Drink Up, Eat Empowered

Why Dairy Is an Important Part of a Healthy, Sustainable Diet

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This post is in partnership with Undeniably Dairy

By Keri Glassman

Every dietitian has their pet peeves. One of mine? Restrictive diets. I talk to people all the time who are confused about the latest trends. They try to eliminate major food groups and end up feeling food guilt over a generally balanced diet, missing out on important nutrients.

Well, I’m going to take this opportunity to say—point-blank—that they shouldn’t be eliminating major food groups from their diet. A lot of times, when we talk about sustainability and food, we’re talking about the environment. But you need to be able to sustain your individual diet too. As a rule, short-term fixes never lead to long-term results for your health or the planet.

RELATED: How Dairy Farmers Are Turning Up Their Commitment to Sustainability

Here’s how to make sure your diet is both balanced and sustainable, plus why it’s so important:

Eliminating food groups is way too much work for way too little reward.
Having an allergy or intolerance to a specific food is one thing, but trend-chasing is another. If you give up dairy foods, for example, you eliminate one of the easiest ways to get protein, calcium, and many of the B vitamins.

Can you get these nutrients elsewhere? Sure. I have no doubt you can achieve whatever you put your mind to—but how much work are you willing to dedicate to this task? Every 8–ounce serving of milk provides an affordable source of nine essential nutrients, including high-quality protein that contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle. Plus, it’s one of the most effective ways of getting three of the four critical nutrients most often lacking in Americans’ diets: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. And did you know that the body may not absorb plant-based sources of calcium as easily? So, are you willing to do the math to make sure you’re getting enough elsewhere? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be eliminating major food groups from your diet.

The best changes are the ones you can stick with.
You want to stick with your healthy diet when you’re traveling, when your work schedule gets crazy, when you’re at your parents’ house for the weekend, you get the idea. If your diet is so limiting that you can’t follow it in a real-world setting, it’s probably time to rethink it. The best diet is one that has a good amount of variety from all food groups and that you can stick to without driving yourself crazy.

The healthiest diets have variety.
Want a peek into my kitchen? You’ll find milk, yogurt, different types of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and even chocolate. Part of my job as a dietitian isn’t just to suggest healthy diets, it’s to make sure people have healthy relationships with food as well. This means you shouldn’t be afraid of a food or food group.

Instead of thinking of your treats as cheat meals, which has a negative connotation, think of them as conscious indulgences, something that acknowledges your needs and cravings in the moment but still has some nutritional value. A couple of my favorites? Hot chocolate (made with whole milk and dark chocolate) and these oatmeal-cottage cheese pancakes, the perfect mix of protein and flavor.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

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