Nutrition Column – Milk Matters for Today’s Teens

Got Milk? may be a popular advertising slogan, but unfortunately for many teenagers, a more accurate question is "Got Soda?"

Current trends in soft-drink consumption among adolescents suggest that teens are drinking twice as much soda as milk. Twenty years ago, these statistics were just the opposite: teens were drinking two times as much milk as soda. What’s worse is that the decline in milk consumption is not being made up by an increase in other calcium-rich dairy products. As a result, today’s teens are consuming less calcium than their parents did as teens, which puts them at even higher risk for the bone-crippling disease, osteoporosis, later in life. To put the situation in perspective, some nutritionists and health-care professionals are beginning to look at osteoporosis not as a geriatric disease but as a pediatric disease.

The teenage years are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to consume enough calcium to help prevent bone fractures and osteoporosis later in life. During the teen years, nearly half of the adult skeleton is formed and about 15 percent of adult height is added, which makes these years critical for achieving full bone mass and height potential. Some researchers speculate that by the time today’s teens are in their 50s and 60s, they will have the highest rate of bone fractures and osteoporosis of any previous generation because they currently are not getting enough calcium in their diets.

According to current dietary recommendations, teens need 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day. Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) are our most concentrated food sources of calcium. One cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium, and a cup of plain yogurt boasts around 400 milligrams. In addition to being rich in calcium, milk and other dairy products contain important nutrients for bone health such as vitamin D (if fortified), phosphorus and magnesium.

Even teens who are mildly lactose intolerant often can enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactase-treated milk. Those who must avoid dairy products due to allergies or severe lactose intolerance can still consume significant amounts of calcium from dry beans, fish with edible bones, tofu (if processed with calcium sulfate), calcium-fortified orange juices and cereals, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.

Drinking milk with meals or snacks is one of the quickest ways to boost the calcium content of your diet. Here are some other ideas:

  • Make hot cereals and creamed soups with milk instead of water. Tomato soup made with milk is more smooth and creamy than soup thinned with water.
  • Add cheese to your sandwich or to a soft corn tortilla.
  • Make a smoothie with fruit, ice and milk or try one of the new milk or yogurt drinks – they come in a variety of flavors like strawberry, banana and even peanut butter.
  • Dip fruits and vegetables into yogurt for a snack.
  • For dinner, make a salad with dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach. Top your salad with shredded cheese or dress with cottage cheese instead of oily dressings.
  • Serve broccoli or cooked, dry beans as a side dish at lunch or dinner.
  • Add tofu made with calcium to stir fry or other dishes.
  • Try rice pudding made with low-fat milk for dessert.