Several new research studies underscore the important role of dairy foods in the diets of Americans, particularly children.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three daily servings of nutrient-rich, low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt for adults and children 9 years of age or older, and two daily servings for children ages 2-8. A recent abstract shows that milk is the leading food source of calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D and potassium in the American diet. These new findings emphasize the importance of dairy's critical nutritional contribution.
Higher dairy consumption as part of a healthy diet leads to higher nutrient intake, as well as better diet quality and bone health, and has been associated with reduced risk of several diseases and conditions: osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
According to a pair of abstracts presented at the American Society for Nutrition's scientific sessions and Annual Meeting as part of the Experimental Biology conference on April 26 and 27, the dairy food group (milk, cheese and yogurt) was found to be not only the top source of calcium (39% contribution to overall intake) and vitamin D (52%), but also a substantial contributor of phosphorous and potassium. In addition, the dairy food group was found to be the top contributor of vitamin D in the diets of children 2-18 years old (68% contribution to overall intake) and adults 19 years and older (46%).
"This new research reinforces that dairy foods play an unparalleled role in delivering an array of key nutrients to the U.S. diet—beyond just calcium," said Victor Fulgoni III, senior vice president of Nutrition Impact, LLC, and one of the abstracts' authors. "Without consuming the recommended daily servings of milk and milk products, it can be difficult for most people to meet their nutrient needs. Considering that higher dairy intake is associated with increased nutrient intake and diet quality, as well as numerous health benefits—such as bone health and healthy weight maintenance—these findings support that there's few, if any, substitutes for dairy's incomparable nutritional value."
Many Americans, including children, are overweight and undernourished, and nutrient-rich dairy foods supply three of the five nutrients youth don't get enough of according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: calcium, potassium and magnesium, as well as protein and vitamin D. As a result, encouraging children and adolescents to meet the recommendation for dairy foods can help ensure they get the nutrients needed for growth and good health.
To help youth get the nutrients they need throughout life, it's crucial that they adopt healthy eating practices early. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends increased intake of the Food Groups to Encourage (FGTE)—low-fat or fat-free milk or milk products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Consuming foods from these groups helps individuals meet their needs for shortfall nutrients, but most Americans, including children, do not consume the recommended amounts of the FGTE. As children move into adolescence, dairy foods may be one way to help increase their consumption of the FGTE. A new study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management found that visible addition of cheese to various school lunch menu offerings may help increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables or whole grains compared to when cheese is not paired with them; therefore, potentially helping to increase total nutrient intake to improve diet quality.
"This study indicates the role cheese may play in helping youth get nutrients that are key to their overall health and wellness and can encourage them to consume a wide array of important food groups, including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains," said Joseph Donnelly, Ed.D., director, Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management at University of Kansas and one of the study's authors. "Dairy foods are important sources of nutrients for children, teens and adults—such as calcium, protein, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium—and when consumed at a young age, contribute to more healthful eating habits."
Another new study echoes the importance of emphasizing healthful diet patterns at a young age, including milk consumption. The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that what children drink early in life can be indicative of nutrient intake and beverage choice during teenage years. Researchers found that girls who drank soda at age 5 had higher subsequent soda consumption and lower milk intake in later years, resulting in a higher consumption of added sugars and lower intakes of protein, fiber, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium from ages 5 to 15 years, as compared to girls who did not consume soda at that age.