A small amount of dairy can reduce fractures among older people by as much as 33 per cent, Australian researchers have found.
Almost one in three older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months and bone fractures are the cause of around 75 per cent of hospitalisations for Australians over 65. Of those hospitalisations, around 30 per cent involve people living in aged care facilities.
The link between dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese and improved bone strength is well established. Dairy is rich in calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein and all are essential for healthy bones.
But relatively few studies have investigated whether increasing your daily intake of these foods is an effective way to reduce fracture risk or how that would compare to drug therapy for fractures and bone density issues.
In a paper, researchers from the University of Melbourne and Austin Health have demonstrated that consuming 1300mg of calcium daily and one gram per kilogram body weight of protein reduces the risk of fragility fractures and falls among older adults living in residential aged care.
This amounts to just one glass of milk, two slices of cheese and 200 grams of yoghurt. For reference, this amount of dairy is similar to the recommended daily intake for anyone over 50.
The study included 7195 residents in 60 aged care facilities across Victoria. About 3500 residents were given increased amounts of milk, cheese and yoghurt, while the other 3500 remained on the regular diets provided by their facility.
Among residents given increased amounts of dairy supplement, there was a 33 per cent reduction in all fractures, a 46 per cent reduction in hip fractures and an 11 per cent reduction in falls. The benefits received were similar to those gained by taking bone density medications.
“Our cluster randomised controlled trial showed muscles of the arms and legs were maintained and falls reduced in the residents given the additional dairy foods,” Dr Sandra Iuliano, lead author of the study, told TND.
Although the results are positive, they do raise questions about the diet residents are receiving in aged care facilities.
A 2017 study, also led by Dr Iuliano, found that residents in Australian aged care receive “a daily average equivalent to just one serving of a high-protein food – like lean meat, seafood, eggs, poultry and legumes – compared with a recommended two servings a day”.
In terms of dairy, residents were “receiving the equivalent of just one serving a day, compared with a recommended four servings a day”, he said.
Another 2017 study found that on average, Australian aged care facilities were spending just $6.08 on food per resident per day. It said this amount was almost one-third of the average for older coupled adults living in the community ($17.25) and less than the average in Australian prisons ($8.25 per prisoner per day).
Over the course of that study, average food spend reduced by 31 cents per resident per day and spending on nutrition supplements increased by 50 cents per resident, per day.
So could aged care facilities reduce their running costs while improving the lives of residents by lifting dairy intake?
“This is an achievable goal in any aged care setting as these foods are widely available, palatable, low cost and can be incorporated into the daily menu,” Dr Iuliano says.
Is dairy a big part of your diet? Would you consider adding more after reading this? Let us know in the comments section below.
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