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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Dairy can help deliver nutrition, taste

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Ask the Nutritionist: Dairy can help deliver nutrition, taste

Jean Ragalie, RD, is president of the National Dairy Council. In that role, she leads development and implementation of nutrition affairs strategies and relationships with leading government and nongovernment health, nutrition and school professional organizations.

For 76 years, the National Dairy Council has encouraged Americans to include milk as part of their daily diet.

Not only is it a good time to focus attention on the importance of dairy and the dairy industry, but also a perfect time to ask whether there are enough nutrient-rich dairy options available in restaurants to help meet customers’ health and wellness needs?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize a total diet approach and recommend Americans build a healthy plate with nutrient-rich foods, including low-fat or fat-free dairy. The dairy group milk, cheese and yogurt contributes essential nutrients that are important for good health, including protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Additionally, current evidence shows the intake of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents, and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

The development and availability of affordable, nutritious foods is an opportunity for food processors, manufacturers and restaurants to offer more healthful options to consumers. Dairy foods provide many essential nutrients that are important for good health, but only contribute 10 percent of the calories in the American diet.

Dairy companies are continuously collaborating with manufacturers and quick-service and fast-casual restaurants to create nutritious products that meet consumers' evolving needs, such as lower sugar and reduced calorie flavored milk to lower-fat and lower-sodium cheeses and fruit and yogurt smoothies.

For example, more than 70,000 quick-serve restaurants are serving yogurt parfaits, single-serve milk containers and skim-milk lattes that help make it easier for their customers to get vital dairy nutrients.

This summer, the NDC’s nutrition experts are providing restaurateurs with a list of practical tips on incorporating low-fat or fat-free dairy into their menu options:

• Offer yogurt-based dressings for salads, vegetables, bean salads, tacos and baked potatoes. The live and active cultures in yogurt help make lactose easier to digest, making this recipe a friendly option for lactose intolerant customers
• Mix milk with other foods, such as soup for a smooth texture, blend with fruit smoothies, or offer milk as a beverage option
• Offer milk instead of water to prepare oatmeal  or hot cereals to enhance the nutrient richness of the menu item
• Top sandwiches or pastas with natural cheese, such as Cheddar, Colby, queso blanco, Monterey Jack, mozzarella and Swiss
• Put a fun spin on the traditional burger or chicken sandwich with a cheesy center then add chili powder, salsa and cilantro for a little extra flavor to savor
• Complete egg dishes with reduced-fat cheese and vegetables to kick start the morning meal
• Provide options for lactose intolerant consumers with hard, natural cheeses that contain a small amount of lactose and/or yogurt, which contains live and active cultures that help digestion of the lactose
• Substitute low-fat plain yogurt for mayonnaise in tuna, egg or potato salad, or make a fruit dip by adding a little vanilla to lemon yogurt

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