Dairy: Your bone-building partner throughout life


Breaking a bone hurts. Think about the tears and pain that follow when your child breaks an arm, or an elderly parent fractures a hip. It’s often only then that people start to think about bone health. But building strong, healthy bones is a lifelong affair.


Keep your bones healthy

Bones are the body’s foundation. They provide support and structure, and protect vital organs such as the brain, heart and lungs. The skeleton also forms a framework for our muscles to help us move easily. Being proactive by building healthy, strong bones is therefore key to a healthy, active and independent life.

Not looking after bones can increase the risk of osteoporosis, a disease which results in bones becoming brittle and fracturing easily. In South Africa, osteoporosis affects one in three women and one in five men over the age of 60 years. Worldwide osteoporosis causes more than 8,9 million fractures each year – that’s one fracture every three seconds! In women with a high risk of osteoporosis, the risk of a hip fracture is considerably higher than a diagnosis of breast cancer. This becomes a real worry if we think of the chronic pain, difficulty in walking and overall higher dependence on others that come with a hip fracture.

Bone health is determined by both genetics and lifestyle factors. We can all adopt a bone-friendly lifestyle by eating calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, doing weight-bearing exercise and getting enough vitamin D.

Your daily dairy dose 

Milk and other dairy products serve as good sources of calcium. Calcium from milk and other dairy products is easily absorbed, which means that your body can use it effectively to keep your bones strong. Weight-bearing exercise such as brisk walking, lifting weights or sports involving jumping also helps to build strong bones – and the calcium from foods helps to enhance this positive effect.

Childhood and the teenage years are the most important period for bone development. We build a large part (25%) of our adult bone mass between the ages of 12 and 14 years but can still increase it by another quarter during our early twenties. Because optimal bone building occurs in these periods, it’s critical that teenagers and young adults get enough calcium and exercise every day to help them achieve maximum bone strength. 

Teenagers generally need three to four servings of dairy each day to give them the calcium their bodies need. A serving of dairy is typically one cup (250ml) of milk or amasi, 2 tubs (200ml) of yoghurt, two slices (40g) of cheese, or half a cup (120g) of cottage or ricotta cheese. 

After the age of 30 it’s important to maintain your bone density. While taking care of your family’s bone health, also take care of your own: make sure you get two to three servings of dairy every day. After the age of 52 the body starts to lose bone strength, and its calcium needs increase again. Older people should therefore take care to continue having three or more servings of dairy foods every day.

Dairy is good for everyone – young or old!


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