Put down your mop and scrub brush and pick up some milk, cheese and yogurt; this blog isn’t about spring cleaning your house, it’s about spring cleaning your diet! How so? By tidying up food choices and polishing meal plans in support of the clean eating trend.
While there’s no official definition from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a “clean” food, there’s a widely-held belief among consumers that a clean food label should 1) Carry a short, understandable ingredient list and 2) Share information about how a food was produced on-farm and processed prior to arriving at the store. Fortunately, for dairy-lovers, dairy products fit this clean label bill.
Consider milk’s label, which has only three ingredients: milk, vitamin A, vitamin D. Short? Check! Understandable? Check! Now compare this to the ingredient list on a milk alternative, like a soy or almond beverage. There are at least ten ingredients listed, many of which are unrecognizable and difficult to pronounce. As far as processing, let’s take a closer look. Milk undergoes pasteurization and homogenization for safety and quality, but these do not impact its entire nutritional package (which I will talk about in more detail in just a minute). Also, milk’s total transit time from farm to store is only about 48 hours, compared to milk alternatives, which may take weeks to make a similar journey. Based on findings from research conducted by Midwest Dairy, nearly three-quarters of consumers falsely believe all milk alternatives are less processed than milk. Hopefully the good news I’ve just shared sets the record straight.
This research also showed less than one-third of consumers understand the nutritional difference between milk and milk alternatives such as soy, almond or rice beverage. Let me explain it this way: All milk, white or flavored, delivers nine essential nutrients including a natural source of high-quality protein and well-absorbed calcium. Not all alternatives can say the same. For instance, the protein content in almond, coconut and rice beverages is significantly less than the 8 grams of protein in an 8-ounce serving of milk. And the calcium in alternatives is added upon processing and may not be as well-absorbed.
How can you start spring cleaning your diet? Get the recommended three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods every day by incorporating milk, cheese and yogurt into meals and snacks. Here are some tips:
- While kids are home for spring break, try making these easy, cheesy Pita Pizza Faces with them. When cheese is combined with other nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, they are likely to eat more of all these foods. Oh, and when they’re involved in meal prep, they’re more inclined to try new foods. Win-win!
- Serve milk, white or chocolate, with meals. Flavored milk is a great dairy choice and provides the same nine essential nutrients as unflavored milk. The only difference is the addition of flavorings and minimal amounts of sugar, which can lead to improved consumption, especially among children. As a mom and a dietitian, I feel good serving my son chocolate milk (and I love drinking it, too!)
- Stock the fridge with containers of yogurt for quick on-the-go snacks. For an added protein boost, go for Greek yogurt, which can tend to pack twice as much as regular yogurt. Blend with milk and fruit to make a refreshing smoothie or layer with fruits and whole-grain cereals for a colorful, flavorful parfait.
Enjoy and comment below if you have questions about spring cleaning your diet with dairy!