Do We Need Dairy For Calcium?

Most Americans are raised to believe that cow’s milk, cheese, and yogurt are the only and best sources of calcium, yet research has consistently not supported this assumption.1  Historically and to this day, newspaper advertisements and television commercials repeat similar messages that milk builds strong bones, without evidence to support the claim.1 The table below demonstrates the difference between calcium found in animal products versus plants.  Although dairy products provide calcium, they are also the top sources of saturated fat in the American diet, contributing to chronic health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.2  A 2005 review published by the journal Pediatrics showed that drinking milk in fact does not improve bone strength in children.2 Plant-based foods, however, not only are pakced with calcium but antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties.


calcium and lifestyle medicine

Why Do We Need Calcium?

Our bones are constantly remodeling, meaning the body takes small amounts of calcium from bones and replaces it with new calcium, so it is essential to have enough calcium for our body to be able to complete this remodeling process. How is it possible that dairy products in fact do not lead to stronger bones? Healthy bones need calcium, but they need more than that, including vitamin K, which is very scarce in dairy products.2 However, plant based sources, provide both calcium and vitamin K, in addition to vitamin D which is also essential for our body to absorb the calcium we consume.2

Plant-Based Sources of Calcium

It is agreed that the key to bone health is adequate calcium intake, irrespective of dietary preferences. In fact, calcium intake can be adequate in a well-balanced plant-based diet. Some significant plant-based sources of calcium include tofu, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, brussels sprouts, collards, broccoli and kale.3 Additionally, plant-based products such as cereal grains or mylks may be fortified to also provide adequate vitamin D sources.3

Take Home Message

There are a combination of dietary recommendations and lifestyle factors that can increase bone integrity.2

•Eat calcium-rich plant foods like tofu, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, kale, beans and lentils.⠀
• Exercise regularly with walking, lunges, and weight bearing activities. ⠀
• Avoid tobacco.⠀
• Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.⠀
• Manage sodium intake by cooking most of your meals at home
• Minimize packaged foods and restaurant foods since they contain high amounts of sodium⠀
• Avoid excessive protein intake ⠀
• Aim to spend at least 20 minutes outside in the sun each day
• If you don’t live in a sunny area, you can get vitamin D from fortified non-dairy milks or a vitamin D3 supplement. ⠀

Take home message: Strong bones are built when you PREVENT calcium loss.⠀

Thank you to @leafyvibe who assisted me in this infographic creation. Check out her detailed  blog on How to go dairy free and Plant-based Cheese and Dairy Alternatives your family will love.



  1. Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: A prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(2):504-511. doi:10.1093/ajcn/77.2.504
  2. Nurses H, Study H. Health Concerns about Dairy Products. English J. 2007.
  3. Tuso PJ, Ismail MH, Ha BP, Bartolotto C. Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61-66. doi:10.7812/TPP/12-085