Life stage nutrition

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How can dairy address nutritional needs for the elderly?

Dairy products are a source of good-quality protein, important vitamins (B2, B12) and minerals (calcium, iodine, potassium, phosphorus). Milk and dairy intake is an effective, practical and affordable way to help maintain muscle mass and strength in the healthy elderly and support recovery in frail or malnourished elderly people.

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Dairy products are a source of good-quality protein and many important vitamins and minerals.

  • Calcium and protein as found in dairy products help to maintain healthy muscle and bone mass. Strong, healthy muscles and bones can help to preserve vitality and independence in the elderly.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps to maintain eyesight.
  • Iodine is important for normal cognitive function.
  • Vitamin B12 contributes to the normal function of the immune system.
  • Potassium can help to maintain normal blood pressure.
  • Phosphorus supports the maintenance of teeth.

Dairy products are both affordable and versatile sources of all these nutrients and can be included in various meals and snacks.

Many dairy products do not require cooking and their soft texture can make them a convenient, easy-to-eat source of protein for elderly people. A growing body of evidence shows that the intake of milk-based proteins is effective in stimulating muscle growth and repair, and slowing muscle breakdown. Consuming milk and dairy may therefore be an effective, practical and affordable way to help maintain muscle mass and strength in the healthy elderly and support recovery in the frail or malnourished elderly.

How can dairy contribute to healthy ageing?

Preserving muscle and bone mass is vital to healthy ageing and to delay sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteoporosis (bone weakening). Dairy products contain many nutrients that are essential for maintaining normal muscle and bone health.

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Preserving muscle and bone mass is an important aspect of healthy ageing as it can help to delay the onset of age-related conditions such as sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteoporosis (bone weakening). Diet and exercise have an important role in preventing the development of these conditions. Dairy products are a source of calcium and good-quality protein, which are important nutrients for maintaining normal muscle and bone health.

Do adults need dairy in their diet?

Yes. The FBDGs in 85 countries include milk and dairy as part of their recommendations.

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There is some perception that milk is not needed in the diet after weaning, as nutrients become available from other foods. This perception is supported partly by the observation that some people experience a reduced ability to digest the milk sugar lactose after weaning.

However, many populations have evolved genetically to continue to digest lactose and so benefit from milk’s nutrients throughout life. This genetic adaptation, known as lactase persistence, is recognised as an evolutionary advantage that coincides with the start of domestication and agricultural use of dairy animals in the Middle East about 11 000 years ago. As dairy foods provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, consuming milk is seen as nutritionally beneficial. Milk is therefore recognised worldwide as a nutritious food and 85 countries have included milk and dairy as part of their food-based dietary guidelines.

Why do teenagers need more calcium than other age groups?

The adolescent phase (between the ages of 9 and 19 years) is a critical time for bone development, as 50% of bone density is deposited in this period. Teenagers need 4 servings of dairy a day to build strong bones and teeth for life.

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Adolescence (between the ages of 9 and 19) is a crucial stage for bone development as 50% of bone density is acquired in this period.

The teenage years present a unique opportunity to maximise bone quality for life. After the age of 30, bone density does not increase any further. The stronger bones become during the teenage years, the less chance there will be of developing osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones have become brittle and weak because of calcium loss, and so can fracture easily.

Calcium is an essential nutrient for building and maintaining strong bones. Teenagers therefore need more calcium than other age groups. Milk, yoghurt, maas and cheese are good sources of calcium and other nutrients that support bone-building, such as protein and phosphorus. It is recommended that teenagers consume four rather than three servings of dairy per day to meet their calcium needs.

What type of milk is best for infants?

Babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months from birth (180 days). Breast is best!

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Breastfeeding babies from birth should be encouraged at all times. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months (180 days) as optimal infant feeding. Nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding (solid foods) should be introduced at six months of age, whilst continued breastfeeding should be encouraged up to the age of two years. Cow’s milk is not recommended for children under the age of one year. Once cow’s milk is introduced it is best to choose full-cream milk.