Being a registered dietitian, it’s my job to provide food-based guidance to individuals, so they can obtain optimal nutritional health across their lifespan. Health professionals like myself rely on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) to provide science-based recommendations on how to cultivate a healthy eating pattern that protects against chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
The 2015 DGA review of the research identified four nutrients of public health concern: calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fiber. These nutrients were singled out after careful review of dietary intake data compared to the dietary recommended intake, as well as disease prevalence data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The conclusion—if more Americans ate whole food sources rich in calcium, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fiber, they would be getting more of the nutrients linked to chronic disease prevention.
While the average consumer or parent isn’t concerned with individual nutrients, understanding “shortfall nutrients” helps me make better decisions as a dietitian. For starters, I can quickly help close this nutrient gap by encouraging Americans over the age of nine years old to consume the recommend three daily servings of dairy foods. Milk contains nine essential nutrients for good health, including three of the four nutrients of public health concern: calcium, potassium and vitamin D.
The DGA specifically links the low intake of dairy foods to calcium deficiency and states if the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern is consumed, Americans will get the recommend amount of calcium they need. Low potassium and vitamin D intake are also credited to low dairy consumption. Nutrient-rich foods like non-fat plain yogurt and fluid milk are recommended to help close this gap.
Regardless of your or your family’s dietary preferences, you can start bridging the nutrient gap today by bringing dairy foods back to meal and snack time. Start the day with a fruit and yogurt smoothie, stock the fridge with string cheese or Greek-style yogurts for easy snacking and bring milk back to the dinner table.
Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD