Only 30% of Americans meet their recommended intake of calcium, and the U.S. Surgeon General's office predicted that by 2020, half of all Americans older than 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis and low bone mass, says Lisa Franzen-Castle, UNL Extension nutrition specialist in Scottsbluff.
June is National Dairy Month, and dairy foods can help close the gap, she says. They supply not only calcium, but also potassium, magnesium and vitamin A, nutrients that most Americans don't get enough of.
Current recommendations state that children 8 years and younger should get 2 cups of milk daily and males and females 9 years and older should get three cups daily. This includes low-fat and fat-free milk, as well as cheese and yogurt, since these foods are also valuable and tasty sources of essential nutrients.
Here are some of the health benefits of dairy foods, along with tips for getting the daily three cups:
Dairy and bone strength. About 85-90% of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
Healthy weight. Research supports that enjoying three cups of low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt each day as part of a balanced diet may help maintain a healthy weight. At least 45 observational studies exploring eating patterns and body weight found dairy foods played a positive role in healthy weight.
Reduce chronic disease risk. Studies show dairy foods, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, colon cancer and metabolic syndrome.
Lactose intolerance. If you avoid milk because of lactose intolerance, there are still several ways to get calcium in your diet. You can choose lactose-free alternatives such as cheese, yogurt, or lactose-free milk, or consume the enzyme lactase before consuming milk products. There are also calcium fortified juices, cereals, breads, soy beverages, or rice beverages available in stores.
In general, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the dairy group.
"This June, start a trend of getting 3 cups of dairy every day," Franzen-Castle says. "There are several ways to include dairy foods into your diet. Try including fat-free or low-fat milk as a beverage at meals. If you usually drink whole milk, switch gradually to fat-free milk, to lower saturated fat and calories."
Dairy foods also make great snacks such as eating fat-free or low-fat yogurt by itself or using it to make a dip for fruits and vegetables, or making fruit-yogurt smoothies in the blender.
Another option would be to use shredded low-fat cheese to top casseroles, soups, stews, or vegetables. There are lots of options when it comes to getting your 3 cups of dairy. Check out www.food.unl.edu for more food, nutrition, and health information.
Get more information from UNL's Panhandle Research and Extension Center at www.panhandle.unl.edu.