Image: Jane Rix

Quick: Can you name Oregon's official state beverage? No, it's not wine, beer, or cold-brew coffee. It's milk! Here in the Beaver State, dairy is engrained in Oregon’s agricultural history. Dairy farming began in Oregon in 1838 and has had a strong presence ever since, according to Josh Thomas, author of Dairy Farms of Oregon. Today, there are 230 dairy farms across the state of Oregon selling to processors to produce our states beverage along with ice cream, yogurt, butter, and cheeses.

History aside, dairy products have been linked to a variety of fundamental nutrients such calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin D, protein, potassium, and vitamin A. But with a lot of conflicting information about how much you need, dairy can get tricky—especially when you're trying to eat well. Is it necessary? Is it vital? Is it harmful? Here in Portland, dairy is a hot button topic.

We polled some of Portland's nutrition and fitness pros to find out what they think about dairy, share their buying tips, and explain why mom always told us that milk builds strong bones.

“Dairy is a great protein source containing all the essential amino acids, electrolytes, and bone-building calcium you need for recovering from a workout. Dairy contains both fast releasing whey protein as well as slower-releasing casein protein, which helps your body with sustained recovery and muscle repair. Not only is dairy a great protein source, it is also inexpensive compared to other protein sources and requires no preparation. One thing I personally watch for in my dairy products is that they are organic and hormone free. Better for me, better for the animals, and better for the planet.”—James Dubberly, owner, trainer, and fitness nutritionist at Whole Body Fitness

"In the Pacific NW, where vegan and dairy-free diets are popular, I always hope that an individual is eating in way that feels right for them. People can be healthy following a diet that includes or excludes dairy and there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all way of eating for everyone. It also does not need to be black and white. You can cut down on your dairy consumption without having to cut it out completely. Perhaps you opt for vegan meals, and treat yourself to some gourmet ice cream once in a while this summer. For vegans, be aware of getting in adequate vitamin B12 and Vitamin D when not eating any animal or dairy products. Lactose intolerant individuals can try eating dairy with lactase enzymes before eating, or choose a milk with the lactase enzyme already added in.”—Registered Dietitian Sumner Brooks of Not on A Diet

"I hate to state the obvious, but dairy provides the calcium the body needs for healthy, strong bones. If you are really on the fence about whether or not to consume dairy in your daily diet, I recommend choosing organic over conventional for peace of mind. Dairy products are grocery items that might be worth the price bump. Organic dairy comes from cows that have been pasture raised, meaning more time grazing on grasses. Grass-fed, organic cattle produce milk that is higher in omega-3 fatty acids, the type of healthy fats that fight disease-causing inflammation. Dairy, in the form of yogurt or cottage cheese, provides a wonderful high protein option for meals or snacks. Getting adequate protein throughout the day not only helps keep us full but is crucial for maintaining lean body mass. Aiming for 20-30 grams of protein at meals and 10-15 grams of protein at snacks is a good guideline to follow. 1 cup of non-fat Greek yogurt provides 22 grams of protein. 1/2 cup of cottage cheese provides 15 grams of protein.”—Nutritionist Megan Fuetter of Portland'sZest Nutrition

“For people who view food as part of their lifestyle and not just as fuel, flavor and satisfaction are key. The butterfat in cheese is what carries much of its flavor, and it also helps people feel full and satisfied, which can lead to lower caloric intake overall. If you're going to indulge in cheese, make it a quality cheese! Look for a clean ingredient list: milk, salt and cultures. Cheese made from milk produced by grass fed cows will provide more of the good nutrients and less of the things you don't want like additives or preservatives.”—Greg Drobot, owner of Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, Oregon 

“Dairy can be a good source of protein and recovery drink/snack for athletes to build and repair muscle. Whey is also a very popular protein powder that helps build lean muscle and can help people feel fuller longer than carbohydrates or fats. Another benefit is that yogurt and kefir are excellent sources of probiotics, the “good” bacteria that have been shown to promote a healthy gut.”—Abby Bliss White, Holistic Health Coach of Bliss Holistic Health

“Nancy’s has a 45+ year tradition of never adding cane sugars to products. Instead, we lightly sweeten our fruit yogurts with pure honey, white grape juice, or agave. That 'tang' you taste with Nancy's Yogurt is the real yogurt taste- you are tasting the live probiotics and cultures.”—Nancy’s Yogurt, based here in Oregon 

“There is emerging research showing dairy products reduce heart disease risk, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. For some, whole fat milk provides the extra staying power and satiety (from fat) they are looking for. Others may find a lighter version is more appropriate.”—Jamie Lee, nutritionist of HealthFull Nutrition

To celebrate national dairy month this June, we are giving away 25 coupons for a free Nancy’s cultured dairy or soy products—good for yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, or any of the company's non-dairy alternatives—plus a gift basket packed with Face Rock Creamery cheese*. Be one of the first 25 people to post a photo to Instagram showing off how you do dairy (just use the hashtag #HowIDairy) and you'll be guaranteed a free Nancy's item and be entered to win the cheese gift box. It's that simple!

*The cheese gift basket contains Face Rock Creamery's Aged Cheddar, Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar, "In Your Face" Spicy 3-Pepper Cheddar, Monterey Jack, "Face Rock’n Jack" Pepper Jack, Pizza Cheese, Classic Cheddar Cheese Curds, and Award Winning Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds.

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