Calcium, Milk + Strong Bones

Are Milk and Calcium Good for Your Bones?

Calcium in milk, along with other nutrients confirm that consuming dairy and bone health go hand in hand.

Did you know …

  • 54 million Americans have low bone density or osteoporosis?
  • About one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis?
  • Most people do not know they have low bone density until they actually break a bone?

So answering the question, "are milk and calcium good for your bones?" is important! What you might not realize is that bones are not hard and lifeless; rather they are living, growing tissues in our bodies. There are many factors related to bone health such as genetics, physical activity and what you eat.

4 Steps to Improve Bone Health:

  1. Eat enough calcium-containing foods. Calcium is the largest component of bone mineral and is low in many diets. Studies have shown that low calcium intake throughout life is linked to low bone mass and broken bones. Milk and dairy foods are ideal in providing the right amounts of all these nutrients in one convenient package, specifically calcium and vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B12 and zinc. Other sources of these bone-building nutrients come from a well-balanced diet including a variety of foods, from all five foods groups.
  2. Get enough vitamin D, which is critical for calcium absorption. We get vitamin D through foods we eat—such as milk, fatty fish like wild-caught mackerel, salmon and tuna, and in some fortified foods such as orange juice, soy milk and cereals. Our bodies can also produce vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. 
  3. Get regular exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, which makes you move against gravity while staying upright, is especially important to bone health. Activities such as running, walking, hiking, dancing, jumping rope and aerobics are examples of weight-bearing exercise. Muscle-strengthening exercise such as lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands and weight machines are also good for the bones.
  4. Avoid smoking, which is linked to lower bone density, and limit alcohol to 2 – 3 drinks per day. 

Yes, calcium and milk are good for your bones. Bone health (and osteoporosis prevention) starts in childhood, and it is never too early—or too late—to improve your bone health. 

National Osteoporosis Foundation Accessed 11/6/2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Accessed 11/6/2014.
National Institutes of Health 

Kids + Teens: Building Healthy Bones

Building Strong Bones Over Time

Peak bone mass—the maximum amount of bone that a person will ever have—occurs sometime between the ages of 20 and 30 years, even after a person stops growing. The more bone a person has at the time of peak bone mass, the less likely they are to break a bone or get osteoporosis later in life. Unfortunately, children and adolescents today are more likely to break a bone than their parents were. 

Even though the childhood and teenage years are prime time for building strong bones, this is not always a top priority for children or their parents. Not only is it a missed opportunity for optimizing bone health for later in life, it puts them at higher risk for breaking a bone during these years. 

Strong Bones for Children and Teens

What is the best way to optimize bone health in children and adolescents? A 2014 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics was published to answer this question. Key points from their report are below:

  • Nutrition and physical activity are both necessary, and work together, to improve bone health.
  • Calcium is necessary for bone growth in infancy, childhood and adolescence. 
  • Milk intake during childhood and adolescence is linked to stronger bones and fewer broken bones in adulthood.
  • Calcium is found in other foods such as dark green leafy vegetables and beans, but large amounts are needed to meet calcium requirements. 
  • Lactose intolerance can be an issue for consuming enough dairy, and thus calcium. Some children can tolerate smaller amounts of regular dairy or can use lactose-free milk and cheese or lactase enzymes. 
  • Children who drink soda generally drink less milk, which can lead to inadequate calcium and vitamin D intakes.
  • It is better to get our nutrients from foods versus supplements.       

The National Osteoporosis Foundation agrees that getting enough calcium increases bone mass growth and is the most critical nutritional factor in achieving peak bone mass. The greatest amount of calcium in the diet comes from milk and dairy foods. Other nutrients in dairy important to bone development and maintenance of bone include vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. 

National Osteoporosis Foundation
Optimizing Bone Health in Children and Adolescents; AAP Policy Document

What Role Does Protein Play in Bone Health?

Protein-packed foods are unquestionably the hottest items in the marketplace, for their benefits from muscle building to weight management, blood sugar control to healthy aging. But, what about the age-old story about protein leaching calcium out of bones?

Scientists have studied this issue of protein intake and bone health for years. Indeed, it was once thought that higher protein diets caused the body to lose calcium. However, newer research has found that high protein intake also increases intestinal calcium absorption, offsetting its effect on calcium excretion. More simply, the body needs both protein and calcium, in the right proportions, for strong bones.

Various other studies have shown that bone mineral density may actually benefit from high-protein diets if the diet meets the recommended dietary allowance of calcium and vitamin D. In other words, eating foods rich in calcium offsets a possible protein-calcium loss relationship. This intuitively makes sense, as protein is an important part of bones!

Milk and dairy foods provide both the calcium and protein that bones need, in the right proportions, making it an excellent food to consume throughout life to build and maintain strong bones. A glass of milk contains 8-10 grams of protein, about one-fifth the daily recommendation for a 135-pound person.


Dawson-Hughes, B. Calcium and protein in bone health. Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 May;62(2):505-9.

Bonjour JP. Dietary protein: an essential nutrient for bone health. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Dec;24(6 Suppl):526S-36S.

Kerstetter, J.E. et al. The impact of dietary protein on calcium absorption and kinetic measures of bone turnover in women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2005; 90(1):26-31.