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Include dairy nutrients for a healthy lifestyle
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Dairy products are among the best sources of calcium and many other nutrients, but not everyone consumes the recommended amounts of these products daily.
Health experts recommend that Americans eat three servings of dairy products daily. This quantity helps the body receive the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, protein and vitamins A and D that it needs daily.
According to information released by the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, eating three servings a day of dairy foods can help manage weight, build stronger and healthier teeth and gums, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure and certain cancers.
Melissa Mixon, nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said dairy products include milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. Some people, however, have diet considerations when it comes to dairy foods.
"There are actually two health conditions related to dairy product consumption, and those are a milk allergy and lactose intolerance," Mixon said. "Those who are truly allergic to milk are allergic to a protein in the milk and must avoid dairy products. Someone who is lactose intolerant doesn't break down the sugar in milk as efficiently as other people do."
While these people must make special diet considerations, everyone else needs to get enough dairy products, especially milk, to ensue they get enough daily calcium.
"Dairy products are the best source of calcium in our diets," Mixon said. "Probably the No. 1 problem associated with inadequate calcium intake is osteoporosis, or the degeneration of bones. Without dairy products in the diet, it is very difficult for people to consume the amount of calcium they need, even with supplements."
Mixon said milk is probably the best source of calcium. In addition to being a rich source of calcium, its nutritional components work together to help the body absorb and use calcium.
"If someone is not a milk drinker but wants to be one, start gradually. We don't make major dietary changes overnight that stick with us," Mixon said. "Start with one cup of milk a day, then add another somewhere else in the day."
For people who just don't like plain milk, Mixon suggested ways of hiding milk in the diet. These include mixing powdered milk into casseroles and meatloaf or adding it to a milkshake, and drinking chocolate milk. Green, leafy vegetables and canned fish with bones are other good sources of calcium for those who avoid milk.
While ice cream and cheese are valuable sources of calcium, they are "calorically expensive" ways of getting the amount of calcium that is available in one glass of skim milk.
Dietary supplements are not recommended ways of meeting calcium needs. Mixon warned against supplements that offer more than 100 percent of daily recommendations.
"Vitamins and minerals work in a very fine sync with each other," she said. "If you take megadoses of one nutrient and not another, you can get nutrient balances off."