Every June Dairy Month, it’s fun to talk about how much we love our favorite dairy treats – ice cream on a summer day, real milk in our morning coffee, cheese on a perfectly grilled burger.

However, what we don’t focus on enough – even though it impacts all of us – is the serious topic of how nutrient-rich dairy foods benefit our bone health as we age.

This may seem unrelated, but I’m currently reading a bestselling book about the modern-day British royal family. Among the book’s revelations is a painful description of how the mother of Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwell, died of osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a medical condition where bones become weak and are more likely to break.

Camilla’s mother, who died at age 72, lost 8 inches in height and became so bent over she could no longer digest food properly. When a friend gave her a hug, a rib broke.

Osteoporosis is often genetic. However, bone loss and fracture risk increases for everyone – no matter the gender - over the age of 50, health experts say.

As we get older, more bone mass is broken down than is replaced by new bone. Our bones get thinner and more fragile.

In the United States, almost 20% of women and 5% of men over the age of 50 have osteoporosis, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control.

For women, bone loss can happen quickly after menopause. Women can lose up to 20% of their bone density five to seven years after menopause, according to the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation.

Worldwide, one in three women and one in five men experience a fracture resulting from bone fragility, with a fracture occurring every 3 seconds.

Tragically, a hip fracture is often fatal for older adults. One in three adults aged 50 and older die within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture.  

However, we can take steps now to reduce our risk of severe bone loss and fractures.

Weight-bearing exercises, including walking, hiking, fitness classes and strength training, benefit our bone health and help prevent fractures.

Experts also recommend eating foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D, two essential bone-building nutrients.

Milk and other dairy foods, including yogurt and cheese, are excellent sources of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein.

Unfortunately, 90% of Americans don’t consume the recommended three servings of dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt) a day, according to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Research shows that milk and other dairy foods in the diet are associated with a reduced risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Plant-based beverages, such as oat or almond drinks, aren’t a good substitute for the bone-building nutrients found in real milk, experts say.

Emerging research suggests that plant protein is associated with decreased bone mineral density.

I can tell you, after learning about the importance of bone health, I’ve started adding more dairy in my own diet. Here are a few easy ways to get three servings of dairy a day:

  • Yogurt is an excellent source of protein and calcium, and the probotics in yogurt may be beneficial to gut health.
  • Kefir, a drinkable yogurt, is a good source of calcium and is a good choice for people who may be lactose intolerant.
  • Cottage cheese is a low-cost, underappreciated healthy snack. And instead of expensive protein powders, you can also blend cottage cheese in a fruit smoothie for extra protein.
  • My family always has string cheese in our fridge. Always. If I can’t get my young daughter to eat meal, she rarely turns down a cheese stick.

You can find more healthy recipe ideas for June Dairy Month from the Midwest Dairy Association. Or check out Undeniably Dairy on Instagram for more recipes and dairy farm tours.

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