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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research to Help Shape Dietary Guidelines
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By Jeannemarie Beiseigel

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. While the message on fruits and vegetables is probably not new, you may be curious about the importance of whole grains and low-fat dairy.

Dairy products such as milk and cheese are an excellent source of calcium, something many Americans lack in their diet. Calcium is important for healthy bones, teeth, and muscle. Nowadays, everything from breakfast cereals and sandwich breads to fruit juice and soft drinks are fortified with calcium. Even calcium-fortified milk is available, which brings the usual 300 mg of calcium per cup of milk to about 450 mg. Add that to a serving of a highly fortified cereal and you get nearly 1,500 mg of calcium. That is more than your daily requirement. However, calcium is absorbed best when smaller amounts are eaten throughout the day. A cup of low-fat milk plus cereal without added calcium provides about 300 mg of calcium. Add non-fat yogurt, cheese, and another glass of milk at later meals and you will reach your calcium goal and be able to absorb it much better.

You may be wondering if calcium-fortified foods are equal to dairy products. Certain calcium-fortified foods provide as much calcium as dairy products, but dairy products offer a lot more. Other nutrients important for bone health such as protein, vitamins A and D, and phosphorus are found in dairy products - think of dairy as a one-stop shop! Choosing low fat or non-fat dairy minimizes saturated fat and calories. When it comes to calcium, you want to be sure to get enough without going overboard. For most of us, that means having about three servings of low-fat dairy daily. If you don't like or tolerate dairy products, choose non-dairy sources of calcium such as soymilk and calcium-fortified foods.

Stroll down the cereal or bread aisle and you will see advertisements about whole grains. Americans typically eat bread, rice, pastas and corn products that have been refined. This causes loss of beneficial fiber, vitamins and minerals present in whole grains. Whole grains may reduce your risk of some cancers, improve digestion, and even help maintain a healthy weight. To get the benefits from whole grains, the new guidelines tell you to make half of your grains whole. See where you can substitute refined products with whole grains in your own diet. Read food labels and look for the words "whole grain". Choose whole grain breakfast cereals such as bran flakes or shredded wheat. Heat up a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Prepare brown rice instead of white and select whole grain breads. Get creative; grab a cookbook and some try different whole grains such as bulgur, barley, quinoa, or wheat berries. You may find a new favorite.

While there are many reasons to incorporate dairy and whole grains into your diet, there are some questions about the effects of calcium and whole grains on other nutrients. Phytate, a natural component of grains, may reduce absorption of iron and zinc. A high calcium intake may also interfere with absorption of iron and zinc. With the increased emphasis on a diet rich in whole grains and dairy products, scientists at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center want to test how this may affect other nutrients, particularly zinc. If you are a woman between the ages of 21 to 50, and would like to participate in an upcoming 16-week study to examine how phytate and calcium affect zinc absorption, please call us at 795-8396 or go online to www.ars.usda.gov/npa/gfhnrc. Participants will eat meals at the Nutrition Center during eight days of this study, enjoy their regular food and drink with limited restrictions on remaining days, and they could earn up to $575.

So, include more whole grains and low-fat dairy in your diet, but remember, as always, the keys to success are variety and moderation. A diet containing whole-grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, beans and nuts, and plenty of fruits and vegetables is the best way to get the nutrients you need. For tips on how to fit dairy and whole grains into your diet, go to www.mypyramid.gov.


Last Modified: 10/27/2006