Don’t overlook the health benefits of ‘real dairy’

The milk choices at the grocery store these days go well beyond skim or whole. Now you’ll find a wide variety of non-dairy or plant options like almond, oat, rice, coconut, cashew — the list goes on. Some people prefer the taste, while others think plant milk is just healthier.

However, Consumer Reports’ experts say it’s important not to overlook the health benefits of real dairy. Milk was once a staple of the American diet, and the dairy industry encouraged us to sip it at every meal.

“There are pros and cons to having dairy in your diet. Real dairy has a lot going for it because it’s high in calcium, protein, and potassium. But it’s also high in saturated fat and some people can’t tolerate it,” explained Consumer Reports Health Editor Trisha Calvo.

Not all fats are created equal. Increasingly, studies, like a 2018 Lancet study, have found that eating moderate amounts of full-fat dairy doesn’t raise your risk of heart disease or stroke, and it may be beneficial. Drinking milk is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents. It can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. But if it just isn’t your thing, yogurt is a great pick because it’s packed with healthy probiotic bacteria.

“Plain yogurt is best, with a little fruit, honey, or maple syrup for sweetness. But be wary of flavored yogurts, which can be high in added sugars, and that can offset the health benefits,” said Calvo. She says to choose a yogurt with 6 grams or less of added sugars. “A daily serving of yogurt and one of cheese is enough for general health. And some cheeses, such as cheddar and mozzarella, have probiotics, too,” she said.

Consumer Reports adds that if you want to enjoy plant milks, watch for “original” or “plain” in their name. Those versions often contain added sugars, as do flavored plant milks, so look for “unsweetened” on the label.