Is Milk Really Ideal for Bone Health?

The dairy industry pours millions of dollars every year into campaigns like “Got Milk?” to convince consumers that we need several servings of their product every single day to keep our bones healthy. What they’d rather not talk about is that milk isn’t necessarily the best source of calcium, especially if your goal is maintaining bone health.

Calcium is critical to bone health, but it’s not the only player when it comes to preventing osteoporosis. Along with sufficient calcium, you also need magnesium and vitamin D for healthy bones.

Along with getting the right balance of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, exercise is critical to bone health, especially weight-bearing exercise like running, lifting weights, or walking. Exercises like cycling and swimming are great for your overall health, but they don’t improve or maintain bone density.

Too much calcium in your diet can actually inhibit magnesium absorption. That’s one of the reasons that Americans have such high rates of osteoporosis, despite also having such high rates of dairy consumption. That means that when you eat dairy, the effects on magnesium absorption are likely cancelling out much of the bone health benefit that you’re going for.

Related Reading: 25 Vegan Sources for Calcium

There are some other reasons that dairy might not be the ideal source for your daily calcium. Dairy products tend to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, so you might be trading bone health for heart disease. Increased intake of dairy has also been linked to a higher risk for ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up dairy entirely if you don’t want to, but it does mean that if you’re drinking 3 glasses of milk a day to protect your bones, you might want to think about replacing some of that dairy with plant-based sources of calcium that contain more magnesium.

On the next page, check out the wide variety of plant-based calcium and magnesium sources!

leafy greens calcium

Plant-Based Sources of Calcium and Magnesium

When you tell folks that you don’t eat dairy or even that you don’t eat dairy for calcium, they’re probably going to want to know what you eat to keep your bones healthy. Depending on your age, you have different calcium requirements; the average human adult should be getting around 2500mg of calcium per day and between 320 and 420mg of magnesium.

Here are some calcium- and magnesium-rich, plant-based foods:

  • Almonds (1 oz) – 80mg magnesium, 89mg calcium
  • Cashews (1 oz) – 79mg magnesium, 13mg calcium
  • Edamame (1/2 cup, shelled) – 74mg magnesium, 98mg calcium
  • Wheat Bran (1/4 cup) – 89mg magnesium, 10mg calcium
  • Oatmeal (1 cup) – 61 mg magnesium, 99mg calcium
  • Peanut Butter (2 tablespoons) – 49mg magnesium, 14mg calcium
  • Kale (1 cup) – 23mg magnesium, 94mg calcium

Related Reading: Superfood: 10 Tasty Kale Recipes

  • Collard Greens (1 cup) – 38mg magnesium, 266mg calcium
  • Bok Choy (1 cup) – 19mg magnesium, 158mg calcium
  • Cabbage (1 cup) – 136mg magnesium, 427mg calcium
  • Broccoli (1 cup) – 33mg magnesium, 62mg calcium
  • Flax Meal (2 tablespoons) – 110mg magnesium, 71mg calcium
  • Quinoa (1 cup) – 118mg magnesium, 32 mg calcium

Related Reading: Superfood: 10 Quinoa Recipes

  • Firm Tofu (1/2 cup) – 47 mg magnesium, 253mg calcium
  • Wakame (1 cup) – 88 mg magnesium, 120mg calcium
  • Brazil Nuts (1 oz) – 106mg magnesium, 45mg calcium
  • Turnip Greens (1 cup) – 23mg magnesium, 138 mg calcium
  • Swiss Chard (1 cup) – 150mg magnesium, 101mg calcium
  • Black Beans (1 cup) – 120mg magnesium, 46mg calcium
  • Baked Potato (1 large) – 84mg magnesium, 45mg calcium

As you can see, if you’re eating a nice variety of whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, legumes, and even potatoes, chances are your bones are doing just fine. Do you eat dairy to maintain healthy bones? What do you think about the possible downsides to a dairy-rich diet?

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Self Nutrition Data

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Holly W.
Holly Windle2 years ago

Calcium isn't the only reason to drink milk; it's also a fairly inexpensive source of protein.

Dimitris Dallis
Dimitris Dallis2 years ago

Thank you very much Becky. I liked the article. :)

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy2 years ago

Love clod milk...

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

I just drink soy milk, but had lots when I was a kid.

Robert O.
Robert O.2 years ago

I like dairy and believe there are a lot of health benefits. All things in moderation of course. Thanks!

Natalie Scerri
Natalie S.2 years ago

Thanks for the article. I don't overdo it with milk or other dairy products as I believe that moderation is the key to everything we do. It's good to know that there are so many alternative sources of calcium and magnesium.

Valentina R.
Valentina R.3 years ago

"The dairy industry pours millions of dollars every year into campaigns like “Got Milk?” to convince consumers that we need several servings of their product every single day to keep our bones healthy."

Honestly, you sound tremendously angry and sour in all of your pro-vegan articles, other than delusional.

Christine Farrell

Moderation in all things!
I love cheese, and occasionally some real butter. I rarely take milk, but sometimes Greek-style yogurt.
I read the articles, and some of the comments.
Then I try to get my head around all the info and do what works for me and for my family.
But thanks for the list with numbers for non-dairy calcium and magnesium that should definitely help to inform my choices.

Dagmar Breg
Past Member 3 years ago

Cow's milk is for baby cows. Milk is for babies. I'm a grown-up so I drink almond milk. I actually gave up all dairy together recently. The nondairy alternatives are much better. Also I have read a lot of stuff of dairy causing osteoporosis in people.

Elizabeth Santos-mason
Elizabeth M.3 years ago

I don't drink milk, makes me feel sluggish. Drink soya instead.Thanks for the info.