You heard it all of the time when you were growing up, and now you are passing along the message to your own kids — drinking milk will make you grow tall and strong. But this rich and creamy white liquid is far more than a cereal topper or a chocolate chip cookie dunking station. That is because milk contains calcium — an essential nutrient that contributes to our bone health. Calcium helps our muscles contract, our blood clot and our nerves send important messages, but the vast majority of calcium in our bodies is present in our bones and teeth.
“Throughout life, there are a lot of stressors that our structure must endure, and calcium plays a key role in that structure,” Stephanie Wilson, director of sports nutrition at the University Athletic Association Inc., said. “The equivalent would be wanting a house structure to be very strong to withstand winds and the day-to- day impact without collapsing.”
You do not have to drink milk to nourish your body with calcium, but dairy is the best source of this important nutrient. “Calcium is most absorbed from dairy, which contains other nutrients that are key for bone health,” Wilson said. “These nutrients must be taken with calcium for calcium to function properly.”
If dietary restrictions prevent you from consuming dairy, other calcium-rich foods include green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens, edamame, white beans, figs, oranges, almonds, tofu and salmon. If you are concerned that your body is not receiving a sufficient amount of calcium, you can take calcium supplements in the form of pills, chews or liquids.
According to Wilson, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1,000 milligrams per day for children 4–8 years old and 1,300 milligrams per day for children 9–18 years old. Adult men and women should be ingesting 1,000 milligrams per day, and it’s recommended that adult women over 51 digest 1,200 milligrams daily. All adults over 70 years of age should have 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day.
As we grow up, our bones absorb calcium, which makes them stronger and denser. Our bodies acquire 45 percent of their skeletal mass from ages 9–18. When we are in our late 20s, our bones reach their peak bone mass. From this point forward, our older bone breaks down at a faster rate than our new bone forms, so it is crucial that we continue to nourish our bodies with calcium to avoid having brittle bones and developing osteoporosis, osteopenia and frequent bone fractures. And while we should be sure to get our daily dose, it is also important that we do not ingest too much calcium. A surplus of calcium in the body can cause constipation and may even lead to kidney stones in adults.
“The biggest challenge is that we can’t see things happening to us each day,” Wilson said. If we are deficient in calcium, it isn’t until something terrible happens that long term, low calcium intake takes its toll.”
So, make sure you are providing your body with the calcium it needs. You are never too old for a milk mustache