Everywhere we turn, there’s advice on what to eat. But despite research and recommendations by experts, more than 80% of us have diets that are low in basic food groups like dairy, fruits and vegetables.
Not getting enough plant foods and dairy may leave us falling short of the essential nutrients we need. But it also means missing out on a powerful combination that offers health benefits beyond nutritional value.
Here’s what you need to know:
Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Following a plant-based diet doesn’t mean only eating plants. It simply implies you eat mostly plants — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. And the health benefits of plant foods don’t diminish if you add dairy and meat to your meals.
The American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research all recommend a daily meal plan that includes at least half of total calories from fruits and vegetables. Plant foods benefit your health by:
- Decreasing risk for chronic diseases: Six out of 10 adults living in the U.S. have one or more diet-related chronic disease, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancer or osteoporosis. Plants contain phytochemicals that help prevent chronic diseases.
- Increasing fiber: Fiber makes up the structure of plants. Eating more of it can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, weight and digestion.
- Reducing inflammation: Toxins — from things like pollution, processed food and bacteria — can throw your body off balance, causing inflammation. The antioxidants in plants neutralize those toxins.
- Supporting the immune system: Plant foods deliver essential vitamins and nutrients that give your body what it needs to fight off infection and function at its best.
Health Benefits of Dairy
- Promoting bone health: Dairy contains calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients help children and adolescents build strong bones. They also keep adult bones healthy, helping to prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
- Providing protein: Muscle tissue relies on protein for both muscle building and repair. Just one 8-ounce serving of milk has 8 grams of protein, which goes a long way toward the recommended daily amount. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults should get a minimum of 0.35 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. That means someone who weighs 150 pounds should consume about 53 grams of protein a day.
- Supporting heart health: Dairy milk and yogurt are excellent sources of potassium, which can help maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
USDA’s MyPlate recommends adults consume three servings of dairy per day. One serving is equivalent to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces of natural cheese. Regardless of the milk fat percentage you choose, they all contain the same essential nutrients.
Why Dairy and Plant Foods Are Better Together
Surveys of American eating habits reveal that most of us fall short of meeting our needs for essential nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber and vitamins A, D, E and K. The good news is that each of these essential nutrients exists in dairy or plant foods — or both.
Alone, most dairy and plant foods are nutrient-dense. But when paired, they offer balance — what one has, the other lacks. This super duo closes any nutrient gaps, keeps your body strong and protects it from inflammation and disease.
Combining these food groups also ensures your body absorbs the essential vitamins you consume. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K found in plant foods require a fat source (hello, dairy) for absorption.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Both Plants and Dairy Into Your Diet
Bringing plant foods and dairy together can be easier than you think. Midwest Dairy suggests some quick ways to enjoy these superfoods together:
- Add kefir or cottage cheese to your fruit and veggie smoothie.
- Snack on a charcuterie board full of whole grain crackers, cheese cubes, veggies, fruit and nuts.
- Enhance your pizza, quesadillas or mac and cheese with veggies.
- Pour a cheese sauce over roasted veggies.
- Dunk veggies in a dip made with cottage cheese or yogurt.
- Soak overnight oats in milk or yogurt.
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Want to discuss more with a registered dietitian? Find one today.