Which Milk Is Best For Bones?

Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021

Grocery store aisles are stocked with multiple different types of milk — from low-fat and skim milk to plant-based alternatives like almond and soy milk. While most types of milk have some calcium in them, their particular nutrition profiles can be very different.
Grocery store aisles are stocked with multiple different types of milk — from low-fat and skim milk to plant-based alternatives like almond and soy milk. While most types of milk have some calcium in them, their particular nutrition profiles can be very different.

There's no doubt milk is an essential component of a healthy diet. It is an excellent source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly, calcium. Calcium supports bone health and structure and keeps your bones rigid, strong, and resilient. It helps bones grow in childhood, maintains flexibility in adulthood, and lowers the risk of osteoporosis in older adults. Calcium is also the most abundant mineral in our body and over 98% of it is stored in the bones. The National Institute of Health recommends a daily dietary allowance of 1000 mg for adults under 50, and 1200 mg for older adults.

Today, grocery store aisles are stocked with multiple different types of milk — from low-fat and skim milk to plant-based alternatives like almond and soy milk. While most types of milk have some calcium in them, their particular nutrition profiles can be very different.

Nutrients in milk

Cow milk is composed of a good balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is also a great source of many essential nutrients like:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamins A and D
  • Phosphorus
  • Riboflavin
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Zinc

These minerals and high-quality mixed proteins boost bone formation and improve the body's enzyme functions. To get a quick overview of the major nutrients in your milk, check the "Nutrition Facts" product labels on milk cartons.

Types of milk

Different types of milk contain different nutrients. They may also undergo different processing methods during manufacturing. Some sellers add additional vitamins and minerals to the milk.

Whole milk

Whole milk from cows was the gold standard for healthy and nutritious milk for decades. It is composed of about 88% water, 5% carbohydrates, 3% protein, 3% fat, and a considerable amount of minerals like potassium and phosphorus. An 8-ounce cup of whole milk has 276 mg of calcium, or 27% of your daily value. Whole-fat or full-fat milk also has significant saturated fats. The specific composition of whole milk depends on the breed of cow (Holstein or Jersey), its diet, and lactation stage.

Low-fat milk

Low-fat milk contains 1% fat as opposed to the 3.25% fat of whole milk. As fat has more calories by weight than any other nutrient, many dietitians and nutritionists recommend low-fat or skim milk options. Low-fat milk has a higher calcium content by weight than whole milk. An 8-ounce cup meets 29% of your daily value of calcium.

Skim or fat-free milk

Skim or no-fat milk has all of the milk fat removed from it. As a result, it has fewer calories and a higher percentage of calcium by weight. An 8-ounce cup of skim milk contains 325 mg of calcium, which is nearly a third of the daily adult calcium requirement. Skim milk also has higher amounts of vitamins than whole milk because of fortification.

Almond milk

Almond milk is a plant-based milk made by grinding almonds into an emulsion. When unsweetened it has much lower calories and sugar compared to whole milk. Almond milk is also lactose-free and full of nutrients like iron, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and magnesium. It is naturally high in calcium and is fortified with it as well. This makes almond milk a much better source of calcium than cow's milk.

Soy milk

Soy milk is made by suspending fine particles of soy flour in water. It is a good source of protein, Vitamin A, and potassium and contains very little saturated fat. Soy milk is not naturally high in calcium but can be fortified to improve nutrition value. However, soy milk is not suitable for people who are allergic to soy in any form.

Rice milk

Rice milk is made from milled rice (white or brown) and is the milk least likely to cause allergies. It is an excellent option for people who are sensitive to dairy, soy, or nuts. Rice milk needs to be fortified in order to be a good source of calcium and vitamins. It is low in protein but high in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories.

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is the newest addition to plant-based milk products in the US. It is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, which is related to the cannabis plant. Hemp milk only contains trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and will not cause a "high." Hemp milk is by far the best alternative milk source of calcium. One 8-ounce serving contains 450 mg of calcium, which is 45% of the recommended daily allowance.

Pea milk, oat milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk are a few of the other varieties of milk available in the market today. They have different nutritional compositions and are usually fortified with several micronutrients.

Which milk is healthiest?

Drinking milk is a great way to fulfill day-to-day dietary requirements, thanks to its rich nutrient profile and high calcium content. But the choice of the best milk for your bones depends on personal diet habits, body composition goals, and potential risks or allergies. Look into organic, plant-based alternatives that provide a diverse range of nutrients, including calcium. If you prefer to stick to cow's milk, skim or no-fat milk is a great option that offers the same nutrients as whole milk without the fat and calories.

To add calcium to your diet, consider non-dairy sources like okra, collard greens, turnips, sardines, and dark leafy greens such as kale. Regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises like jogging or walking, is also crucial for maintaining strong bones.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021
References
FoodData Central: "1% LOW FAT MILK.", "Milk, nonfat, fluid, with added vitamin A and vitamin D (fat free or skim).", "Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D."

Mayo Clinic News Network: "Mayo Clinic Q and A: Dairy milk, soy milk, almond milk — which is the healthiest choice for you?"

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: "Calcium."

The Nutrition Source Harvard: "Calcium and Milk."

University of Florida IFAS Extension: "Plant-Based Milks: Hemp."