Back in the day, it wasn't uncommon to find a fresh glass of milk poured beside dinner plates across America. For the sake of strong bones, we finished the glass—some more willingly than others. The glass of milk may have been a means to an end, but that end was more likely the promise of a dessert than the promise of increased bone density.
Human bones are constantly undergoing a regenerative process, by reabsorbing old bone and creating new. As a result, at any given moment our skeletal makeup is a healthy mix of old and new bones—about every 10 years, our entire skeleton is replaced. Bone loss occurs, however, when that mix becomes imbalanced. When more old bone is reabsorbed than new bone is created, our bodies become more at risk for fractures and breaks even when doing seemingly simple tasks.
Aging is a common cause of bone loss, especially in older women. But a range of other factors, including a genealogical propensity, can also threaten bone density.
Certain food and drinks can help prevent bone loss, and according to Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook, and a member of our medical expert board, cow's milk is the number one drink for preventing bone loss.
"Believe it or not, a simple glass of cow's milk is one of the best ways to keep your bones strong," says Goodson.
Goodson went on to point out that dairy foods remain the best source of calcium in the American diet, from milk to cheese to yogurt.
"One 8-ounce glass of milk provides you with 13 essential nutrients including approximately 300 milligrams of calcium," she says.
Beyond the bone-strengthening calcium, milk is fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per glass, which is essential for calcium absorption, explained Goodson.
"In fact, without adequate vitamin D intake, you only absorb about 10% to 15% of the calcium you take in from your diet," says Goodson. "Not to mention milk contains other nutrients that help with bone and tissue growth like phosphorus and high-quality protein."
Goodson also points to cow's milk as an especially affordable option and one that can be added to a diet in a variety of ways.
"Lattes, hot chocolate, and smoothies can all be made with milk to help you hydrate, as well as strengthening your bones," she concludes.
For more drinking tips, here's The #1 Best Juice to Drink Every Day, Says Science.