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Calcium: Have you had your three-a-day today?

No bones about it -- most Americans are not meeting their dietary needs for calcium.

According to government surveys, 70 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys ages six to 11 do not meet current calcium recommendations. Likewise, about 90 percent of teenage girls and adult women and 70 percent of teenage boys and adult men don't meet daily dietary recommendations for calcium. And for those of us over age 50, less than 15 percent meet our daily dietary calcium recommendations.

One reason of this poor showing is the relatively large amount of calcium recommended for teens and adults: 1,300 mg per day if you're between the ages of 9 to 18, 1,000mg per day if you're between 20 and 50 years and 1,200mg per day for those over age 50.

America's low calcium intake is recognized as a major public health problem. Research has shown an adequate intake of calcium is needed to build strong, healthy bones and may help reduce the risk for osteoporosis, kidney stones, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. To help address America's low calcium intake, the dairy industry, with the support of several professional health organizations including the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, has launched an educational and marketing campaign called "3-A-Day of Dairy for Stronger Bones."

While dairy foods are not our only source of calcium, milk and foods made with milk provide nearly 73 percent of the calcium consumed through foods in the United States. Other significant sources of calcium include sardines and other fish with edible bones, dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens, dry beans, tofu (if processed with calcium sulfate) and calcium-fortified juices and cereals.

Beyond calcium, low-fat dairy foods are important sources of other essential nutrients, including vitamins A and D, protein, potassium and phosphorus. The key message of the 3-A-Day of Dairy campaign is to consume three servings of milk, cheese and yogurt each day to help build and maintain strong bones and promote overall health.

Through the 3-A-Day campaign, the dairy industry also hopes to educate consumers as to what constitutes a serving of milk and milk products. For milk, one serving is 8 ounces (1 cup) and contains up to 300mg of calcium. For cheese, one serving is 1 to 1 1/2 ounces (about the size of a matchbox) and contains up to 300mg of calcium. For yogurt, one serving is 8 ounces (1 cup) and also contains about 300mg of calcium.

To help you get your 3-A-Day of Dairy, the American Dairy Association and the National Dairy Council offer the following mealtime tips:

Breakfast Smoothie
Blend low fat milk or yogurt with fresh fruit and ice cubes.

Waffles that Wow
Instead of syrup, top waffles with strawberry yogurt and fresh berries.

Cheese, Please
Toss 1/4 cup of shredded cheeses into your favorite salad.

Super Soup
Make chicken or tomato soup with low-fat or fat-free milk instead of water.

Mealtime Moo-Moo
Replace soft drinks at the dinner table with glasses of low-fat milk.

Taco Salad
On top of a bed of lettuce, add baked tortilla chips, grilled chicken, shredded reduced fat Colby Jack cheese and plain low-fat yogurt.

Peachy Keen Parfait
For dessert, layer yogurt with sliced peaches and crunchy yogurt.

If you find you avoid milk and dairy products because of the bloating and diarrhea you experience when you consume them, you have developed some level of lactose intolerance. When adding dairy products back into your diet, it's important to start with small portions and gradually work up.

Drink milk with meals or a snack instead of on an empty stomach. Also, try some of the lactose-reduced and lactose-free milk and dairy products available on the market. Yogurt and hard cheeses also are generally well tolerated by people who are mildly lactose intolerant.

More information about the 3-A-Day of Dairy campaign can be found at www.3aday.org or contact the Western Dairy Council at 1-800-274-MILK.

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