If you’re like most Iowans, you don’t leave the grocery store without a gallon of milk in your cart.

More than one-half of Iowa households consume milk daily, according to the 2018 Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index. Iowans recognize the nutritional benefits of real dairy milk.

However, if you never liked the taste of non-fat or low-fat milk, then go ahead and choose reduced-fat or whole milk, says Stephanie Clark, a dairy food scientist at Iowa State University.

What’s more important is that you drink milk, at whatever fat level or flavor you like, she says.

Real dairy milk is one of the safest, most nutritious beverages available, Clark says. And the latest research confirms that the fat in dairy and animal-based proteins doesn’t make us “fat” or increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, Clark says.

“If you like 2 percent (milk), drink 2 percent. If you like whole (milk), drink whole,” Clark says. “The number of calories you get from milk is not the biggest source of calories in our diet.

“You have to be conscious of your diet and exercise and be active. But you don’t have to restrict (foods) so that you are unhappy,” she adds.

A growing body of research shows that the fat in milk and dairy foods doesn’t contribute to weight gain and is actually protective of overall heart health, Clark says.

Clark says dairy fat helps with satiety, making you feel fuller longer so you eat fewer calories overall.

Dairy consumption also contributes to a trimmer body and healthier distribution of body fat, Clark says. Regular milk drinkers tend to have less fat around their waist. Excess abdominal fat increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

“The combination of nutrients - the protein and calcium and vitamin D - from milk seems to contribute to satiety, better body fat distribution and better health outcomes,” Clark says.

In addition, dairy fat delivers essential fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin A and D. These nutrients can only be absorbed with fats.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough Vitamin D and calcium in their diet, Clark says.

In comparison, plant-based beverages, such as nut-based drinks, are typically fortified with Vitamin D and calcium. These additives tend to sink to the bottom of the carton, ending up as a “sludge” that’s not drinkable, Clark says.

Real dairy milk’s nutrients are naturally more bioavailable, meaning that our bodies can absorb them more easily, she explains.

“If people care about natural, then they need to be thinking about dairy,” Clark says.

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