June is National Dairy Month, which means it’s time to spread awareness about the health benefits of dairy. Milk and yogurt are commonly touted for their health benefits, but did you know that cheese is also an important player in the dairy group?

With more than 300 American varieties to choose from, and the nutrient package it provides – including calcium for strong bones and high-quality protein for healthy muscles – cheese fits into almost any eating plan such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and diabetic, gluten-free and low-lactose diets.

Cheese can actually help families increase their intake of fruits and vegetables. Produce pairs very well with cheese in recipes such as rainbow fruit and cheese kabobs (see recipe).

Cheese can be enjoyed as part of any meal, and because of its protein content (8 grams per serving), it’s a satisfying snack that can curb hunger.

Additionally, cheese can put you on track to meet the recommendation for three daily servings of dairy, as outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Choose 2% or low-fat cheese to reduce your intake of saturated fat.

What’s a serving of cheese? A serving is 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or two ounces of processed cheese. A visual reminder of a serving of cheese is four cubes – the size of playing dice.

– Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location. The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at tshaffer@hy-vee.com.