Health & Nutrition

October 20, 2010

Mama always said to drink my milk!

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Photo by foxandfeathers

Little did I know how important calcium would be growing up, especially after the big 3-0! Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies, 99% of it is in our bones and teeth.   We need calcium to build strong dense bones and store it for use later in life.

Mom was right when she said to drink your milk.  Bone growth and density tends to reach its peak around 30 years of age. Between the ages of 30 and 40, we begin to lose more bone than we form, which is why it is important to start with strong bones.  Bone loss cannot be avoided as we age. However, we can minimize our losses by continuing to get adequate amounts of calcium through our diets.

How do we lose bone density?  The other 1% of calcium in our bodies is in body fluids, commonly referred to as blood calcium.  When our blood calcium levels fall, mostly due to inadequacies in our diet, calcium is borrowed from the bone.  Blood calcium assists in maintaining blood pressure, clotting, muscle contractions, and nerve impulse transmissions.

After the age of 30, if we fail to consume adequate calcium the bones become porous and weak.  Weak bones lead to fractures. When the bone is weak to the point of fracture under everyday stress, the condition is osteoporosis.  Today is World Osteoporosis Day.

Osteoporosis affects about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over 50.  You can help prevent osteoporosis by ensuring adequate intakes of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and to perform weight bearing exercises (e.g., running and strength training).

USDA adequate intake levels for calcium:

  • 500 mg/day for children ages 1 to 3 years
  • 800 mg/day for children ages 4 to 8 years
  • 1300 mg/day for ages 9 to 18 years
  • 1000 mg/day for ages 19 to 50 years
  • 1200 mg/day for those over 50 years

Great, so just drink lots of milk right? Milk is not the only source of calcium.  Milk is recommended because it is fortified with vitamin D; however, there is calcium in dark leafy greens and some legumes.  Below are dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium from the USDA Dietary 2005 guidelines.

Food, Standard Amount
*indicate non-dairy products
Calcium (mg) Estimated
1. Romano cheese, 1.5 oz 452 165
2. Plain yogurt, non-fat (13 g protein/8 oz), 8-oz container 452 127
3. Pasteurized process Swiss cheese, 2 oz (2 slices) 438 190
4. Plain yogurt, low-fat (12 g protein/8 oz), 8-oz container 415 143
5. *Soy beverage, calcium fortified, 1 cup 368 98
6. Fruit yogurt, low-fat (10 g protein/8 oz), 8-oz container 345 232
7. Swiss cheese, 1.5 oz 336 162
8. Ricotta cheese, part skim, ½ cup 335 170
9. *Sardines, Atlantic, in oil, drained, 3 oz 325 177
10. Pasteurized process American cheese food, 2 oz 323 188
11. Provolone cheese, 1.5 oz 321 150
12. Mozzarella cheese, part-skim, 1.5 oz 311 129
13. Cheddar cheese, 1.5 oz 307 171
14. Fat-free (skim) milk, 1 cup 306 83
15. Muenster cheese, 1.5 oz 305 156
16. *Tofu, firm, prepared with nigari , ½ cup 253 88
17. *Pink salmon, canned, with bone, 3 oz 181 118
18. *Collards, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 178 31
19. *Molasses, blackstrap, 1 Tbsp 172 47
20. *Spinach, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 146 30
21. *Soybeans, green, cooked, ½ cup 130 127
22. *Turnip greens, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 124 24
23. *Ocean perch, Atlantic, cooked, 3 oz 116 103
24. *Cowpeas, cooked, ½ cup 106 80
25. *White beans, canned, ½ cup 96 153

For additional reading:

Harvard School of Public Health, Calcium and Milk: What’s best for your bones and health?


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2 thoughts on “Mama always said to drink my milk!

  1. Such an important article. I think a lot of people really slow their uptake of calcium after they become adults and don’t realize the consequences. You just don’t see many adults drinking glasses of milk or eating bowls of cereal, I’m trying yogurt to keep mine up!

  2. Hi Isaac,

    That’s great that you’re trying to keep your calcium up! For breakfast, I eat greek yogurt with some granola and fruit. Tonight, I’m trying a vegetarian lasagna that is also high in calcium due to the ricotta filling. 🙂

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