The dairy group consists of milk and all its derivatives: yoghurt, cheese, curd, rennet...
This food group is the main source of calcium. It also provides high-quality proteins similar to those in meat or fish, lactose, and liposoluble (A, D) and B-group vitamins (B2 and B12).
Did you know that calcium...?
- Is the most abundant mineral in our body.
- Forms part of our bones and teeth.
- Performs a regulating function.
- Is involved in transmitting nerve impulses and muscle contraction.
There are also other foods that contain calcium, such as green leafy vegetables, nuts or canned fish, but dairy products are considered to be the best source of calcium, as they offer the best conditions for the absorption and uptake of this mineral by the body.
Recommended frequency and quantities
The recommended daily quantities of dairy products vary depending on age, sex and physiological status.
Children - 2-3 portions/day
Teenagers - 3-4 portions/day
Adults - 2-3 portions/day
Men - 2-3 portions/day
Women - 3-4 portions/day
Butter and cream are also milk derivatives, but given their high fat content, it is recommended to consume them only occasionally.
A portion is considered to be:
- 1 glass of milk
- 2 yoghurts
- 100 g of fresh cheese
- 60 g of semi-hard cheese
- 40 g of hard cheese
- 1 rennet
The role of dairy products during life
The calcium we ingest through our diet accumulates in our bones during the growth stage, until we are 18-20 years old. When we stop growing, even though the calcium ingested is not added to our bones, we must still eat products that contain it, as we need it for a number of biological functions. If we don't, the body takes it from the bones and we could suffer from osteoporosis. Therefore, adequate calcium consumption will prevent our bones from losing calcium and will keep them strong and functional for much longer.
Calcium needs vitamin D to be absorbed by the body, and dairy products are a good source of this micronutrient.
1. Dairy products and the different stages of life
Milk and dairy products are one of the most important food groups for the nutrition of children. As children grow, their diet becomes more varied. However, it is important to maintain the recommended intake of dairy products, as they provide a great variety of nutrients.
To avoid the risk of developing osteoporosis in adulthood, it is important to acquire sufficient bone mass. This process occurs during the first three decades of life but it is during childhood and adolescence that bone mass acquisition is greatest. So it is important to ensure that the recommended quantities are consumed during this growth stage.
As regards the recommended number of portions, in the case of children, after the first years of life, 2-3 portions of dairy products are recommended, increasing to 3-4 portions during the growth spurt of the teenage years.
If there are no problems with excessive weight or a family background of dyslipidaemia, it is recommended to give full-cream or semi-skimmed products to children and teenagers; during the fat removal process to obtain skimmed products, liposoluble vitamins and essential fatty acids are also lost.
During these months, the expecting mother experiences a series of emotional and physiological changes, and diet plays a very important role in the future baby's condition and development.
As during any other stage, a varied diet should be followed during pregnancy. The best way to make sure that all the food groups are consumed is to follow the recommendations of the food pyramid. However, particular attention should be given to the dairy group, as the recommendation for this group increases from 2-3 portions to 3-4 portions a day.
This increase in the recommendation is to cover the higher calcium requirements which the foetus needs to build its own bones and tissues.
If the calcium ingested in the diet is insufficient to cover the demand, the body will take calcium from the mother's bones to make sure that that the future baby has enough calcium. The resulting decalcification suffered by the mother may lead to osteoporosis later on.
Breastfeeding with mother's milk provides countless benefits, and it is recommended that infants be fed only with mother's milk during the first six months of life.
In order to ensure optimal milk quantity and quality, extra calcium is needed. Accordingly, it is recommended to increase dairy product intake to 4-5 portions a day, and also to increase calorie intake by about 500 kcal a day and drink more fluids.
If these requirements are not met in the diet, the body will take the calcium from the mother's reserves to ensure that her milk contains the required quantity of calcium. This may lead to bone decalcification and create favourable conditions for the development of osteoporosis.
This is a physiological condition that women normally experience during middle age, between 48 and 55. During menopause, oestrogen production drops significantly. This decrease in hormone production accelerates decalcification (osteoporosis) and women may lose up to 2% of their bone mass each year. As a result, the risk of bone fractures increases substantially.
Particular care must be taken to prevent the appearance of menopause-related osteoporosis, increasing calcium intake to 3-4 portions of dairy products a day.
2. Dairy products and sport
Since dairy products contain a great variety and quantity of nutrients, they are considered to be an important component of the diet of those who practice a sport.
Milk and dairy products contain:
Sugars, which considerably increase energy reserves.
Fat, which increases endurance during intense exercise.
Proteins, which increase sugar uptake, increasing energy reserves even more.
Carbohydrates which, together with proteins, prevent muscle fibre tears.
Water and electrolytes, which maintain hydration levels during and after sport.
Calcium, which helps avoid bone wear and decalcification and facilitates muscle movement.
Vitamin D, necessary for binding calcium to the bones.
B vitamins, which assist in the energy generation process.
The end result is an increase in the sportsperson’s muscle strength.
3. Dairy products and diseases
Treatment of high blood levels of cholesterol is based on limiting consumption of cholesterol and saturated fats.
People with this condition should always choose skimmed milk, cheese and yoghurt. It is also recommended to avoid eating butter or cream.
Lactose intolerance is the partial or total inability to digest lactose (a sugar contained in milk) due to lack of an enzyme, lactase. As a result, the lactose accumulates in the bowels, where it ferments and causes abdominal distension, flatulence, diarrhoea...
The treatment consists of eliminating or reducing consumption of dairy products to the level that the individual can tolerate. So there may be people who can consume fermented dairy products such as yoghurt or cheese, as this process considerably reduces the lactose content, and other people who must avoid consuming dairy products altogether. It is currently possible to buy lactose-free milk and other derivatives that enable a variety of dairy products to be consumed.
Osteoporosis is a progressive decalcification of virtually the entire skeleton. The end result is a generalised decrease in the skeleton's mechanical strength, although there are certain critical points, such as the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, the head of the femur, the radius and humerus, which bear more load and where it is more likely that the bone will break.
The best prevention of osteoporosis is to follow a varied diet all life long, ensuring sufficient consumption of dairy products.
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