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The nutritional value of dairy products

Wiki Spanish Food editorial team

There are many ways to preserve milk: in cheese, cream, butter and fermented milks (yogurt). These are called dairy products, and they are an extremely important part of our diet.

Nutritional value of dairy products

From a nutritional standpoint, dairy products are a vital component of the food pyramid. This is mainly because they are very wholesome as they contain a wide variety of nutrients, and they are especially rich in proteins and calcium that is easily absorbed by our bodies. Moreover, their composition varies, with the result that they can easily be adapted to all kinds of diets and different nutritional requirements.

Proteins: Dairy products contain proteins with all of the essential amino acids we need. Dairy proteins are easily digestible and have a high biological value, which is why they're considered high-quality proteins.

Lipids: In milk, lipids transport fat soluble vitamins (A, E and K) and are absorbed together. Dairy products have several interesting bioactive compounds in their fat, such as sphingomyelin and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA); the latter has potential positive effects on our health: it's cardioprotective and fights cancer.

Carbohydrates: These are fundamental for the metabolism of the central nervous system. The main carbohydrate in milk is lactose, a disaccharide comprising glucose and galactose, which provides up to 25% of its total energy.

Vitamins: Milk is an important source of vitamins, and every 100 mL contains 0.19 milligrams of B2. The recommended daily intake (RDI) in adults is 1.6 mg/day, and drinking 840 mL of milk is enough to fulfill that recommendation. The amount of vitamins A and D are proportional to the amount of fat in the milk, which is removed when it is skimmed.

Minerals: Dairy products are especially important due to the calcium (a macromineral) they contain, contributing 65-75% of the RDI in the average diet. In addition to calcium, dairy products also contain potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous.

Dairy products, vital during childhood and adolescence

To better understand all of these properties, FeNIL (The National Federation of Dairy Industries) has organized the Irreplaceable Dairy Products campaign in the last few years. For more information, visit

Dairy products should be eaten during every stage of life, but there are specific periods which require greater consumption, specifically, those when more calcium is needed. That's when we should make a greater effort to eat dairy.

From a nutritional standpoint, dairy products are an important part of children and teens' healthy diet due to the large variety and high density of nutrients they contain and, due to their adaptability, they can be included in varied diets and fulfill different nutritional functions.

Optimal calcium intake in the first three decades is fundamental for acquiring adequate bone mass. To achieve this, it's necessary to consume 1,300 mg/day of calcium from the ages of 10 to 19.

Recommended intake

After the first few years, children should eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy per day; adolescents, who are experiencing a period of rapid growth, should eat 3 to 4. In theory, and as long as the child isn't overweight and there's no family history of dyslipidemia, both children and teens should eat full-fat dairy products since fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids are eliminated once the fat is removed.

For people with a low tolerance for lactose, there are many other alternatives, such as yogurt, cheese and other fermented milks.

Other dairy products, such as shakes and ice creams, can also be eaten. Milkshakes and yogurt-based shakes are a healthy alternative when fruit is added. Butter, which should be eaten in moderation, adds much-needed variety to a child's diet.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance has become a hot topic in recent years. It's important to distinguish between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance because they will determine whether or not we change our consumption habits.

A person with an allergy has an immune reaction to an allergen, in this case, a protein in milk; as a result, he won't be able to eat any dairy products, except those with hydrolyzed proteins. However, a person who is lactose intolerant is affected by the sugar present in milk (lactose), but has fewer symptoms when he eats cheese, yogurt and other fermented milks, as they contain less lactose than milk. Those symptoms affect only the digestive system.

As a result, people who are lactose intolerant can eat certain dairy products, especially in small quantities and along with other foods (for example, milk with coffee or cereal).

Other people will need to limit lactose intake for approximately four months, and then reintroduce it gradually over time.

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