Dairy Recommendations Vary by Age
Since the late 1970’s, the percentage of individuals who drink milk has decreased in all age groups and is especially drastic in adolescents. Because of this, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans call attention to increasing the intake of reduced and non-fat dairy.
For children under 2 years of age, whole and 2% fat dairy is recommended. For adults, it’s best to select fat free or 1% reduced fat options for cheese, milk, cottage cheese and yogurt. Even though the fat content is reduced, these choices still contain the same amount of all the other important nutrients that dairy provides. While butter, cheeses, cream cheese and ice cream are made from milk, these choices are also a source of saturated fat and should be used sparingly.
Health Benefits of Dairy
Dairy products can be a valuable source of carbohydrates, protein and nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Be sure to take a look at the nutrition facts, because dairy can also be a source of unwanted saturated fats.
Bones are living organs with cells that are broken down and rebuilt daily. Milk and milk products provide calcium, which is important for building and maintaining bone mass through all stages of life.
Dietary calcium is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, because this is when bones are growing to their maximum potential. Reduced-fat milk can be the beverage of choice at two meals of the day and will help meet a child’s calcium needs for strong healthy growth. Calcium from milk products may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Women start to lose bone mass beginning in their early 30’s, and as they age, most are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Calcium is also important in maintaining a healthy heart, proper blood clotting, thyroid function, nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction. Eight ounces of non-fat yogurt, four ounces of cottage cheese and eight ounces skim milk would be an excellent way to meet your calcium needs for the day!
Milk fortified with vitamin D helps ensure that we get an adequate amount of this important vitamin. Vitamin D works with calcium, as well as phosphorous, to maintain strong bones. Low levels of vitamin D may be linked to high blood pressure (hypertension), cancer and several autoimmune diseases. Dairy alternatives such as soy milk and almond milk are often supplemented with calcium and vitamin D to ensure equal nutrition quality.
Alternate Sources of Calcium
Did you know that there are other sources of calcium besides dairy products? Broccoli, almonds, beans and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale have calcium too.
Following the Recommended Daily Intake (100% RDI) is important. If someone isn’t able to consume dairy or milk alternatives because of an allergy or intolerance, a supplement can be a great alternative.