The unique nutrient profile of milk and dairy foods helps strengthen bones, which is critically important during growth periods and into adulthood.
Milk and dairy foods naturally contain calcium and are fortified with vitamin D, two nutrients that have a direct impact on bone growth and formation and are under-consumed in a large number of American diets. These nutrients have specific roles within the human body, but they don’t work in isolation. It is the combination of nutrients in milk and dairy foods that enable them to positively impact bone health.
The most abundant mineral in the human body, calcium is recognized for its role in keeping bones and teeth strong. It is also needed for the heart, muscles and nerves to work properly and for blood to clot. A diet rich in high-calcium foods helps build peak bone mass during adolescence and early adulthood and slows the natural loss that occurs with aging.
Eating three servings of calcium-rich foods daily helps ensure that the body will maintain a good supply of calcium. Milk and dairy foods are an important source of calcium for many people, especially children and adolescents. The wide variety of milk and dairy foods available provides many options to meet personal needs and tastes, including lactose-free milk and yogurt. While a calcium supplement may be appropriate for some adults, experts do not recommend calcium supplements for children, preferring dietary sources to meet daily recommendations.
An adequate amount of Vitamin D is necessary for the body absorb calcium in the intestine. Additionally, it aids in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth and a healthy immune system, while also helping lower blood pressure. A vitamin D deficiency can lead to the softening and weakening of bones known as rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
The body makes vitamin D from sunlight, but not all sunlight is equal. Vitamin D production depends on geographic location and exposure to UV rays. Also, it can be important to wear sunscreen, which blocks vitamin D formation. Dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, making them an important source of this nutrient for children and adults. Other food sources include salmon, tuna, sardines, egg yolks, cod and fish liver oils, fortified cereals and orange juice.
Though calcium and vitamin D are the most widely recognized for their impact on bone health, milk and dairy foods also contain protein, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K, all of which are necessary for maintaining bone health. Nutrients don’t work in isolation, and each of these individual nutrients has a role to play in supporting overall health. It’s the unique combination of nutrients in milk and dairy foods that enable them to positively impact bone health. Consuming whole, minimally processed dairy foods as part of a healthy eating pattern will create the best outcomes for people of all ages.
Megan Holdaway, RDN, discusses how to identify foods that play a role in supporting bone health.Watch here