For The Holidays

Now I have to tell you all about this dairy-inspired dinner – rather, feast – that I got to attend. It was unreal.

All of the courses were so well thought out, beautifully plated and so tasty. I included some of the menu items below.

health benefits of dairy; holiday dinner, midwest dairy
The mood lighting was gorgeous, but it didn’t exactly do my food photos any favors. Forgive me for the poorly lit pictures of this meal. It all looked much more delicious than it does here! : )

We started off with a Gorgonzola Souffle served over Mixed Greens. Next up was Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Butter Sauce, followed by the most tender Milk Braised Pork with Herbs.

Lastly, and possibly my favorite course, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Berries for dessert! DELISH! This was an occasion where I most definitely didn’t honor my fullness, because I just had to try everything! But hey – that’s part of life. No guilt needed. : )

food is more than just fuel

Aside from the food, I had so much fun chatting with fellow foodies at the dinner about everything from Kansas City breweries, writing books, funny stories about our dogs, our mutual love for food, and so much more.

I love meeting new people and hearing their stories about where they’ve been and how they got to where they are now. I also love trying new and interesting foods and bonding other them with others.

As much as some people want to believe that “food is just fuel”, it is so much more than that. Food is social. Food is emotional. Food brings people together, and it is meant to be enjoyed.

It doesn’t have to be micromanaged down to the gram, and it most certainly doesn’t have to add more stress than it does pleasure to our lives. When you give yourself permission to eat all kinds of foods, it allows you to have wonderful eating experiences like I had at this dinner.

health benefits of dairy; midwest dairy holiday dinner 2019

you don’t have to “get back on track”

I hope that you find yourself at peace this season while you enjoy special, holiday meals with loved ones (and all year round!) and avoid the pressure of going on any “crash diets” when the new year rolls around.

I urge you to continue to eat foods that fuel you, but also foods that you love. That can and most definitely should include things like cheese, or ice cream, or pasta, and anything else that provides you with both joy and nourishment.

what dairy farmers do

At this dinner we also had the opportunity to hear a local farmer, Adriane, talk about her family-owned farm, her cows, her employees that are more like family, and how happy it makes her to see people buying and enjoying dairy.

Adriane and her husband pour their heart and soul into providing dairy products to people in our community. They do so much to ensure that their products are safe and healthy for us to consume, and that their animals are treated with love and respect, contrary to popular belief.

By simply buying a gallon of locally produced milk, we are supporting their business and livelihood, and in return, they are providing us with easy access to nutrient-rich, affordable foods.

midwest dairy holiday dinner
Not the best quality photo, but here I am with Adriane, the farmer, and Alex of @foodgalal!

I had a chance to visit their farm in 2019 and I wrote a full blog post about the “behind the scenes” look here. It was such an awesome learning experience; please read the full post for more information!

In the meantime, be sure to follow Adriane on Instagram at @TheLittleHouseOnTheDairy for more insight.

health benefits of dairy foods

I think I’ve already mentioned that dairy is delicious, but let’s talk about some of the health benefits.

It seems that around the new year, everyone is always seeking out the “next big thing” to help them eat better or improve their health. Guess what? You don’t have to break the bank on expensive diet programs or specialty products that promise miraculous (and often unrealistic) results.

Dairy is and always has been a cost-effective, nutrient-packed food that can improve the quality of your diet and overall health.

Dairy Nutrition Facts

  • Examine the Label. Milk’s nutrition label is simple with just three ingredients, unlike milk alternatives, which may contain up to ten ingredients, and in most cases, one of the first ingredients is water.
    • Did you know that the nutrition of milk is the same across all levels? Only the fat & calorie amounts vary between skim milk all the way up to whole milk.
    • Our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamin A, D, E and K) much better when we consume them along with fat, so I actually recommend choosing dairy that contains some fat, rather than non-fat, or pairing it with a fat-containing food, such as nuts or avocado. *Note: dietary needs vary per person. Seek guidance from a Registered Dietitian for individualized advice. 
  • Look Beyond Bone Health. Most of us know that dairy foods provide calcium to support strong bones, but milk, cheese and yogurt provide an entire package of nine nutrients, which also includes high-quality protein to support muscle health.
    • Some of the other nutrients include potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, and niacin (niacin equivalents).
    • The addition of flavoring and sugar does not take away any of these nutrients. Although flavored milks have added sugars, they account for less than 50 calories per serving — a small amount compared to how many nutrients it can provide both children and adults. Almost one-half of the sugar is naturally occurring lactose which is found in all milk. I think this is an important fact for people to know. Milk contains naturally occurring sugars, just like fruit. It is still packed with nutrition, and should not be avoided due to these sugars.
  • Explore The Versatility of Dairy. Dairy can easily be incorporated into meals and snacks. Getting the recommended three servings of dairy every day is easy once you discover the possibilities. Like I mentioned, we love snacking on all kinds of cheese, using Greek yogurt in smoothies and a variety of recipes, and drinking milk by the glass!

Of course, this does not apply to anyone who may be allergic to dairy products and/or lactose intolerant. Thankfully, there are more and more dairy-free alternatives available these days for those who need them due to dietary restrictions. 

National Dairy Council Nutrients in Milk Infographic, health benefits of dairy
Graphic from

no one food can make or break your health

Please keep in mind that no ONE food or food group makes you healthy, just like no one food makes you unhealthy. It’s the overall diet that matters the most. Make sure it is well-balanced!

Dairy foods can absolutely be included, but be sure to also include a variety of plant foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as healthy fats and a variety of protein sources (both plant and animal sources.) Cook at home more often!

More helpful dairy resources

Please be sure to follow Adriane, the farmer I met at the Midwest Dairy holiday dinner, on social media at @thelittlehouseonthedairy, as well as @midwestdairy, to learn more and get some fresh ideas and inspiration for cooking with dairy!

Lastly, check out @lauren_lane_culinarian to see some of the amazing dishes she whips up, plus lots of delicious recipes! You can also head to Midwest Dairy’s website for lots of great information.

Fellow dietitian, @shapedbycharlotte, has a great blog post all about dairy as well, based on the most recent research. Check out her post here!

I hope you feel more informed about the health benefits of dairy foods after reading this post. In addition, I hope you feel empowered to continue including these nutritious and affordable foods in your diet this year if you love eating them!

Thanks so much for reading!

Shanna Hutcheson, RD, LD, CHC

#BringingDairyToLife #MidwestDairy #UndeniablyDairy #Sponsored

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  1. It’s good to know that dairy has high-quality protein for muscle health. I’ve been wanting to add more cheese to my diet, especially fancier cheeses. I’ll be sure to choose my dairy carefully and eat it sparingly.

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