(BPT) - From delicious and nutritious cheese and creamy yogurt to cool, nutrient-rich milk and refreshing smoothies, dairy is a fundamental part of American cuisine. Not only do dairy foods make eating more enjoyable, they also provide important nutrients and health benefits that go beyond strong bones.
Dairy benefits for kids
For parents, dairy offers great first-food choices for little ones like yogurt and cheese for baby’s first bites and tantalizing options for bigger kids. Plus, by exposing your growing child to many foods, textures and tastes, you’re helping them learn to like a wide variety of nutritious foods now and into the future.
Dairy every day is a healthy way to nourish kids' brains, bones and bodies. Consider a cup of milk, for example. Just one glass provides 7 of the 14 nutrients the American Academy of Pediatrics says are important to brain development, helping to set the stage for cognition and IQ later in life, as noted in the medical journal Pediatrics.
“The brain-supporting nutrients milk provides are protein, zinc, selenium, iodine, choline and vitamins A and D,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pearce, Boston University Medical Center. “And while all of these nutrients play an important role in brain development, iodine stands out.” According to the World Health Organization, iodine deficiency is the most preventable cause of intellectual disability in the world.
In particular, people of child-bearing age who do not regularly consume dairy foods, eggs, seafood or iodized table salt may not consume enough iodine to meet increased needs during pregnancy and lactation, which could lead to neurocognitive defects and lower childhood IQ, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). An easy way to get enough iodine during this critical life stage is to include 3 servings of dairy at meals or snacks. At about 20 cents per 8-ounce serving, milk is an affordable source of iodine and other essential nutrients.
Preventing osteoporosis later
Bones are the framework for your child’s growing body. The healthy habits your child forms today can make, or literally break, their bones as they age. That's because osteoporosis — the disease that makes bones brittle — is a process that can start in early childhood if nutrition and lifestyle habits are not incorporated, but it doesn’t reveal itself until adulthood.
Building your child’s bone bank account is a lot like saving for their education: The more they save now, the bigger investment for their bone health future. Bones benefit from nutrients found in dairy foods like calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium, and help kids develop and reach peak bone mass.
Thankfully, there are plenty of nutrient-packed dairy options kids love, like milk, yogurt and cheese that can help keep them nourished and fueled to focus and perform at their best.
Dairy benefits for adults
“Dairy’s benefits go beyond bones with a body of research indicating they are linked to both lower inflammation and risk of non-communicable diseases,” said Dr. Chris Cifelli, SVP of Nutrition Research at National Dairy Council. “Chronic, low-grade inflammation can result from a continuously out-of-balance immune system, and, the good news is, three systematic reviews found dairy foods can help keep markers of chronic inflammation in check.”
For example, a systematic review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition evaluated 27 randomized control trials and found that dairy foods (e.g., milk, cheese and yogurt) and dairy proteins (e.g., whey, casein) have neutral to beneficial effects on inflammation.
Not only are dairy foods part of an anti-inflammatory diet, consumption of dairy foods also is linked to lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, which disproportionately impact people of color. In fact, a recent study in the journal Nutrients found dairy foods are linked to a 26% reduced risk of heart disease deaths for those 19 and older and were not linked to all-cause or cancer mortality.
Lactose-free dairy options
There are a variety of dairy foods to meet people’s personalized nutrition and wellness needs, from milk with extra protein or kefir with probiotics to lactose-free dairy milk for people who cannot tolerate the lactose in dairy. Lactose-free dairy milk is widely available at grocery stores from name brand to store brand. It is real dairy milk with the lactose removed or filtered out, so the same nutrients will be in every serving. People can also choose hard cheeses, which contain minimal lactose, or yogurt, because its probiotics help digest the lactose.
To learn more about dairy and its health benefits for kids and adults, visit USDairy.com.