Drink milk to build healthy bones

June 19, 2013|Lynn Little

It’s a lesson many learned early in life: Drink your milk to build strong, healthy bones. Moms and dads recognize the importance of milk, which is rich in calcium and other nutrients, in their growing kids’ diet. Unfortunately, that message often is lost later in life. 

Milk is one of the best-recognized foods for building strong bones. It is a food that has the greatest number of nutrients, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin D and protein, packaged together to promote bone health. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes a “Healthy Eating Index” to measure the overall quality of Americans’ diets. The USDA currently reports that the biggest shortfall is in eating calcium-rich dairy foods. Everyone naturally loses bone mass as we age. The critical factor is whether we have amassed sufficient bone mass in our early years to literally carry us through our “golden years.” The more bone mass we have early on, the more protection we’ll have later on.


Another finding has been that teenagers, who are in the prime of their lives and should be building bone mass, are breaking their bones when engaging in sports and other activities. One of the reasons is they may not drink enough milk or consume enough calcium-rich foods. As they gain independence, teens begin preparing some of their own meals, and often don’t include calcium-rich foods. When they are faced with vending machine or convenience store choices, it just might not be cool to order milk. 

Some of the other reasons people are getting less calcium in their diets include:

 Adolescents and adults are watching their weight and skipping meals;

 People aren’t making time to eat breakfast;

 Families are eating fewer meals together, so parents don’t have an opportunity to model good eating practices;

  •  Older adults consume less food and, thus, get fewer nutrients.
  • If members of your family are not milk drinkers, here are some things you can do:
  •  Add powdered milk to casseroles, soups, gravies, sauces, puddings;
  •  Sprinkle cheese on salads, soups, chili, baked potatoes;
  •  Prepare hot cereals with milk instead of water
  •  Put milk in coffee

 Serve green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified juices and cereals. Keep in mind they are part of the package for bone health and good nutrition.  

 Juices fortified with calcium can also help preserve bone health. These products do not necessarily contain other important nutrients typically found in milk, such as protein, vitamin D and phosphorous.  Calcium-fortified juices are a calcium supplement so keep in mind they are not a substitute for milk.  

In addition to consuming calcium-rich foods, as part of a healthy diet, Americans also need a weight-bearing exercise, such as running or walking, at least 30 minutes for adults and 60 minutes for children on most days of the week. In order to sustain peak bone mass, we need to have weight-bearing physical activity regularly.

Combined with physical activity, milk is still considered the best food for building and maintaining healthy bones throughout life.

For more information on calcium-rich diets, go to;;; or National Osteoporosis Foundation’s 

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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