Skim or fat-free milk can be a key component of a healthy diet. Drinking skim milk can actually give you more calcium than whole milk. While there are nutrients bound to fat in foods, calcium is not found in the fatty portion of milk. One cup of skim milk will have more calcium than one cup of whole milk as the skim milk is made up almost entirely of the calcium-containing portion.
Calcium is a mineral found mainly in bones and teeth but is also needed by the body for muscle contraction and relaxation, nervous system function, blood clotting, and to help maintain a regular heartbeat. The body sends calcium wherever it is needed by breaking down and rebuilding bone, and relying on the diet to bring in enough calcium so that too much bone isn't broken down. When that happens, a condition called osteoporosis can develop where the bones become very thin and frail. As people age, the risk of osteoporosis increases; post-menopausal women are at greater risk due to changes in hormone levels. Although osteoporosis can be managed, prevention is key. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 85 to 90 percent of adult bone mass is gained by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys.
Adults ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 mg a day. Three servings of dairy where one serving is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 2 oz. of cheese can meet this goal. These foods contain high amounts of calcium in a form that is easy for the body to absorb. Yet most Americans don't get enough calcium from food. Supplements are available but talk to your doctor first. If you don't like milk or have a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance, try a non-dairy source of calcium.
Calcium is found in food, supplements and medications, such as antacids. Dark, leafy green vegetables like broccoli are a rich source of calcium, as well as foods that have been fortified with added calcium. Examples of foods fortified with calcium include orange juice, tofu and cereals.
Although the amount of fat in milk doesn't affect the absorption of calcium, certain factors can impact how much calcium the body receives. Vitamin D, which is added to milk, is necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium. Also, taking a calcium supplement along with a glass of milk is not going to help the body get more calcium. Only so much calcium can be used at a time, so spread out dietary intake throughout the day.
Prevention is Key
The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports as of 2010 that 10 million people are estimated to already have osteoporosis and almost 34 million more have low bone mass, which increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. Adequate calcium intake, combined with weight-bearing exercise, can keep bones healthy and at less risk for fracture. Aim for three servings of calcium-rich foods with special emphasis on low-fat or fat-free dairy products and dark leafy green vegetables to help meet the body's need for this valuable mineral.