Why Milk Serves Up a Great High-Calcium Food

Do You Know Why You Need Foods High In Calcium?

Calcium — it’s not just for kids. Many Americans know children need to eat foods high in calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. But do you know why everyone, from one to 100, needs high-calcium foods to hit their daily calcium requirements? Calcium plays other vital roles within the body and consuming enough calcium-rich foods also can help with:

  • Clotting blood
  • Nerve function
  • Proper muscle contraction
  • Supporting healthy blood pressure
  • Maintaining heart health

As kids get older, it’s important to get nutrients they need like calcium to grow up strong. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting calcium from food sources, like milk, more so than supplements for bone health. But, calcium isn’t just for growing kids. Some studies suggest calcium may support healthy blood pressure and heart health among adults, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (part D, chapter 1, page 15).

Do you know how to get calcium in a simple and delicious way? Pairing a glass of milk with meals is a natural and budget-friendly source of calcium – plus it has other nutrients like vitamin D and protein - for just about 25 cents per glass. An extensive body of research suggests far-reaching health benefits of milk. In fact, “intake of dairy products is also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and with lower blood pressure in adults,” according to ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Read more: Milk, Calcium, and Vitamin D and Hypertension Risk

How Much Calcium Do I Need?

Calcium, as well as potassium, vitamin D and fiber, is one of the four nutrients many Americans – including children — fall short of in their diets as outlined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These four are identified as “nutrients of public health concern” because many Americans are not consuming enough and not getting enough of these nutrients is linked to health concerns.

Serving a glass of milk at meals is a simple way to increase not only your daily calcium intake, but also three of the four of these important nutrients. Milk is the top food source of calcium and vitamin D in the American diet. While getting the recommended three daily servings milk or milk products not only helps to increase how much calcium you’re getting, it also can help you get closer to the recommended amount of other nutrients you may otherwise be falling short on — especially vitamin D, but also magnesium and vitamin A.

How much calcium you need to consume on a daily basis to meet depends on your age — and calcium intake increases for children and teens, and again for adults older than 70.

Life Stage

Recommended Amount

Birth to 6 months

200 mg

Infants 7–12 months

260 mg

Children 1–3 years

700 mg

Children 4–8 years

1,000 mg

Children 9–13 years

1,300 mg

Teens 14–18 years

1,300 mg

Adults 19–50 years

1,000 mg

Adult men 51–70 years

1,000 mg

Adult women 51–70 years

1,200 mg

Adults 71 years and older

1,200 mg

Pregnant and breastfeeding teens

1,300 mg

Pregnant and breastfeeding adults

1,000 mg

Read more: 9 Milk Nutrition Facts You Need To Know

What Are Other Sources of Calcium Besides Milk?

Milk is the top food source of calcium in American diets. Adding an 8-ounce glass of fat free or lowfat milk to breakfast is an easy way to start your day off right and help you meet your recommended milk (and calcium) intake for the day.

While you can get calcium from non-dairy sources of calcium, it may be more difficult to meet your calcium requirements without milk and milk products in your diet. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, consuming enough plant foods to meet your calcium requirements may be unrealistic for many people.

To get the same calcium content as you do from an 8-ounce serving of milk, it would take:

  • 3 ½ cups raw collard greens
  • 10 cups raw spinach
  • 7 cups raw broccoli
  • 6-7 sardines
  • 65 shrimp
  • 1 ¼ cup cooked soy beans

Pairing these foods with milk — like in a broccoli and bacon quiche, is an excellent way to serve a calcium-packed breakfast. Keep in mind that making meals with milk and other foods with calcium helps get you closer to your daily calcium requirements.

It is, however, more difficult for the body to absorb calcium from plant foods as compared to animal foods such as milk or other dairy products, according to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (part D, chapter 1, page 15).

In addition, substituting milk with other non-dairy calcium sources like fortified soy milk and leafy greens can lead to gaps in other key nutrients like protein, vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin and vitamin B12.

Read more: 4 Benefits of Milk for Vegetarians to Consider

The Added Benefit of Getting Your Calcium in Milk

There are many more reasons to drink milk. From lowfat, organic or flavored, all milk is an excellent source of calcium, and serves up other essential nutrients including: high-quality protein for lean muscle, vitamin A for a healthy immune system, B vitamins for energy, and five bone-building nutrients, including vitamin D, which works in concert with calcium to help build and maintain strong bones. Getting your calcium intake from milk also means that you consume a nutrient powerhouse that includes other nutrients that are difficult to get like vitamin D. 

Read more: Get the Facts: Types of Milk Explained

What is the Calcium Content in Milk?

How much is the calcium content in milk? In every 8-ounce serving of milk, you get 30 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium. The recommended daily value for calcium is 1,000 mg, which is based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults. Since the 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend three daily servings of lowfat and fat free dairy products — if you drink the recommended amount as milk, you get 90 percent of your daily calcium requirements.

Watch: Calcium in Milk: Know Your Nutrients

What Are the Best Sources of Calcium?

Dairy milk is one of the best sources of calcium in the American diet and it contains eight other essential nutrients for about a quarter a glass, which makes that tall drink of milk a natural nutrient powerhouse like no other beverage. Milk is both an excellent and natural source of calcium. Milk is also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Each serving of milk also is an excellent source of riboflavin, phosphorus and vitamin B12, and a good source of protein, potassium, vitamin A and niacin.

Read more: Milk the DASH Diet Plan with Dairy

Why Your Calcium Intake Matters

Milk and milk products are recommended for adults and children to help meet their calcium intake and vitamin D levels. These two essential nutrients work in concert to help build strong bones and also help protect against osteoporosis. 

It’s important to remember that building and maintaining strong bones is applicable at any age. Milk provides five bone-building nutrients. A diet rich in bone-building nutrients, including calcium, was linked to beneficial effects on bone health in teens, according to a recent study. Additional research suggests that regularly drinking milk during the growing years (all the way through late teens/early twenties) is associated with greater height in the teen years and bone size and bone mineralization, while research has linked regularly skipping milk to reduced height and increased fracture rates.

And according to a study from Arthritis Care & Research, a daily glass of fat free or lowfat milk could help women suffering with osteoarthritis. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found women who drank at least 7 glasses of milk per week had the slowest progression in knee osteoarthritis.

Read more: Learn how milk travels from a local farm to your family’s table.