Foods in the dairy group supply approximately 75 percent of the calcium we consume. In addition, they provide protein, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin. Although milk, yogurt, and cheese offer significant amounts of calcium and other key nutrients, most people eat only half the recommended daily servings from this group. That means many people -- adults and children -- may not be getting enough calcium and other nutrients essential to staying healthy.

Certainly, foods from other groups contain calcium, but foods outside this group generally contain less, and the body may not absorb it as well. In this article, we will discuss the health benefits of dairy. Eating the right amount of dairy can make your body stronger and be part of an alternative treatment against illnesses. Let's begin by taking a look at calcium and vitamin D, which are both provided by dairy products.

Calcium for Health

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It is well known that calcium plays some pivotal roles in maintaining good health -- from keeping bones healthy and strong and helping prevent high blood pressure to more recent findings that the calcium in dairy products may make it easier to lose weight. Calcium also helps your blood to clot and keeps your muscles and nerves working properly.

If your body doesn't get enough calcium from food, it steals calcium from your bones to help keep a steady amount in your blood. Fortunately, it can be fairly easy to meet your daily calcium needs if you regularly enjoy milk, yogurt, and cheese.

The Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It is a unique vitamin -- your body can make its own vitamin D when sunlight makes contact with your skin. To get enough, it only takes a few minutes of sun exposure, three times a week, on your hands, arms, or face (without sunscreen). However, if you live in Northern climates or don't get outdoors much, especially in the winter, you should not rely on sunshine. Also, as you age, your body may not be as efficient at making vitamin D, so food sources become even more important.

Your most reliable source of vitamin D is milk. Although milk is fortified with the vitamin, dairy products made from milk such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are generally not fortified with vitamin D. Only a few foods, including fatty fish and fish oils, naturally contain significant amounts of vitamin D. Other foods that contain smaller amounts of vitamin D include eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, and margarine.

Serving Up Dairy

To meet your calcium requirements, most people should have about three cups of dairy foods each day. Teens have the highest calcium requirements and should get about four cups daily. Each of the following equals one cup of dairy:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese (cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, etc.)
  • 2 ounces processed cheese (American)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup pudding
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cream
Note: For some of these, such as frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, and ice cream, a typical or reasonable portion is smaller than the amount that equals a one-cup serving -- for example, you're more likely to have only one cup of cottage cheese in a sitting -- so count your actual portion for what it is, such as half a serving in the cottage cheese example. Also note: Other dairy-based foods, such as butter, cream cheese, and sour cream, are not considered dairy servings. These foods are made from the cream portion of milk and contain mostly fat and little, if any, calcium.

Milk is perhaps the most prominent member of the dairy group. In the next section, we will discuss milk's health benefits, including how much to consume each day.

CALCIUM AT EVERY AGE AND STAGE

Age (years)
Daily Calcium Needs (milligrams)
1 to 3
500
4 to 8
800
9 to 18
1,300
19 to 50
1,000
51 and older
1,200
Pregnant/breast-feeding woman
1,000
Pregnant/breast-feeding teen (less than 18)
1,300

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.