A large percentage of teenagers are not meeting their dairy intake needs. Did you also know that osteoporosis, a disease causing weak and brittle bones effecting almost half the elderly population, is completely preventable through exercise and adequate dairy consumption in youth? Unfortunately, most teens don’t know the quantity of dairy products they need or just how important it is for their health.
Peak bone mass is influenced by some factors that your teenager can’t change e.g., gender and race and some that he can, e.g., nutrition and physical activity.
Bone mass tends to be higher in men than in women. Before puberty, both boys and girls develop bone mass at similar rates. During and after puberty, boys begin to accumulate greater bone mass than girls.
In the USA, African American girls tend to achieve higher peak bone mass than Caucasian girls, and African American women are at lower risk for osteoporosis later in life. However, because all women are at risk for osteoporosis, all teenage girls need to build as much bone mass as possible during puberty.
Sex hormones, such as oestrogen and testosterone, are essential for the development of bone growth and bone mass. Girls who start their periods earlier tend to have greater bone density. Girls who miss their period (e.g., if they are underweight) tend to have lower bone density.
Calcium is an essential nutrient for bone health, especially during puberty. A well-balanced diet including adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D is also important as they are all needed for optimal calcium absorption and bone growth. See tips on eating a calcium rich diet below.
Physical activity is important for building healthy bones. Astronauts in zero gravity lose bone density very quickly as their bones are not bearing any weight. Exercise is really beneficial in the weight-bearing areas of the skeleton such as the pelvis, and the arms of tennis players and weight lifters. Indeed, if you look at the arm of a professional tennis player you will see that their playing arm is much thicker than their other arm and this is in part, down to bone mass.
Dairy products are our main source of calcium, a nutrient that helps strengthen bones and teeth. Calcium deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak bones, which increases the risk of bone fractures later in life. However, calcium is most important when our bones are still growing.
By the age of 20 to 25, our bodies are no longer able to build additional bone mass, they only maintain what they already have. Therefore, it is especially important throughout childhood and adolescence to consume sufficient dairy products to build the bone stores needed later in life.
Current guidelines recommend that:
A portion of dairy can be any of the following:
While the above dairy products are the primary sources of calcium you can also take in small amounts from other foods such as green vegetables, nuts, and fish. Many non-dairy milks can also contain added calcium – such as soy, rice and almond milk.
While high-fat dairy options such as cream, whole milk, and full-fat cheese contain high levels of fat, a 200ml serving of skimmed milk provides only 69kcal and 0.2g of fat. Fat-free, sugar-free yogurt also fits the bill for healthy snacks providing less than 100kcal and no fat or sugar. This means milk products can play a role in all diets.
Here are some simple tips to help teenagers get adequate calcium.