New Study: Why Adding One Serving of Dairy Can Improve a Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern

  • Article
  • 2 min read October 2, 2018

How could you make a healthy eating plan even more nutritious? A new modelling study found that adding a serving of dairy foods to the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern for adults, as outlined in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), increases the amounts of important nutrients.

The Mediterranean-style plan includes more fruit and seafood than the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern but fewer servings of dairy foods — just two daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods instead of three-- for adults aged 19 and older. Fewer servings of dairy foods means less calcium, vitamin D and other key nutrients.

Adding a serving of dairy foods to the Mediterranean-style plan, so that it contains three servings of dairy, increases daily calcium by 32 percent, vitamin D intake by over 21 percent and potassium intake by about 8 percent. These increased nutrient intakes are especially important because calcium, vitamin D and potassium are all considered nutrients of concern in the diets of Americans over the age of 2, since Americans do not consume enough of them. The amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin and vitamin B12 in the Mediterranean-style Eating Pattern also increased with the additional serving of dairy. While sodium and saturated fat content also went up, those amounts stayed within recommended limits (2,300 milligrams per day and less than 10% of total calories, respectively).

While eating moderate amounts of dairy foods may be a tradition in some Mediterranean countries, dairy foods are foundational foods in healthy U.S. eating patterns and contribute valuable nutrients, including several shortfall nutrients. National dietary survey data (NHANES 2011-2014) show that, on average, dairy foods provide 50 percent of all calcium for American adults aged 19 and over, and that milk is the top food source of vitamin D in the diets of both children and adults.

Adding a serving of dairy foods to the Mediterranean-style plan, as this study does, could be considered an adaption of the Mediterranean diet to meet the needs of a U.S. population and increase important nutrients to recommended levels.

Three servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods can fit into calorie-balanced healthy eating patterns, including Mediterranean-style.

Shandelle Williams is student at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, and an intern with the National Dairy Council. She is sponsored by Julie Hess, Ph.D., National Dairy Council.