Healthy Lifestyle

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Reasons to include more dairy in your diet

A healthy diet can improve quality of life and reduce a person's risk of developing disease or other negative health conditions. For example, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can boost the immune system and promote cardiovascular health, lowering your risk of heart disease in the process.

While the benefits of including fruits and vegetables in your diet are widely known, the medical benefits of dairy are often overlooked. The following are a handful of ways that dairy products like low-fat milk, cottage cheese and yogurt can make a nutritious and beneficial addition to your diet.

* Dairy packs a protein- and calcium-laden punch. One cup of nonfat yogurt can provide as much as one-third of your daily recommended calcium intake and nearly 20 percent of your daily recommended protein intake. Though dairy products like ice cream don't pack the same nutritious punch as yogurt, healthier fare like reduced-fat cheese and skim milk can go a long way toward meeting your daily intake of protein and calcium.

* Dairy is a great source of vitamin D. In addition to providing sufficient calcium and protein, dairy also helps men, women and children boost their vitamin D. That's especially important in the winter months when people tend to get less exposure to the sun. Exposure to the sun is a natural way to boost your vitamin D, but the shorter days and colder weather of winter can make it hard to get sufficient vitamin D during that time of year. Dairy products like low-fat milk can boost your vitamin D, which can improve your bone health and, according to recent research, might help reduce your cancer risk.

* Dairy may help lower your blood pressure. Men and women with high blood pressure might benefit from including more dairy in their diets. In a study of 5,000 adults, Spanish researchers found that those who reported consuming the most low-fat dairy products were more than 50 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who consumed less low-fat dairy. Though researchers are not certain as to the reason behind low-fat dairy products' impact on blood pressure, some theorize that their calcium and protein content are likely behind the benefit.

* Dairy benefits your bones. Dairy has long been known to improve bone density. But it's not just seniors who benefit from the bone-strengthening impact of dairy. Youngsters who consume dairy can also expect an increase in bone mass, which can make them less susceptible to injuries like broken bones. Seniors who consume dairy to improve their bone density should know that a recent study from researchers at the Institute for Aging Research found that not all dairy products are equal when it comes to improving bone density. While milk and yogurt were linked to higher bone mineral density, dairy products like cream and ice cream contain less protein, calcium and vitamin D and more fat and sugar than yogurt and milk, and these products may actually be associated with lower bone mineral density.

Though there are many ways men and women can improve their overall health, it's important to consider the nutritional value of dairy when making any alterations to your diet.