June is National Dairy Month, originally designated in 1937 by dairy farmers to increase summer sales of milk. Through the years, however, it has taken on the significant role of encouraging Americans to get more dairy foods into their daily intake. Dairy foods supply over 75 percent of the calcium in the American diet and they are rich in other major nutrients such as protein, phosphorus, vitamins A, B6, B12, and D to name a few. Dairy foods are important enough to be one of the five food groups on MyPlate, the United States Department of Agriculture recommended eating plan for Americans.
It is a known fact that we don't get enough calcium in our diets. Children often prefer sodas and surveys show they begin to cut down on dairy foods by the age of ten, just when their calcium needs are increasing. Adults, on average only get half of their calcium needs each day.
Calcium needs vary throughout our lifetime and in recent years the recommendations have increased for most age groups. Young children up to eight years of age need about 800 mgs which translates to two and a half cups each day. Youth, age nine through 12 and adults under 50 years of age need 1,000 mg. per day; around three cups each day. Teens need 1300 mg. of calcium because of their rapid growth. Pregnant women also need 1,300 mgs. each day to sustain optimal health for mother and baby. This means all age groups need to consume dairy foods three to four times a day.
A big change in recommendations is for adults over 50 years of age. Since bones tend to lose density as we age, this age group's recommended daily allowance of calcium is now 1,200 mgs. -- almost at the level of a teenager. Research has shown these levels of calcium help reduce the risk of osteoporosis in older adults.
A serving size of dairy foods could be one cup of milk, eight oz. yogurt, one and a half oz. hard cheese, one-third cup of shredded cheese, one cup of frozen yogurt or one and a half cup of ice cream. Aim for three or more servings of dairy foods each day for strong bones, teeth, and general health.
If you are worried about the calories and fat in dairy foods, look again. There are so many low fat and fat-free dairy foods on the market today; you have a large selection at the grocery store. To boost your calcium intake, try these suggestions from the National Dairy Council:
• Drink one or two eight oz. glasses of skim milk each day. One at breakfast and again at dinner will do the trick.
• Use plain or vanilla yogurt in place of mayonnaise in recipes for potato salad, carrot salad, and coleslaw.
• Make shakes and smoothies with skim milk or yogurt and fruit.
• Add powdered milk to foods you prepare – pudding, breads, muffins, gravy, and soups can get a calcium boost. It can even be added to a meatloaf or hamburger patties. A single tablespoon of nonfat powdered dry milk adds 52 mgs. of calcium.
• Use buttermilk for mashed potatoes and baked goods – its low in fat and adds flavor without calories.
• Top a salad with low-fat cheese.
• Have cheese and crackers or fruit for a snack.
• Serve frozen yogurt for a refreshing dessert.
The National Dairy Council has some great recipes using dairy food on their website. Go to the www.nationaldairycouncil.org for ideas on meals and snacks. For more information on nutrition and food safety contact the Madison County Extension Service.
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