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Extension Agent: Invest in your bones

June 5, 2012 at 1:05 a.m.


By Erika Bochat

When I think of June, I think of a cold glass of milk, a dish of ice cream or cubes of cheese on a tray. It's no wonder, as far back as 1937, we've been dedicating the whole month of June to celebrating the nutritious and wholesome benefits of dairy products. Some rural communities sponsor cattle shows, parades, floats, marching bands, cow milking contests and ice cream freeze-offs.

You haven't lived until you've been to DairyFest in Stephenville, Dairy Day in Hereford, Dairy Festival in Sulphur Springs or the Blue Bell Ice Cream Festival in Brenham. As many of you know, milk and milk products are rich in nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium.

Research suggests consumption of milk and milk products is linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents. In addition, some research suggests the consumption of milk and milk products is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

Despite the benefits of milk and milk products, consumption of these foods and beverages is lower than recommended amounts for most adults, children and adolescents. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the following amounts of milk and milk products:

3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products for adults, children and adolescents ages 9 and up.

2 1/2 cups per day for children ages 4 to 8 and

2 cups per day for children ages 2 to 3.

A common misconception is that calcium is only needed for growing children. In reality, both calcium and vitamin D are needed to maintain healthy, strong bones during life. Until age 35, the daily calcium deposits of bone prevent the withdrawal of calcium from your bones. vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium in the gut, which is necessary during later years.

To make sure that your bones are not weakening because of a lack of calcium, it is recommended that we eat a balanced diet that is rich in calcium. Because your body cannot make its own calcium, it must be supplied by eating calcium-rich foods.

Recommendations cite men and women under 50 years old need 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400-800 International Units of vitamin D3 daily. Those over 50 years of age need 1,200 mg. of calcium and 800-1000 International Units of vitamin D3 (National Osteoporosis Foundation). When available, choose a supplement of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) over vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) to protect bone health and you'll want to read dietary supplement labels to help you make the best choice. If you avoid milk products, ask your physician about taking calcium and/or vitamin D3 supplements.



Dietary calcium

Here's how to add calcium to your dietary choices from primary and secondary sources.

Primary calcium sources are milk, yogurt and cheese. The calcium con tent of low-fat-milk products (milk, cheese, and yogurt) is equal to full-fat foods, so don't worry about losing out on this bone-strengthening mineral. Beware: If you don't drink milk, it is very difficult to get enough calcium from other foods.

Secondary calcium sources are meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts. Sardines and salmon with bones, oysters, kidney beans, and tofu made with calcium salt are examples that contribute calcium. Other foods contribute even less calcium. Most vegetables and fruits are poor sources of calcium, but some deep leafy greens (broccoli) and calcium-fortified fruit juices contain moderate amounts

of calcium. Breads, cereals, and pastas contribute very little calcium in daily meal choices. In fact, milk and baking powder used to make these foods give them small amounts of calcium.



Dietary vitamin D

To ensure you get enough vitamin D, eat fish, eggs, fortified milk, cod liver oil and plants that can synthesize D2. The sun also adds significantly to the daily vitamin D3 production.

As little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies.



Lactose intolerance

Some people are lactose intolerant, which means they have difficulty digesting milk products.

People who are lactose intolerant can satisfy their need for calcium in a number of ways by including nondairy, calcium-rich food choices; taking calcium supplements; using lactase pills or drops that make milk products digestible; and purchasing lactose-reduced milk.

Resources: Mary Kinney Bielamowicz, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., Regents Fellow, Professor & Extension; Nutrition Specialist; and Sharon Francey Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., Associate Professor & Extension Nutrition; Specialist; Nutrition & Food Science Department, Texas AgriLife Extension Service; Texas A&M System, College Station.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent-Family and Consumer Sciences.

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