June is National Dairy Month—a whole month to appreciate the wonders of dairy! Things get started on June 1 with World Milk Day, which recognizes the contributions of the dairy sector to economic development, sustainability, nutrition and livelihoods. Get ready to celebrate by learning more about this amazing food group.

The Dairy Group

The term dairy includes all fluid milk products, as well as a number of foods made from milk. Foods made from milk with little or no calcium are not included, such as butter, cream cheese and cream. The following foods are part of the dairy group:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Hard cheese
  • Soft cheese
  • Frozen yogurt
  • Ice cream

The daily dairy recommendation for people over nine years old is three cups. When choosing items from the dairy group, it’s recommended that you choose mostly low-fat or nonfat options. Many whole milk products contain high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase your cholesterol levels and your risk for coronary heart disease.

Nutrients Found in Dairy Products

Consuming dairy products is a great way to naturally get a number of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. This is because dairy products are full of beneficial nutrients that are important for your health and the maintenance of your body. Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Calcium – Dairy products are the primary source of this important nutrient. Calcium helps your body build bones and teeth and maintain bone mass.
  • Potassium – Helps maintain healthy blood pressure and regulate fluid and mineral balance.
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps the body maintain proper levels of phosphorous and calcium, thus aiding in building and maintaining bones.
  • Protein – Proper amounts of protein in your diet are vital to build and repair muscle tissues.
  • Riboflavin – This B vitamin supports metabolism, body growth and red blood cell production.
  • Phosphorus – An essential nutrient, phosphorus strengthens bones.
  • Vitamin A – Vitamin A is important for good vision and healthy skin.
  • Niacin – Important for good overall health, this B vitamin promotes good circulation.

Health Benefits of Dairy Products

With all the nutrients packed into dairy products, it’s not surprising that they have some pretty impressive health benefits, including the following:

  • The calcium and protein in milk promote strong bones and may decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • The nutrients in dairy foods are believed to play a role in healthy blood pressure. In particular, potassium plays an important role by regulating the body’s fluid and mineral balance.
  • A growing body of research links dairy consumption to lowered risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Dairy consumption is also linked to a reduced risk of stroke, colorectal cancer and metabolic syndrome.
  • Eating dairy may also help you maintain a healthy weight.

Dairy Products and Athletes

Athletes have additional reasons to consume dairy because the balance of nutrients helps improve performance and health. In particular, low-fat chocolate milk is a great choice for athletes because it is:

  • A source of high-quality protein, which is essential for building lean muscles
  • The proper carbohydrate-to-protein ratio to help rebuild and refuel tired muscles
  • An excellent source of vitamin A to help maintain normal vision and a healthy immune system
  • An excellent source of electrolytes to replenish those lost in sweat
  • A great way to stay hydrated
  • A source of phosphorus, vitamin D, calcium, potassium and protein to maintain strong bones and lower the risk of developing stress fractures

National Dairy Month is a fun time to discover the benefits of dairy and explore the possibilities for including more dairy products in your family’s diet. A well-balanced diet is important for overall health, and, for most people, dairy products are part of a well-balanced diet. So grab a tall glass of cool, refreshing milk and drink to your health.