Don’t you drink milk? Here’s how to get enough calcium and other nutrients you need

Cow’s milk is this an excellent source of calcium which along with vitamin D is necessary for build strong, dense bones.

Milk also contains protein, minerals phosphorus, potassium, zinc and iodine, as well as vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin) and B12 (cobalamin).

As a kid, I used to drink a lot of milk. Every morning it was delivered in half-liter bottles to our steps. I also drank a third of a pint before going to class within Free school milk program. I still love milk, which makes it easy to get enough calcium.

Of course, a lot of people do not drink milk for a number of reasons. The good news is that all the necessary calcium and other nutrients can be obtained from other foods.

The man drinks milk

Which foods contain calcium?

Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt rich in calcium, while non-dairy foods, including tofu, canned fish with bones, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, contain varying amounts.

Some foods are fortified with added calcium, including some breakfast cereals and soy, rice, oatmeal and nut “milk”. Check their food label nutrition information panels to see how much calcium they contain.

However, it is your body has a harder time absorbing calcium of non-dairy products. Although your body absorbs better calcium from plant foodsas well as if your overall calcium intake is lowthe overall effect means that if you don’t have dairy foods, you may need more calcium-containing foods to maximize bone health.

Fried tofu

How much calcium do you need?

Depending on your age and gender daily calcium requirement range from 360 milligrams per day to over 1000 mg for adolescents and older women.

One cup of cow’s milk with a volume of 250 ml contains about 300 mg of calcium, which is equivalent to one standard serving. This the same amount is found in:

  • 200 grams of yogurt
  • 250 ml of vegetable milk enriched with calcium
  • 100 grams of canned pumpkin with bones
  • 100 grams of solid tofu
  • 115 grams almonds.

The recommended number of daily servings dairy and non-dairy alternatives are different:

  • children should have 1 to 3.5 servings per day, depending on age and gender
  • women aged 19 to 50 should have 2.5 servings a day, then 4 servings over the age of 50
  • men between the ages of 19 and 70 should have 2.5 servings a day, then 3.5 servings if over the age of 70.

However, average consumption in Australia is only 1.5 servings a day, with only one in ten achieving recommendations.

What other nutrients do you need?

If you don’t drink milk, the problem is to get enough nutrients for a balanced diet. Here’s what you need and why.


Food sources: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and tofu.

Needed for cell growth and repair, as well as for the production of antibodies, enzymes and specific transport proteins that carry chemical messages throughout the body.


Food sources: meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dried beans and lentils.

Builds bones and teeth, supports cell growth and repair and is needed for energy production.

Whole grain bread

Whole grains are a source of phosphorus, zinc and vitamin B12.


Food sources: green leafy vegetables (spinach, beets, cabbage), carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, beans and peas, avocados, apples, oranges and bananas.

Needed for cell and nerve activation. Maintains fluid balance and helps with muscle contraction and blood pressure regulation.


Food sources: lean meat, chicken, fish, oysters, legumes, nuts, whole grains and whole grains.

Helps with wound healing and the development of the immune system and other important functions in the body, including taste and smell.

Bowl with chickpeas

Legumes, such as chickpeas, contain protein and zinc.


Food sources: fish, shrimp, other seafood, iodized salt and commercial bread.

Needed for normal growth, brain development and used by the thyroid gland to produce the hormone thyroxine, necessary for growth and metabolism.

Vitamin A

Food sources: eggs, oily fish, nuts, seeds. (The body can also produce vitamin A from beta-carotene in orange and yellow vegetables and green leafy vegetables.)

Needed for antibody production, maintaining healthy lungs and intestines, and for good eyesight.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Food sources: whole grain breads and cereals, egg whites, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, yeast spreads, meat.

Needed to release energy from food. Also supports healthy eyesight and skin.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)

Food sources: meat, eggs and most animal products, some enriched vegetable milk and enriched yeast spreads (check the label).

Needed to make red blood cells,[{” attribute=””>DNA (your genetic code), myelin (which insulate nerves) and some neurotransmitters needed for brain function.

When might you need to avoid milk?

Reasons why people don’t drink milk range from taste, personal preferences, animal welfare or environmental concerns. Or it could be due to health conditions or concerns about intolerance, allergy, and acne.

Milk Lactose Intolerance Stomachache

Lactose intolerance can cause bloating and pain.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk. It’s broken down in the simple sugars by an enzyme in the small intestine called lactase.

Some people are born without the lactase enzyme or their lactase levels decrease as they age. For these people, consuming foods containing a lot of lactose means it passes undigested along the gut and can trigger symptoms such as bloating, pain, and diarrhea.

Research shows small amounts of lactose – up to 15 grams daily – can be tolerated without symptoms, especially if spread out over the day. A cup of cow’s milk contains about 16 grams of lactose, while a 200g tub of yogurt contains 10g, and 40g cheddar cheese contains less than 1g.

Cow’s milk allergy

Cow’s milk allergy occurs in about 0.5-3% of one year olds. By age five, about half are reported to have grown out of it, and 75% by adolescence. However, one survey found 9% of pre-school children had severe allergy with anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy include hives, rash, cough, wheeze, vomiting, diarrhea, or swelling of the face.

Symptom severity varies, and can happen immediately or take a few days to develop. If a reaction is severe, call 000, as it can be a medical emergency.


The whey protein in cow’s milk products, aside from cheese, triggers an increase in insulin, a hormone that transports blood sugar, which is released into the bloodstream.

Meanwhile, milk’s casein protein triggers an increase in another hormone, called insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which influences growth.

These two reactions promote the production of hormones called androgens, which can lead to a worsening of acne.

If this happens to you, then avoid milk, but keep eating hard cheese, and eat other foods rich in calcium regularly instead.

While milk can be problematic for some people, for most of us, drinking milk in moderation in line with recommendations is the way to go.

Written by Clare Collins, Laureate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle.

This article was first published in The Conversation.The Conversation Don’t you drink milk? Here’s how to get enough calcium and other nutrients you need

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