September 26, 2021

Nyman: Dairy’s role in filling the nutrient gap

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans tells us that people do not consume enough calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Labeling those four as “nutrients of concern” highlights the importance of getting enough of them. The good news is that three out of the four nutrients of concern are found in dairy. Boosting these nutrients can help decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diet-related diseases. A closer look at nutrients of concern shows why they are so critical, what foods they are in, and how much we need to stay healthy.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Each serving of dairy provides the body with one third of its daily needs. Consuming three servings of dairy per day will help you hit the target for calcium. Children and teens, whose bones are still growing, have even higher calcium needs compared to adults. Calcium is also very important for older Americans, who are at increased risk for fractures and osteoporosis. Among its many crucial functions, calcium provides building blocks for bones and helps with hormone balance, nerve signaling, blood flow maintenance, and muscle movement.

Vitamin D is produced by the body when skin is exposed to the sun. You can also get vitamin D by eating foods that naturally contain it or have been fortified with it. Working in an area with little sunlight or living in a cloudy climate far from the equator makes getting vitamin D from food a priority. Fortunately, each cup of milk contains vitamin D to ensure consumers get enough of this essential nutrient. Important functions of vitamin D include decreasing inflammation, boosting immune response, helping cells grow, and supporting strong bones by helping your body absorb calcium.

Potassium is an essential mineral in the body. One serving of milk, cheese, or yogurt offers nearly one-quarter of the daily needs for this mineral. Along with helping to maintain heartbeat, potassium assists in muscle contraction, promotes nerve signaling and healthy blood pressure, and regulates pH, water, and electrolyte levels in the blood. Excessive physical activity or sweating can increase potassium needs.

Dietary fiber, a carbohydrate found in plant-based foods, is the only nutrient of concern not found in dairy foods. Fiber-rich foods can help prevent overeating and encourage portion control. This is why fiber-rich diets can be helpful in reaching a healthy weight. Fiber plays a role in maintaining gastro-intestinal health, along with helping to promote satiety, or a feeling of fullness and satisfaction during mealtime.

Many Americans choose foods high in fat, sodium, and sugar instead of nutrient-rich foods that deliver calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber. Choosing dairy foods every day is an easy way to address these nutrients of concern. Pairing dairy with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a tasty way to help close the nutrient gap.

Caprese Salad

Try out this recipe for a quick and delicious way to get all four nutrients of concern into your diet! The mozzarella provides calcium, vitamin D, and Potassium while the vegetables provide the fiber making it a great way to ensure you are getting a balanced diet including the nutrients of concern.

Servings: 4 to 6


3 vine-ripe tomatoes, 1/4-inch thick slices

1 pound fresh mozzarella, 1/4-inch thick slices

20 to 30 leaves (about 1 bunch) fresh basil

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Coarse salt and pepper


Layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella, adding a basil leaf between each, on a large, shallow platter. Drizzle the salad with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Monica Nyman

Monica Nyman

Monica Nyman is a senior educator and registered dietitian with St Louis District Dairy Council. For more information on the health benefits of dairy, visit