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Celebrate June Dairy Month...

Variety of dairy products makes healthy eating easy

By Keryn B. Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- This year, June Dairy Month celebrates the "Power of 3" -- the number of dairy servings needed each day and the number of weeks experts say it takes to develop a healthy dairy habit.

Incorporating milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products into daily eating routines helps build strong bones and keep bodies healthy. The Southeast United Dairy Industry Association encourages families to serve these healthy foods at daily snack times for three weeks to give children and adults the opportunity to develop this healthy eating habit.

"Dairy products like milk provide a very good source of protein and calcium, both of which are important for bone health," said Peggy Walker, a Mississippi State University Extension Service nutrition agent based in Panola County. "Consuming enough dairy products is especially important for children because their bones are growing. Milk is a very concentrated source of calcium, and most children like milk, so parents should encourage them to drink three glasses every day."

Nutrition experts recommend Americans eat three servings of dairy products daily. One serving equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese. This quantity helps the body receive the calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, protein, and vitamins A and D that it needs daily. Dairy consumption also can help build stronger and healthier teeth and gums, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure and certain cancers.

Another good reason to consume three servings of dairy foods each day is that experts believe adequate sources of calcium aid in weight loss efforts.

"Studies have shown that there is a link between dairy consumption and lower body weight because calcium may play a role in the body's natural system for burning fat," Walker said. These studies show that overweight adults on a reduced-calorie diet that included at least three servings a day of dairy foods lost more weight than those who consumed few dairy foods, or who took an equal amount of calcium from supplements.

Because obesity and weight problems often begin in childhood and adolescence, it makes sense to provide children with healthy food choices at school and at home. Parents can provide children opportunities to eat healthy foods at home, as well as encourage schools to increase access to nutritious foods and beverages while reducing access to high-calorie, low-nutrient options.

Children learn by example, so it's important for parents to model good nutrition choices. Choosing a cup of yogurt over a bag of chips, for example, helps children realize snacks can be healthy and delicious at the same time.

"There are so many different flavors of milk available now that even people who don't like the taste of plain milk can find something they'll enjoy. These flavored milks are fine sources of calcium and protein, and there's no reason not to include them in a healthy diet," Walker said. "Low-fat yogurts and cheeses, even ice cream, are also good choices."

Walker said including milk in cooking can also help meet the three-daily-servings goal. Another option: use milk rather than non-dairy creamer to sweeten coffee.

"Milk is much healthier for you than the artificial, non-dairy creamers, which don't provide protein or calcium," Walker said. "You can get as much as one-fourth of a cup of milk just by using it in your coffee each day."


Released: June 3, 2004
Contact: Peggy Walker, (662) 563-6260

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