Doable Challenge: Make Smart Dairy Choices

I love cheese, ice cream, and yogurt so much that I have long joked about reporting from the Dairy Desk, a whole news bureau devoted to the topic. So not even Ellie Krieger, who I interviewed for this month’s Doable Challenge: Make Small Changes for Big Results, could convince me to give up real cheese or the occasional scoop of chocolate moose tracks. Fortunately, she’s not trying to. In keeping with her balanced approach to healthy eating, Krieger advises switching to low-fat and fat-free dairy products some of the time, while not giving up full-fat cheeses and other rich dairy products completely. So this week’s challenge is to cut calories and saturated fat in the diet by making smart dairy choices. Here are some tips to make it doable: Use Full-Fat Sparingly: Certain full-fat dairy products, particularly cheeses like blue, Cheddar, and Parmesan, simply don’t have a low-fat version that’s up to most food lovers’ standards in terms of texture and flavor. The key when eating them is to “strategically use a minimum amount for maximum impact.” For me, that means adding a bit of highly flavorful cheese at the table for dishes like Fettuccine with Walnuts, Zucchini Ribbons, and Pecorino Romano rather than making a dish with a ton of bland cheese. Choose Low-Fat for Your Everday Dairy: For dairy products that tend to be consumed in larger volumes, such as the milk on your morning cereal, it’s sensible to choose low- or nonfat. For example, since I eat several cups of yogurt every day, I choose low-fat (1%) to mix into my breakfast muesli most days (full-fat allowed for breakfast on vacation and for desserts). Krieger likes to use low or nonfat versions of products that maintain their basic flavor profile and don’t have added thickeners, gums, stabilizers, and emulsifiers — these include milk, yogurt, buttermilk, mozzarella, and ricotta. She’s also a fan of unsweetened low-fat evaporated milk, which she uses in place of cream in some desserts. Excel in the Art of Compromise: While I have my go-to full-fat and low-fat dairy product choices pretty well worked out, cleverly combining the two is an approach I learned from Krieger that I want to try more often. She uses a mixture of full and reduced-fat dairy products in many recipes, including her Big Breakfast Burrito (which calls for reduced-fat sour cream and full-fat pepper Jack cheese), Pears with Almond Cream (which calls for a combo of heavy cream and nonfat yogurt), and the Skillet Mac and Cheese pictured above (which uses 1% milk and full-fat cheeses). When choosing dairy products, when do you choose low-fat and when do you go for full-fat?

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