Drink Up

The Perfect Complement: Why Dairy and Plant-Based Foods Are Better Together

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This post is in partnership with Undeniably Dairy.

By Keri Glassman

If you haven’t heard, plant-based eating is one of the biggest nutrition movements of the moment. If you’re not so familiar with this style of eating, here’s a primer: a plant-based diet simply means prioritizing foods derived from plants—grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts—and complementing them with the goodness of other foods like dairy, which provide additional nutrients, tastes, and textures.

Unlike a vegetarian or vegan diet, a plant-based diet isn’t so much about what you don’t eat; it’s more of a flexible, guiding philosophy that allows you to make more informed food choices for your health and the environment in any given situation.

The way I see it, anything that gets people to eat a more balanced diet without restricting access to vital food groups is a win. Following a holistic, varied diet reduces the likelihood of experiencing nutrient gaps that can occur when certain food groups are eliminated. For instance, milk is a nutrient-rich food providing nine essential nutrients in every 8-ounce serving such as protein, calcium, and vitamins D and B12; nutrients that can be difficult to get through a traditional vegan diet.

Here are some more reasons I see dairy and plant-based foods as the perfect superfood pairing:

Dairy is a high-quality source of protein.
Plants are high in fiber and antioxidants, but not so high in protein. That’s where dairy comes in. Milk is a source of complete protein with all the essential amino acids your body needs to help keep muscles healthy. Plus, high-protein foods like Greek- or Icelandic-style yogurt as well as cottage cheese make a great base for nuts, berries, and other plant-based eats.

Restrictive diets are rarely necessary and are harder to stick to.
Eating limited foods isn’t just a bad idea because you will miss out on a variety of nutrients important to your health, but restrictive diets are not a long-term solution and often send you into a craving spiral. Instead, try incorporating dairy foods into your plant-based diet to enhance the nutrients, flavor, texture, and satisfaction you get from your food.

Dairy can be good for the whole family.
Everyone has their personal food preferences and goals, but parents have other considerations: their children! Milk is the top dietary source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D among kids between two and 18 years old, according to Nutrients, and dairy has been linked to better bone health and improved school performance in a younger population. On average, dairy foods contribute 54 percent of calcium, 56 percent of vitamin D, 14 percent of potassium, 29 percent of vitamin A, and at least 18 percent of protein consumed in the American diet. As I mentioned, I’m not a fan of highly restrictive diets, but that’s 1,000 times truer for growing children who need dairy’s nutrients (not to mention a healthy relationship with food!).

The dairy community works to ensure their foods are environmentally sustainable.
With so much conflicting information out there and limited time on our hands, getting well-informed about the foods we eat can be a challenge. The good news is, not only are dairy products good for people, they’re also produced with great care for the planet. Example: The carbon footprint of a glass of milk is two-thirds less than it was 70 years ago, yet it provides all the same great nutrients. And advancements in dairy cow breeding, cow care, and cow nutrition continue to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of milk production in the U.S., which is already only about 2 percent of the total U.S. carbon footprint. Finding foods that are good for you and good for our planet is vital.

Ready to bring it all together? Try this Farro soup recipe, which has milk, plus a variety of plant-based foods, so you get the best of both worlds.

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