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4 healthy ways to add dairy to your diet

Quality dairy products can be part of a healthy diet.
/ Source: TODAY

Dairy is a food group that is quite polarizing. There are those who swear it off because it may cause skin problems, gastrointestinal issues (like gas and bloating), because it's been linked to increased risk for certain cancers or simply because it’s often high in calories, fat and sodium.

Then, there are those who gobble it up because it's a source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D, which are all important for bone health. Potassium is also important for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Plus, the probiotics (healthy bacteria) found in certain dairy products are often the only way many people consume these little bugs. Finally, it also tastes good.

If you banned dairy from your diet, you can certainly meet all of your nutritional needs without it. But if you’re a dairy lover with no gastrointestinal distress, skin issues or an inflammatory condition, I recommend incorporating the best quality dairy such as organic Greek yogurt, kefir, or the least processed cheeses once a day.

Here are the best ways to add it into your diet:

1. Cheese

Cheese adds flavor to your meals, which of course makes your food taste good. It also can help to make your meal more satisfying. Cottage cheese is notorious for having one of the best calorie-to-protein ratios as far as cheese goes. A half cup has just 100 calories, but provides 12 grams of protein.

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Like all foods, when it comes to cheese, the least processed the better. Go for 1 ounce of real cheese versus anything that says “processed cheese product” on the label. Cheese also has less lactose than other dairy products, making it easier on the belly compared to, say, that milkshake that landed you in the bathroom. Add an ounce of Parmesan cheese to your afternoon apple — just don’t eat the whole wheel with a bottle of wine.

RELATED: Vegan cheese is a thing & it's delicious, 3 recipes you're going to love

2. Yogurt

This creamy treat can be your gut’s best defensive lineman. Yogurt contains live active cultures and in some yogurts, these live active cultures are probiotics. Probiotics are bacteria that have a proven benefit to the host. And, guess what? You’re the host. Because of these benefits (digestive health, immune system strength and overall health), probiotics are referred to as “good” bacteria.

One 7-ounce container of yogurt can provide up to 18 grams of protein. Best to choose organic, whole, unsweetened yogurt and make it a sweet treat by adding frozen berries and hemp seeds.

3. Kefir

If drinking your dairy is more your thing, then kefir may be your way to go. Kefir contains approximately 15 to 20 times as many probiotics as yogurt, meaning that this fermented antimicrobial dairy product pays a huge contribution to good gut health.

RELATED: From yogurt to kombucha, fermented foods benefit your overall health

Many people who can’t stomach milk can handle kefir due to its lower lactose content. Kefir may even help build a better immune system when consumed over time. It’s also been linked to lowering cholesterol and having anti-carcinogenic properties. How’s that for some serious dairy benefits? Try mixing kefir with avocado, olive oil, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper for an amazingly simple new, and gut healthy salad dressing.

4. Low-fat organic chocolate milk

It’s not just for kids, friends. Chocolate milk has become kind of uber-famous as a post-workout treat. Its almost perfect four-to-one ratio of carbohydrates to protein makes it the ideal, nutrient dense, post-workout fuel. And, of course, you’re also reaping the calcium and vitamin D benefits to build strong bones. Forget that post-workout candy bar, and instead indulge in chocolate milk, which will also help refuel your body and expedite muscle recovery.

More of a smoothie person? Try one cup organic chocolate milk, one small frozen banana and one tablespoon peanut butter for the fastest and easiest post workout fix.