By: Alison Dunn Oct 12, 2010
  Editorial
Got milk?

When I was a kid, I loved milk. I loved it so much, I could drink glass after glass at a time. It was my drink of choice. Forget juice or pop – just give me my milk.

As I got older, I started drinking other things. Diet Coke became a bit of a staple in my teen years. Then came coffee and beer in university, and red wine after I started working. I also started drinking water throughout the day as I learned the health benefits of staying properly hydrated.

Today, it's pretty rare that I have a glass of milk. Oh, I still love it, but it's generally not the first beverage I choose when looking for a drink (water is – I just took another swig of it as I wrote that!)

But this week's featured health article on Primacy Life, "Bone-busting myths," started to get me wondering if I need to drink more milk. As a kid, getting enough calcium to keep my bones strong wasn't a problem. But as I get older and drink less milk, am I putting my bones at serious risk?

According to Osteoporosis Canada, women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1,000mg of calcium a day. (If you want to check out your calcium requirements, you can find the information on the Osteoporosis Canada website.)

A glass of milk has 300mg calcium. Hmmm… I'd need to drink three (and a third!) glasses of milk a day to ensure I'm getting enough calcium. I still love milk, but I think I'd have a hard time getting THAT much milk into me every day.

Luckily, of course, milk isn't the only food that will do it. Other dairy foods like yogurt (340mg of calcium for 3/4 cup) and cheese (200mg for a 3cm cube) will do it as well. But I try not to eat a lot of cheese (the key word there being TRY), and while I like yogurt, I also don't want to eat it three times a day. Is there anything else?

Yes, as it turns out. Salmon (with the bones) offers 240mg for only 1/2 a can. A cup of chick peas has 77mg, and 1/2 cup of almonds offers 186mg. And that's just to name a few.

These are all foods I eat regularly, and now that I know they have the calcium my bones need, I'm going to make sure I eat a lot more. And if I think I'm not getting enough, I'll take a calcium supplement (although a warning to anyone taking a multi-vitamin – calcium and iron compete in the body for absorption, so taking a vitamin with both ends up negating the benefits.)

And, according to Osteoporosis Canada, things like salt and caffeine also affect calcium absorption, so if you're getting your milk with your java, your bones may not be getting all the benefits of that calcium.

Truthfully, while it takes a bit of work to ensure you're getting enough calcium, the alternative is really quite unthinkable. We only get one set of bones, and they have to last us a lifetime. Whether it's a glass of milk, a handful of almonds or throwing chick peas on your salad, try to find ways to add more calcium to your diet.

Trust me, your bones will thank you for it!

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.