“Milk Does a Body Good” is not just an advertising slogan. It’s a way to get people to drink the dairy product, because it offers so many nutrients, says a University of Florida expert. But first, cows must produce milk.
As we celebrate June as National Dairy Month, some UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences experts tout the benefits of dairy in the daily diet, while other UF/IFAS researchers help ensure cattle produce ample dairy to fill consumers’ needs.
Milk and other dairy foods are loaded with calcium and vitamin D as well as protein and other essential nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, B12, and riboflavin, said Nan Jensen, a family and consumer sciences agent for UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County.
“These nutrients help keep us healthy,” Jensen said. “Calcium builds and maintains strong bones and teeth and helps reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life. Phosphorous and vitamin D partner with calcium to keep bones strong as well.”
Dairy products provide these additional benefits, according to Jensen:
- Calcium combined with potassium and magnesium play an important role in maintaining normal blood pressure.
- Milk nutrients can help maintain weight. Studies should that people who consume calcium and dairy products weigh less or have less body fat than those who don’t.
- Cultured dairy products like kefir and yogurt provide “friendly bacteria” that help promote a healthy gut.
- Dairy nutrients provide a source of protein to build and maintain lean muscle.
Those who can’t tolerate dairy or don’t like it can choose from an array of non-dairy choices, including soy, almond, rice, hemp and oat milk, Jensen said. She suggests consumers read the ingredient list and nutrition facts label to compare these and other non-dairy alternatives.
Consumers can enjoy dairy products only if cows are producing them.
Some UF/IFAS animal scientists help ensure dairy products get to the grocery store. For example, Jimena Laporta, an assistant professor of animal sciences, studies mammary glands and lactation, primarily in dairy cows. Heat provides the cows’ biggest obstacle to milk production.
“Even though dairy cows are very good at producing large amounts of milk, there are some challenges the industry faces that compromise the efficiency and sustainability of milk production,” Laporta said. “One of my research areas is tackling the substantial decline in milk production associated with environmental heat stress.”
“So, while consumers and producers celebrate National Dairy Month, we are looking at the beginning of Florida’s summer and the start our heat-stress research season,” Laporta said.
Dairy cows who get too hot during the summer eat less and produce less milk, she said. If they get too hot and they’re pregnant, their offspring weigh less and are more likely to get sick and leave the herd prematurely, Laporta said. Those factors can cause substantial economic losses for dairy farmers, she said.
Working with her colleagues in animal sciences, Laporta develops strategies to combat dairy cattle heat stress. For instance, they cool cattle with fans and soakers at strategic times during the lactation cycle to overcome negative impacts of heat stress on current and future generations.
“Our research goals are to enable dairy cattle to produce higher quantity and quality milk, despite rising temperatures,” Laporta said. “That way, we fulfill our role in feeding the world’s growing population while promoting dairy farm sustainability.”