Benefits of Dairy in a Plant-Based Diet
Thank you New England Dairy Council for sponsoring this blog post! I’m grateful to partner with brands I love to cook with, and all opinions are my own.
A plant-based diet is one of the most popular eating styles today. As a Registered Dietitian, it’s music to my ears to hear people are interested in adding more plants to their plate! Research shows that eating a plant based diet may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, making it a very healthy eating pattern (1).
What is a plant-based diet?
You may be wondering, what exactly IS a plant-based diet, and what foods am I supposed to eat or avoid? The answer is pretty individualized, because a plant-based diet doesn’t have strict guidelines or food restrictions.
Plant-based diets encompass a group of eating patterns that limit the consumption of animal products. The spectrum of plant-based diets ranges from vegan (eliminating all animal products), to vegetarian (eliminating meat, poultry, and fish), and even to pescatarian (primarily vegetarian with occasional fish/seafood).
Because of this wide range of dietary patterns, a plant-based diet is an approachable one in which you don’t need to eliminate the animal products that you enjoy. In fact, certain animal products, like dairy, can provide benefits in a plant-based diet because they fill in nutritional gaps you might be missing out on.
Why you should include dairy products in a plant-based diet
Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are an excellent source of certain nutrients that can be difficult to get enough of on a plant-based diet.
- Dairy products provide calcium, which is one of the nutrients you might be lacking if following a strict plant-based diet. Men and women aged 19-50 years need 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and calcium needs bump up for women aged 50 and above to 1,200 mg per day. Dairy products are some of the best dietary sources of calcium. For example, one cup of low fat milk provides 300 mg of calcium, or about 30 percent of your needs!
- Dairy is a high-quality source of protein. While plant foods have some protein, they don’t have as much as dairy products do. Milk, yogurt, other dairy products are complete sources of protein, which means they have all the essential amino acids your body needs to build and repair tissues and muscles. Some dairy products particularly high in protein include Greek yogurt, skyr, kefir, and cottage cheese.
In addition to the nutritional benefits, including dairy products in your diet can make food more appealing. Imagine pizza without the cheese – it’s just not the same! Restrictive diets that eliminate entire food groups are not necessary for a majority of people. These diets are hard to follow long term, and sometimes lead to disordered eating behaviors.
Additionally, dairy products are affordable and widely available. This makes dairy a budget friendly food group you can feel good about serving to your whole family.
Delicious plant-based recipes that include dairy
Here are some of my favorite plant-based recipes that feature dairy products like yogurt and cheese. Which one will you try first?
- Vegetarian Gyro Bowls with Tzatziki Sauce
- Easy Vegetarian Mushroom Enchiladas
- Breakfast Papaya Boats
- Mushroom and Kale Farro Risotto
- Healthy Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad
- Pasta alla Norma with Fresh Mozzarella