It’s Okay to Drink Your Calories When it Comes to Your Milk

  • Article
  • December 13, 2016

Like many teenage girls, I was focused on being thin, so I ate as little as possible and bought into the mantra “Don’t drink your calories.”

I stopped drinking milk and orange juice and drank only water. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30s and studying nutrition that I understood some beverages like milk can add calories to the diet, but also contribute beneficial nutrients.

When I was assigned to write a paper on osteoporosis, I learned that bone is built during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood – but especially during rapid growth of the teen years. Bone reaches its peak bone mass, between 20-30 years of age and starting around age 40, bone mass slowly declines. Achieving a higher peak bone mass early in life is associated with a reduced risk of developing osteoporosis later.  

When I realized my mistake, I began drinking milk with most meals and eating yogurt and cheese regularly – and serving these foods to my family. Though it’s never too late to make healthful lifestyle changes, I had not made the most of my opportunity to build bone by eating adequate calcium and getting enough exercise. By the time I had my first bone scan in my mid-40s, I was diagnosed with osteopenia, or low bone mass. Now I try to spread the word to parents, kids, teens and other health professionals about the importance of dairy foods and dairy nutrients like calcium, vitamin D along with physical activity for bone health.

Here are a few things to consider as you have conversations with clients, family and friends about the influence of calorie containing beverages on bone and overall health:  

  • It is important to not only consider total calorie consumption from beverages and foods, but also the nutrients they provide in order to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks like soft drinks, sweetened teas and fruit drinks provide calories from added sugars but few if any nutrients. Soft drinks can be bad for bones if they replace milk in the meal plans of children and teens.
  • Milk is an excellent source of calcium. Adequate calcium consumption and physical activity were ranked most important for peak bone mass development recently by the joint scientific position statement of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Nutrition.
  • Milk is the No. 1 food source of both calcium and vitamin D in the diets of children and adults.
  • If a child breaks a bone, use that event as an opportunity to talk about lifestyle habits that can improve bone health.
  • The Science Summary: Dairy and Peak Bone Mass discusses the scientific evidence supporting the role of dairy foods in bone health.