While you probably encouraged your child to drink milk often when he was young, you may have stopped serving your teenager milk with meals. Contrary to many teens' desires, however, your adolescent should drink three glasses of milk per day. Milk provides protein and several nutrients and vitamins, including vitamin D and calcium, to your teen's growing body.
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Teens need 400 units of vitamin D each day. The main dietary source of vitamin D is usually fortified milk, which contains about 100 units per cup. According to Jennifer Hillard at Georgia Health Sciences University, a deficiency in vitamin D can contribute to visceral, or abdominal fat, which can lead to serious health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. Drinking vitamin D-fortified milk can help your teen avoid the pitfalls associated with visceral fat.
Teens need 1,300 mg calcium each day, and one glass of milk contains 300 mg. If your teen consumes soft drinks regularly, she may need even more calcium in her diet, because soft drinks can interfere with the way the body absorbs the nutrient. Calcium contributes to strong bones and teeth. Drinking enough milk now can help your teenager avoid osteoporosis, a bone disease, later in life, and can, along with proper brushing and flossing, help ward off dental decay.
If your teen does not like drinking milk, he can get vitamin D and calcium from other sources instead. Spending 30 minutes in the sun without sunscreen a few times per week will allow his body to manufacture its own vitamin D. Calcium is in other dairy products, including yogurt, ice cream and cheese, as well as in leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified orange juice. If your teen is lactose intolerant, switch to soy milk or lactose-free milk.
Use caution if your teen is getting his vitamin D from the sun, as too much exposure to ultraviolet rays is a risk factor for skin cancer. Urge your teen to read nutritional labels carefully, as some brands of yogurt and other dairy products may contain large amounts of sugar. Serve low-fat or fat-free milk to avoid the effects of too much fat in the diet. Encourage your child to avoid soft drinks to allow as much calcium as possible to be absorbed.
- American Dietetic Association; Besides Milk, What Should My Teen Eat for Healthy Bones?; Roberta Duyff, R.D.
- KidsHealth; Calcium; Mary L. Gavin, M.D.; March 2011
- National Institutes of Health; Milk Matters; Sept. 2005
- EurekAlert; Not enough vitamin D in the diet could mean too much fat on adolescents; Jennifer Hilliard; March 12, 2009