A Guide to Dairy

Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann shares recommendations for which dairy products are the best choice for your family.

Recent studies suggest that whole fat dairy is the best choice to avoid diabetes and prevent weight gain. If you’re not sure which dairy products are the right choice for you and your family, check out these recommendations from pediatrician Tanya Altmann, M.D.

Should Adults Have Dairy?

Three servings of dairy are recommended for everyone, regardless of age. Here are some simple ways to get a serving of milk:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • ¾ cup yogurt
  • 1.5 ounces cheese

Milk is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients that many people of all ages do not get in sufficient qualities.

Follow These Rules for Buying Milk

Dr. Altmann has two rules that she recommends every family keep in mind when buying milk:

  1. Buy organic
  2. Avoid raw milk

Organic milk comes from cows that were raised organically, which means their feed is grown without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the cows are not given growth hormones or antibiotics.

What’s the Best Milk for Kids?

Unlike buying milk intended for adults to drink, dairy for kids is not one-size-fits-all. The type of milk that’s best for your child is age-dependent. Children need different nutrients at different ages, especially when it comes to fat, so it’s important that they get the right type of dairy at the right age.  Follow these guidelines:

Best Dairy for a Child Under One Year Old: Opt for breast milk or formula. At under a year of age, children should never have cow's milk — it's difficult for them to digest and can lead to iron deficiency and anemia. 

At six months, your child can have full-fat yogurt and cheese. Plain Greek yogurt without added sugar is ideal; that way, baby won’t develop a taste for unhealthy yogurt with lots of added sugar late in life.  

Best Dairy for Children Between Ages 1 and 2: Once your baby is one, you can serve full-fat milk. Children under two years need the nutrients and healthy fat for brain development — the human brain is 60 percent fat, so you need fat for its development. Two percent milk is also acceptable for this age range, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, or obesity. 

Best Dairy Options for Children Over Age 2: Serve children over age two healthy fats, including avocado, nuts and nut butter, and fish. 

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

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