Dairy Does the Body Good at Every Age

By Michelle Chalkey

No matter your age, proper nutrition can help you achieve the best quality of life. Every year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics proclaims March as National Nutrition Month®. This year, the academy is encouraging people to “Go Further with Food” by choosing foods that positively impact their health.

“Food is medicine; it’s one of the best ways to make yourself feel good,” said Anne Hytrek, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator for Hy-Vee (Ankeny Prairie Trail). “It’s amazing how many people will say how much better they feel as a result of eating healthy.”

Nutrition plays a key role at every age. Our bodies have specific needs and requirements throughout the various stages of our lives. From childhood to adolescence and through to our senior years, nutrition is what helps us meet those physical needs and increase our quality of life.

Children and teenagers need the right nutrients to grow and develop. The right foods deliver essential nutrients to their bones, muscles and teeth, all of which are developing in the younger years. For example, since 90 percent of bone development occurs by age 18, dairy is an essential food group for kids. Hytrek recommends kids get four servings of bone-building dairy per day.

But dairy is only one portion of a nutritious and balanced meal, according to the MyPlate food group recommendations set by the United States Department of Agriculture. MyPlate illustrates how to portion your meals based on the five food groups - protein, grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy. Kids and adults alike get the key nutrients they need by eating well-balanced meals that include the five food groups.

“Only 38 percent of teens are eating breakfast every day,” said Alyson Fendrick, Registered Dietitian for Midwest Dairy Association. “Our main goal for teenagers with nutrition is getting them to start their day with a nutritious meal. Better-nourished students do better in school. Having a full stomach allows their brain to focus better on what they’re doing instead of focusing on being hungry.”

Fendrick says nutrients like calcium, potassium and magnesium are vital for teenagers before starting their school day.

“Getting all the food groups in will help them get those key nutrients,” Fendrick said. “Things like chocolate milk and fruit at breakfast or whole grains, veggies and a glass of milk - getting as close to the MyPlate portions at as many meals as they can.”

Even when you’re past the growing pains of the teenage years, adults still need quality nutrients from dairy to maintain strong bone health and muscle mass. Additionally, including low-fat dairy products in your diet can help keep your blood pressure down and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

Nutrients from dairy products continue to be essential in the senior years, since about 95 percent of senior citizens get sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength.

“Keeping dairy in the diet as you age allows seniors to get a good source of protein, and the calcium and Vitamin D are good for absorption” said Fendrick. “With these dual nutrients, many seniors don’t have to supplement separately.”

At every stage in life, eating the right foods contributes to how we live and grow. Hytrek and Fendrick recommend that no matter what stage of life you’re in, aim for balance in your meals.

“When people leave out certain food groups, they tend to overeat on the others,” Hytrek said. “Balancing your meals will help you fill up on all of the food groups.”

For more information on getting the recommended dairy requirements for your age, visit MidwestDairy.com.