WHO and UNICEF’s global recommendations for optimal infant feeding as set out in the Global Strategy are exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months (180 days) and a nutritionally adequate and safe complementary feeding starting from the age of 6 months with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond. Cow’s milk is not recommended until after the age of 1 year. At this point, whole milk is the most suitable option and low-fat milk can be introduced after the age of 2 years.
The period from 9-18 years is a critical phase of bone growth and development. These years provide a unique opportunity to maximise bone quality for life. Once adulthood is reached, increases in bone density stops and bones gradually start to lose calcium, making them weaker. Weaker bones mean there is greater risk of developing osteoporosis – a condition where bones have lost calcium, become fragile and fracture more easily. The stronger bones become during teenage years, the less chance there will be of developing osteoporosis later in life. Calcium is among the essential nutrients needed for this process and requirements are therefore increased during this life stage. Milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium and other bone-friendly nutrients (e.g. protein and phosphorus) and hence the recommendations for this age group are increased to 5 servings per day (as opposed to 3 servings for other age groups).
There is some speculation that milk is not needed in the diet after weaning, as nutrients become available from other foods. This speculation is partly supported by the fact that after weaning, some people have a reduced ability to digest lactose, the carbohydrate component of milk. However, milk is recognised as a nutritious food and many populations have actually genetically evolved so that they continue to digest lactose and benefit from milk’s nutrients throughout life. This genetic trait, known as lactase persistence, is recognised as an ‘evolutionary advantage’ that arose in populations that farmed dairy animals. The consumption of milk provided an advantage in nutritional acquisition as dairy foods provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
An important aspect of healthy ageing is the preservation of muscle and bone mass. This can help to delay the onset of age-related conditions such as sarcopenia (muscle loss) and osteoporosis (bone weakening). Although there are many factors which can contribute to these conditions, diet and exercise can play an important role in their prevention. Dairy products provide a source of good quality protein and calcium, which are important nutrients for the maintenance of normal muscle and bone health.
Maintaining strong muscles and bones can help to preserve vitality and independence in the elderly. Dairy products provide a source of good quality protein and calcium, which are important nutrients for the maintenance of normal muscle and bone mass. Riboflavin contributes to the maintenance of normal vision. Iodine assists normal cognitive function, while vitamin B12 contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Potassium can help maintain normal blood pressure, while phosphorus supports the maintenance of teeth. In addition, dairy products are both affordable and versatile sources of these nutrients, which can be consumed across various meals and snacks. Many dairy products do not require cooking and their soft texture can make them a convenient, easy to eat source of protein for elderly people.