Don’t tell Mom, but it turns out she may have been wrong about all those times she told us to drink our milk so we’d have strong bones and teeth. The idea first came to light, and continues to persist, because dairy products are high in Calcium – an essential nutrient for bone growth and bone strength. Calcium also plays an important role in blood clotting, nervous system function, and cardiovascular health. However, 99% of all calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth – hence why the edict, “drink your milk.”
To be fair, dairy isn’t the only dietary source of calcium. Dark green, leafy vegetables are also rich in calcium, although not in the concentrations in dairy. Calcium is also available as a supplement, but the body absorbs Calcium better through dietary sources, and diet alone is typically not enough to meet the body’s demands for calcium. Or, in other words, you can’t just load up on more calcium-rich foods in order to ensure optimum calcium levels.
Whenever the body needs calcium for some function, it pulls it from bones. When bones don’t replenish calcium stores as quickly as the body depletes them, bones weaken. And despite this, milk still may not be the best choice for strengthening and protecting bones. Part of the reason is the many people with mild to moderate allergies to dairy. Even in small amounts, an unchecked allergy can cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to weight gain, and even further depletion of calcium stores as the body tries to self-regulate back to a stable condition... all without a person even noticing any outward allergic reaction. As well, many of the biochemical processes that help us digest dairy, require calcium from our bones... so it ends up being a net-zero equation when it comes to calcium spent vs. calcium gained.
So what’s a better way to protect your bones? Well, obviously, you need not eliminate dairy completely. Just be aware that it’s not a magic bullet. Stock up on leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, and mustard greens. Make sure you get plenty of Vitamin D (don’t forget your sun block!). Eat calcium-rich beans like baked beans, pinto beans, and navy beans – all of which give you protein, too. Drink fortified juices and soymilk. And engage in weight-bearing exercise. Even if it’s only your own body weight, these exercises engage skeletal muscles, and, by extension, the skeletal system (a.k.a. your bones). And if you like milk, go ahead and drink it. But certainly not because your mommy said so.