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Back to Symposium 2011

Contribution of Dairy to Nutrient Adequacy and Health

Theresa A. Nicklas Theresa A. Nicklas, DrPH

Baylor College of Medicine, Texas

Dairy has a unique nutrient package and is a major source of four of the shortfall nutrients in the Western diet, namely vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and potassium. In addition to these, zinc, vitamin A, riboflavin, and folate all improve as dairy product intake increases. Studies show that adequate milk-products intake is associated with increased bone mineral density and healthy body weight, while the risk of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, stroke mortality and colorectal cancer are all reduced.

Still, more than one-third of children do not consume the recommended servings of milk products and, by age 30 years, the percentage increases to two-thirds. In Canada, 83% of girls and 61% of boys between the ages of 10-16 years consume less than the recommended amount of milk products. Several factors influence milk drinking, including:

  • availability of competitive foods
  • eating away from home
  • nutritional concerns with reduced fat foods
  • breakfast consumption
  • taste
  • lack of knowledge, and
  • lactose intolerance.

A recent U.S. study found that 12.3% of adults perceived themselves to be lactose intolerant and had significantly lower average daily calcium intakes from dairy foods than other respondents. In addition, significantly more respondents with self-perceived lactose intolerance reported having physician-diagnosed diabetes and hypertension (the odds of these decreased by factors of 0.70 and 0.60, respectively, for a 1000 mg/day increase in calcium intake from dairy foods).

Given the under-consumption of milk products and the body of evidence linking milk products to positive health outcomes, a key message that health professionals need to convey is that all milk products, regardless of fat content, can be part of a healthy diet that meets current recommendations for total fat – specifically saturated fat – and added sugars. Finally, educational strategies are needed to provide guidance to individuals with perceived lactose intolerance on how to incorporate dairy foods into the diet while managing symptoms.

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