By Marsha McCormick
SNAP-Ed Program Assistant
OSU Extension Adams County
When we look at the MyPlate food guidance icon, we see what portion of our plate should be filled with each of the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. While most Americans eat plenty of foods from the protein and grains groups, and we often promote fruit and vegetable consumption, dairy is sometimes the forgotten food group.
We know that calcium and vitamin D are important to help build and maintain strong bones and the best sources of these nutrients are dairy foods that are fortified with vitamin D. An 8-oz. glass of milk contains about 300 mg. of calcium and 15-25% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin D. An average adult needs 1,000 mg. of calcium each day for optimal bone health. However, children between 9 and 18 years old, need 1300 mg per day because they are still growing and building bone density. Adults 51 and older need 1200 mg of calcium each day, because as we age, we naturally lose bone density.
We can get some calcium from non-dairy foods, but in much smaller amounts than dairy foods offer. For example, broccoli provides us with a small amount of calcium, but you would have to eat more than 3 ½ cups of cooked broccoli to get the same amount of calcium that you would get from one glass of milk. The bottom line is, without foods from the dairy group, you are likely not getting adequate calcium in your diet.
Inadequate calcium intake can decrease the density or hardness of our bones and make them more likely to break. The process of thinning of the bones is called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is more common in women, although men can be affected by it also. In addition to broken hips, it can lead to crushed bones in the spine which can cause us to become shorter as we age. It can also cause other broken bones and can slow down the healing process once a bone is broken.
Several factors affect whether we might develop osteoporosis including age, genetics, food choices, physical activity levels, medications, and alcohol and tobacco use. Some of these we have no control over, but most of us do have control over our food choices.
Consuming three to four servings of low-fat dairy foods each day, will assure you are getting enough calcium in your diet. People who are lactose intolerant may be able to consume smaller amounts of dairy products but might also want to consider a milk alternative such as soy or almond milk that is fortified with calcium. While milk
alternatives can help meet some nutritional needs, not all are equally nutritious, and they will not give you all the nutrients that milk offers. Be sure to compare the nutrition facts on the food labels to choose a brand that is high in calcium and contains vitamin D for your bones.
Remember that low-fat cow’s milk is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available to us, meaning it offers many nutrients for a small number of calories. Skim milk has only 80 calories and 1% has 100 calories per glass. Regardless of the fat content, all fluid milk provides us with nine essential nutrients including calcium, protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, a variety of B vitamins, and phosphorous.
Healthy ways to include dairy in your diet include drinking low-fat or fat-free milk with most meals and including yogurt and cheese in recipes and snacks. For more information, contact Marsha McCormick, SNAP-Ed Program Assistant with OSU Extension in Adams County at [email protected] or (937) 544-2339.