These days, there’s a lot of controversy about including dairy in your diet. Some popular diets, and health researchers, out there claim that dairy is bad and you should omit it. As an orthopedic doctor that sees a lot of broken bones and atrophied muscles, particularly in older people, I don’t happen to agree with that because…
Getting Older and Staying Strong Requires Dairy’s 4 Super Nutrients
You probably already know that there’s a lot of controversy about whether you should or shouldn’t consume dairy. Other than perhaps a little higher sugar content in cow’s milk than I would like to see consumed a few times a day, I don’t think there should be a health campaign against dairy. As an orthopedist, I know that dairy contains 4 critical nutrients that older people become deficient in that frequently results in an office visit. These deficiencies lead to:
- Debilitating fractures
- Weak, shrunken muscles with an increased risk of falling and decreased exercise stamina
- Loss of independence from decreased ambulation
When you think of bone health, you usually think of calcium, right? When you think of muscle strength, even television ads for popular nutritional drinks say you should be thinking of protein. And both these are correct.
But, what you may not know is that you also need Vitamin D and inorganic phosphates to interact with calcium and protein to build strong bones and skeletal muscles. When you consume dairy, whether it’s milk, cheese, or yogurt, you’re getting all of these 4 bone-muscle building nutrients in one convenient place.
Recently, the Journal of the American College of Nutrition revealed a study undertaken by a team of researchers that examined these 4 super nutrients in relation to bone and muscle strength. They found that calcium, inorganic phosphate, Vitamin D and protein act as a team with physical activity to create strength and integrity of bone and muscle.
The interaction between calcium and Vitamin D results in decreased hip and non-vertebral fractures in older people. The Vitamin D content is a factor that researchers believe is responsible for people falling less and together with protein, strengthens muscle.
The protein contained in dairy doesn’t just strengthen your muscles, though. It also helps strengthen bones by increasing intestinal absorption of calcium and inorganic phosphates which, in turn, create bone growth factor. As the researchers concluded, the four work together like a team to create bone and muscle strength at once.
As I mentioned earlier, and as the researchers also reported, these four nutrients frequently decrease in older populations. That may be because older people are watching their weight and have cut down, or out, higher fat/calorie-containing dairy foods like whole milk and cheese. Or, maybe they’ve just cut dairy out of their diet trying to comply with popular diets or current health theories.
Whatever the reason for the deficiency, older people need to replace these four nutrients in their diet to prevent life-threatening hip fractures. Just being able to get around on your own without assistance goes a long way in maintaining your independence as you get older too. One of the frequent reasons people over 60 wind up in nursing homes, and/or rehab centers, is because they’ve fractured a hip, or pelvis, or even wrist and arm bones and can’t take care of themselves.
You can avoid this scenario if you take some time to ensure you’re getting these 4 important nutrients. It’s my feeling that including dairy in your diet is a simple and economical way to do that. A few ounces of cheese, a 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, a cup of yogurt, a few times a day can all help your bones and muscles stay strong.
A separate study out of the Hebrew Senior Life Institute for Aging Research (Harvard Medical School), revealed the importance of milk and yogurt to older hips. Specifically, the two dairy products create higher bone mineral density in your hips, the very bones that seniors are more apt to break.
However, if you also need to watch sugar intake in your diet, and have been foregoing drinking milk for that reason, you’ll be happy to know about this product. Kroger food chains carry a very low sugar, nonfat, nonlactose, and higher protein content milk product, called Carbmaster. Add a few scoops of protein powder, some cocoa powder, a little stevia, or some fruit, to create a powerhouse shake for breakfast or lunch.
As good as these four super nutrients are for building bone and muscle health, they also need the help of physical activity to work their magic. Combined with exercise, they help prevent bone/muscle degeneration and related injuries in adults. Exercise draws protein to muscle to repair and strengthen them. In turn, muscles create friction against bones as they move. That friction stimulates bone metabolism, allowing these nutrients to combine and create bone growth and strength.
Adding dairy to your diet is a convenient way to get these four nutrients into your bones and muscles in one easy serving. As research has shown, it can help strengthen both at once. If you’re still dead set against consuming dairy, be sure you’re getting enough calcium, protein, inorganic phosphates, and Vitamin D in your diet from other food, or supplemental, sources.