A calcium rich diet is important to support healthy bone development, especially up to the age of 30 when maximum bone production takes place. Milk and its products are considered good sources of calcium, especially because they also contain vitamin D, which is important for calcium absorption. They are also good source of vitamin A and potassium.
But theres a problem. Many people are lactose intolerant, and cannot digest milk properly, explains Rujuta Diwekar. Such people can easily meet their calcium requirements from non-milk sources such as nuts, figs, and certain fruits and veggies, she says.
Medical opinion of milk as an important source of calcium is divided. A Harvard study associated galactose, a sugar released during the digestion of milk, with damaged ovaries and ovarian cancer. Japanese researchers also suggest that milks hormone composition, due to modern production methods, increases the risk of hormone-related, including ovarian, cancers.
Some experts also believe that milk products, like other animal proteins, drain calcium from the bones during digestion. Others disagree, saying that the amount of calcium lost is insignificant in comparison to the overall nutritional benefits of milk.
What all experts seem to agree on is that just eating more calcium is not enough. You can improve your calcium absorption by increasing your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fats which aid the absorption of calcium. Similarly you can cut down on smoking, tea, coffee, and excess sugar or salt, all of which inhibit calcium absorption, explains Diwekar. Regular exercise and a healthy weight contribute to strong bones. Also, every person above 30 years of age should take a calcium supplement, she explains.
Verdict: Milk and milk products may contribute to strong bones, but are by no means indispensible.
Tip: If you loathe dairy, nothings lost. Get calcium from almonds, sesame seeds, ragi (finger millet), tofu, and soya milk. Vegetables such as amaranth, beans, broccoli, and okra, and fruits such as figs and oranges also contain calcium.