Diets rich in milk and milk products help build and maintain bone mass throughout the lifecycle, which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The intake of dairy products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built.
The teenage years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to consume enough calcium to help prevent bone fractures and osteoporosis later in life. During the teen years, nearly half of the adult skeleton is formed and about 15 percent of adult height is added, which makes these years critical for achieving full bone mass and height potential. Current trends in soft-drink consumption among adolescents suggest that teens are drinking twice as much soda as milk, without an increase in other calcium-rich dairy products.
It is a good idea to choose low-fat or nonfat milk products such as low-fat yogurt, buttermilk, skim milk and low-fat chocolate milk. Cheese, ice milk and ice cream also contain calcium, but have more fat and calories. Drinking milk with meals or snacks is one of the quickest ways to boost the calcium content of your diet.
Teens that are mildly lactose intolerant often can enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactase-treated milk. Those who must avoid dairy products due to allergies or severe lactose intolerance can still consume significant amounts of calcium from dry beans, fish with edible bones, tofu (if processed with calcium sulfate), calcium-fortified orange juices and cereals, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.
Here are some ideas for increasing dairy products in your diet:
Make hot cereals and creamed soups with milk instead of water. Tomato soup made with milk is more smooth and creamy than soup thinned with water.
Add cheese to your sandwich or to a soft corn tortilla.
Make a smoothie with fruit, ice and milk or try one of the new milk or yogurt drinks — they come in a variety of flavors like strawberry, banana and even peanut butter.
Dip fruits and vegetables into yogurt for a snack.
Add cottage cheese to your diet. Cottage cheese is lower in calcium than most cheeses. One cup of cottage cheese is equal to a half cup of milk.
For dinner, make a salad with dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach. Top your salad with shredded cheese or dress the salad with cottage cheese instead of oily dressings.
Try rice pudding made with low-fat milk for dessert.
Consuming milk and milk products provides many health benefits. Foods in the dairy group provide the nutrients, calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein that are vital for health and maintenance of your body.
For more information on increasing consumption of milk and milk, products go to www.mypyramid.gov, and click on dairy, or www.nationaldairycouncil.org.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.