Calcium is well known to be beneficial for bones. Milk is full of this vital mineral, making it an excellent source. But how much milk should you drink for bone health?
Your body needs a certain amount of calcium each day, depending on your age, gender and a few other characteristics. But there are a lot of sources of calcium out there, and getting all of it from milk may not be necessary. It turns out there's some debate over just how healthy milk is. While it contains enough calcium to be good for your bones, there are other less controversial sources of calcium.
Drinking three 8-ounce glasses of milk a day will provide you with the 1,000 milligrams of calcium that you need. However, there is some concern that three glasses is too much dairy, so you may want to consider mixing up your calcium sources.
The Benefits of Milk
There are several incredible benefits of drinking milk. Nutritionists recommend that adults under 50 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. It turns out dairy is an excellent source for those 1,000 milligrams.
A study published in Food & Nutrition Research in November 2016 looked into the effects of dairy. Milk was not associated with any protection against breaking your bones. But calcium has other health benefits such as improving your bone mineral content.
The study also noted that increasing children's milk intake by a serving a day decreases risk of obesity by about 13 percent. Since childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity and there's a link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes, there may be a reduced risk of this type of diabetes. Overall, milk, whole or skim, improves body composition and weight loss during energy restriction.
One of the biggest concerns presented in the Food & Nutrition Research study was an inverse relation to cancer, but that relation is highly controversial and without further investigation should be taken lightly.
Vitamins and Calcium
Calcium and vitamin D are essential to bone health. They help prevent fractures, particularly for the elderly and adults who aren't in optimum health. Vitamin D and calcium also help to prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fracture and bone loss. The best way to get these vitamins is through food. Dairy is a good source, as long as it's high in protein and low in fat and sugar.
A February 2018 Harvard Health post emphasizes the importance of getting your calcium from food sources. The author, Monique Tello, MD, MPH, points out that using dairy as your only calcium source may result in a diet too heavily concentrated in dairy. Instead Dr. Tello recommends the Mediterranean diet as the best for increasing your calcium due to its emphasis on large potions of leafy greens.
To avoid eating too much dairy, try an alternative source of vitamin D — meat is a good option. If your diet requires you to avoid meat, mushrooms are a good alternative. In a study in the October 2018 issue of Nutrients, the researchers noted the vitamin D content of mushrooms. While you do need to consume a fair number of mushrooms to get your daily needs, there are no fortified mushrooms with higher vitamin D content.
The Downside of Dairy
You may be wondering, what's the problem with drinking too much milk? That's a great question, since milk does supply the calcium you need. An 8-ounce cup of milk contains about 504 milligrams of calcium, which means you need less than 3 cups of milk to meet your daily calcium requirements.
But your calcium levels aren't the only thing affected by drinking milk regularly. A January 2015 Harvard Health post indicates mixed results on the health benefits of milk as some studies warn against drinking too much milk, whereas others have found benefits from regular dairy intake.
Overall, the consensus seems to be that dairy is neither good nor bad for your health. But if you want to avoid consuming too much dairy, there are other less controversial sources of calcium and vitamin D. So even though milk contains these essential nutrients for your bone health, try considering other options.
Read more: Should You Cut Dairy from Your Diet?
Keeping Your Bones Healthy
With mixed reviews on the benefits of dairy, it's a good idea to consider other routes for maintaining your bone health. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to keep your bones in good shape without eating too much dairy. As mentioned, vitamin D and calcium are imperative for good bones, but there's more you can do to maintain your bone health besides following a diet that's rich in these nutrients.
Regular exercise helps to strengthen your muscles as well as your bones, according to Harvard Health. This means that staying active should be a part of your bone health regimen.
In fact, exercise may be one of the best ways to maintain your bones' strength and health. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for bone health. In weight-bearing activities, such as jogging, running and walking, you're working against gravity. Resistance exercises involve an external force that you work against, such as your body weight or free weights like dumbbells.
Read more: List of Aerobic Workouts
Bad for Your Bones
Another critical aspect of bone health is avoiding things that do harm to your bones. The easiest way to avoid harming your bones is to avoid accidents, but since that's not always possible, it's better to use other preventive methods.
One of the best things you can do for your bones is to avoid activities that are bad for them. For example, the use of tobacco weakens bones, increasing the risk of breakage. Similarly, the use of alcohol may increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Alcohol poses the greatest risk to your bones if you're a woman who drinks more than one alcoholic beverage a day or a man who drinks more than two a day. Because alcohol and tobacco pose several other health risks, it makes sense to eliminate them.
Some factors are outside your control, and you can't change change them. Instead, you should be aware of your increased risk and talk to your health care provider about possibly supplementing your diet with vitamins.
Age plays a significant role in bone health; the older you are, the thinner and more brittle your bones may become. You'll want to make sure that your vitamin D and calcium levels are well-maintained to keep your bones healthy. Also, after menopause, women experience a dramatic increase in bone loss due to drops in estrogen levels.
Size is a factor you may have a little more control over. Those who are overweight are at higher risk for bone injury due to the added stress. In addition, hyperthyroidism can cause bone loss, weakening your bones, and is a factor in your life you can seek treatment to improve. Treatment will require you to work with your doctor, though.
Determining the Best Plan
Before you make a plan for addressing your bone health, you'll want to consider all the variables. Milk is full of calcium, but that doesn't mean it's the best option for bone health and osteoporosis avoidance. In fact, if you are a part of a population whose bone health is at risk, you may need to think about taking supplements.
Even if you aren't a part of an at-risk population, you may have dairy sensitivities. And you can get the same calcium from healthier sources. You'll find that leafy greens, like spinach, kale and collard greens, not only have the calcium your bones need, but they also have other nutrients imperative to your health.
If you don't like leafy greens and enjoy dairy, then continue using it as your primary source of calcium. A few cups a day is all an adult needs to meet their calcium requirements. And if none of these options sound appealing, talk to your doctor about supplementation.
Is This an Emergency?
- USDA FoodData Central: “Milk, Fluid, Nonfat, Calcium Fortified (Fat Free or Skim)”
- Nutrients: “A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Dairy: Health Food or Health Risk?”
- National Institutes of Health: “Exercise for Your Bone Health”
- Mayo Clinic: “Bone Health: Tips to Keep Your Bones Healthy”
- National Institutes of Health: “Vitamin D”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Calcium, Vitamin D, and Fractures (Oh My!)”
- Food & Nutriton Research: “Milk and Dairy Products: Good or Bad for Human Health? An Assessment of the Totality of Scientific Evidence”
- Stanford Medicine News Center: “Christopher Gardner Busts Myths About Milk”