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Dietitians Dish: Dairy important for everyone, regardless of age

Feb. 7, 2011 at midnight
Updated Feb. 7, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.


By Alexis Stamatikos

What is a food group that is packed with muscle-building protein, essential vitamins and minerals that can be eaten or drank, and served both hot and cold? If you guessed dairy, you are correct.

Dairy is important to anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or lifestyle, and should be incorporated into the diet daily.

There are many different types of dairy products, ranging anywhere from whey protein powder, to buttermilk, to even ice cream, but the ones with the most nutritional benefits, milk, cheeses and yogurt, will be the dairy products primarily discussed in this column.

Most everyone is aware that milk, cheeses and yogurt contain good amounts of calcium, which is important for strong teeth and bones. Low calcium intake has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis (porous bones), so including milk, cheeses and yogurt into your diet every day may delay or even prevent the development of osteoporosis later in life. They are also an excellent source of phosphorus, another mineral needed for strong teeth and bones and used for energy production, as well as being a key component of cell structure in the human body. Potassium is abundant in these dairy products, too, which is critical for proper heart function and muscle contraction.

As for vitamins, these dairy products contain many B-vitamins that help your body release energy in addition to providing the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. Vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant and is needed for adequate eyesight. Vitamin D is another antioxidant that promotes teeth and bone strength alongside calcium and phosphorus. Vitamins A and D, though, tend to vary drastically in content with different manufacturing companies of milk, cheeses and yogurt, so be sure to check the nutrition labels of these products before you purchase them if your main intention is to increase your daily intake of these vitamins.

When deciding which types of milk, cheeses and yogurt to buy when grocery shopping, just remember that the lower the fat content, the better, with fat-free being the best. And while chocolate milk may taste better than skim milk, the levels of sugar in chocolate milk compared to skim milk is far higher, which raises the calorie content by sometimes two to three times more per serving. So try to purchase milk without any extra sugar added - and yogurt either plain, fruit added only, or artificially sweetened.

People with lactose intolerance can still enjoy the great taste and nutritional benefits of dairy by consuming cheeses with a sugar content of 1 gram or less per serving, buying lactose-free dairy products or purchasing lactase supplements and using as directed.

For more facts, information and recipes regarding milk, cheeses and yogurt, go to the website www.nationaldairycouncil.org.

Alexis Stamatikos is a dietetic intern at Texas A&M University- Kingsville.

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