The Connection Continues to Strengthen
What role do dairy foods play in bone health?
Dairy foods are an excellent source of several essential nutrients that work together to help protect bones, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and vitamin D. By enjoying three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese every day as part of an overall healthy diet, families, especially children and adolescents in their peak bone-building years, can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Do Americans get enough dairy foods?
No. On average, Americans are eating only about half (1.5 servings) of the dairy servings that they should consume daily.
Only one out of five Americans meets the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommendation for consuming three daily servings of dairy foods.1 Together milk, cheese and yogurt provide a unique nutrient package of nine essential nutrients that help Americans nourish their bones and improve overall diet quality.
Number of milk group servings consumed per day compared to recommended amount1
| 2-3 years
| 4-8 years
| 9-19 years
| 20-50 years
| 51+ years
| 2-19 years
||2 or 3|
| 20+ years
*Total Dairy equals servings of milk, cheese and yogurt.
Have recent studies reinforced the existing body of science showing a strong connection between dairy and bone health?
A substantial amount of studies continue to support dairy’s vital role in promoting bone health. Women are at an increased risk for osteoporosis, as 80 percent of those affected by the disease are women.2 Yet, close to nine out of 10 women (88%) ages 19 and up, fail to meet calcium recommendations.3
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that consuming calcium primarily from dietary sources rather than supplements affects estrogen metabolism and positively impacts bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.4 Another study from Oxford found that women who have low dietary calcium intakes have an increased risk of bone fractures.5 This research suggests that those at risk for bone loss should be encouraged to consume calcium-rich foods.
A recent study in Pediatrics6 on perceived milk intolerance and bone mineral content in young girls (ages 10-13) found that adolescent girls who thought they were milk intolerant consumed less calcium and had lower bone mineral content in the spine than girls who did not think they were milk intolerant. The long-term consequences of reduced calcium intake and lower spine bone mineral content may put them at an increased risk for osteoporosis later in life.7
Research shows dairy foods, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality8 and may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.8, 9, 10
What are the recommendations from bone health experts?
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)8 recognized that people who consume more dairy foods have better overall diets, tend to consume more nutrients and have improved bone health. The DGAs note that diets rich in milk and milk products can reduce the risk of low bone mass throughout the lifecycle. Regularly consuming milk products is especially important for children and adolescents who are building their peak bone mass and creating life-long habits.
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General called for all Americans to take action to improve and maintain healthy bones. He urged people of all ages to meet daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D with three glasses of low-fat milk each day.9
An American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report7 recommends children and adolescents drink three to four 8 oz glasses of milk per day (or the equivalent) to achieve the recommended adequate calcium and vitamin D intake. The AAP suggests getting calcium from dairy foods first such as milk, flavored milk, cheese and yogurt, with an emphasis on low-fat or fat-free varieties to help build strong bones and reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life. The report also stresses the importance of parental role modeling, physical activity and the call for pediatricians to regularly assess their patients’ calcium intake.
The best way to get the calcium you need is by eating and drinking foods that are calcium-rich. Milk and many other dairy foods are excellent sources of calcium; they offer a highly absorbable source of calcium per serving. Dark green, leafy vegetables also contain calcium, though it is not as readily absorbed as calcium from dairy foods. In a recent study, researchers found that women who got their calcium from food had healthier bones and higher bone densities than women whose calcium came mainly from supplemental tablets.4 In the American food supply, most of the calcium from food (72%) comes from milk and milk products.11
Nutrient comparison of cow’s milk, almond, rice and soy beverage12,13,14
*Indicates nutrient value to which cow’s milk is superior.
|Cow’s Milk, Fat-free
|| Rice Beverage
||Soy Beverage, Calcium-|
||8 fl oz
||8 fl oz
||8 fl oz
||8 fl oz|
| Calcium (mg)
| Potassium (mg)
| Phosphorus (mg)
| Vitamin A (IU)
| Vitamin D (IU)
| Vitamin B12 (mg)
| Riboflavin (mg)
| Niacin (mg)
| Vitamin C (mg)
| Iron (mg)
| Protein (g)
| Total Carbohydrate (g)
| Total Fat (g)
- National Dairy Council®, unpublished data based on the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES), 1999-2002.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2006. http://www.nof.org/osteoporosis/diseasefacts.htm.
- What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intakes; http://www.ars.usda.gov/foodsurvey.
- Napoli N, et al. Effects of dietary calcium compared with calcium supplements on estrogen metabolism and bone mineral density. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 85:1428-33.
- Key TJ, Appleby PN, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Neale RE, Allen NE. Calcium, diet and fracture risk: a prospective study of 1898 incident fractures among 34 696 British women and men. Public Health Nutrition 2007;10:1314-1320.
- Matlik L, Savaiano D, McCabe G, VanLoan M, Blue CL, Boushey CJ. Perceived Milk Intolerance Is Related to Bone Mineral Content in 10- to 13-Year-Old Female Adolescents. Pediatrics. September 2007. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/120/3/e669.
- Greer, F.R., N.F. Krebs, and Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics. Optimizing bone health and calcium intakes of infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics 2006;117:578-585.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2004.
- Heaney, R.P. Calcium, dairy products, and osteoporosis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2000;19 (suppl): 83s-99s.
- Hiza H, Bente L (2007). Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply, 1909-2004.Home Economics Research Report No. 57. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/publications/foodsupply/FoodSupply1909-2004Report.pdf.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20: http://www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata.
- Almond Breeze: http://www.bluediamond.com/retail/breeze/index.cfm.
- Rice Dream: http://www.tastethedream.com/index.php
Additional resources are available at www.nationaldairycouncil.org.
Call (312) 240-2880 for more information.