“Drink your milk so you’ll have strong teeth!” If you grew up hearing any number of similar statements from well-meaning mothers, you probably automatically assume that drinking a glass or two of milk a day is a great fix if your teeth aren’t getting enough calcium.
But is milk actually the healthiest or best source of calcium commonly available? Here’s how it stacks up against some other high-calcium foods.
How much you need
Depending on which health authority you believe, you need to consume anywhere from 700 mg to 1,200 mg per day of calcium. If you’re over 50 or don’t get frequent physical exercise or sunlight, the number will likely be higher to counteract bone density loss that comes with age, inactivity, and a lack of vitamin D.
It’s hard to say exactly how much calcium you need. Some studies have shown little difference between those who drink one glass of milk or fewer per week and those who drink multiple glasses in terms of actual bone breaks. As the research hasn’t been done yet, you shouldn’t assume excessive milk drinking can’t harm you by actually inhibiting absorption, as some minerals do behave this way.
Absorbing it properly
Your body can’t always absorb calcium; it needs supplements of other vitamins such as vitamin D to do so. Calcium from milk seems to be absorbed at about a 32% rate. If you supplement with vitamin D (a wise idea if you’re north of San Francisco or Philadelphia), look for a multivitamin with 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D. Up to 2,000 IU per day is reasonable for people in northern latitudes.
Vitamin K is another important nutrient you need to get in order to optimize absorption of calcium. Just 90-120 micrograms per day is enough for anyone, and this can be reached through one serving of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, dark green lettuce, or other leafy green vegetables.
Best sources of calcium
With this in mind, is milk still the best source of calcium? There are many other sources, some of which provide the same nutrients you need in order to absorb calcium properly. As milk comes with other problems including lactose intolerance, increased risk of prostate and ovarian cancer, and high saturated fats, it isn’t necessarily the healthiest option. It can even cause damage to teeth if you drink it before bed as some people do.
Instead of milk, try eating more dark green, leafy vegetables. Broccoli has a more than 60% absorption rate, almost double that of milk, and sweet potatoes match the absorption fraction of milk. There are also other options such as calcium-fortified soy milk, 100-percent juice, and even plain old beans.
Don’t assume that milk is the best source of calcium; instead, try eating unrefined plants and basing your diet around a variety of healthy, seasonal vegetables. Your teeth will benefit from the best possible calcium fix!
Victoria contributed this guest post for the Glebe Dental Group. Victoria is a freelance writer. She enjoys writing on dental hygiene.