The Need for Calcium
Your body needs calcium every day in order for your muscles to work properly, and to maintain the calcium in your bones (that's what makes them strong and healthy).
But how much is enough calcium? The "conventional wisdom" is that every person needs 800-1500 mg of calcium per day. While it is important to get at least 400 mg every day, getting 2 or 3 times that amount has not been shown to be better for your health in any way. The World Health Organization recommends eating foods that contain about 400 mg of calcium per day. There are many scientific studies to support this recommendation.
Where should we get our dietary calcium from? The National Dairy Council ads seem to indicate that milk and dairy products are the best source of calcium. However, dairy products also contain animal protein and sodium that make your body actually lose calcium in the urine. Studies show that increasing the intake of dairy products has no effect on bone health. The best source of calcium is green leafy vegetables (like spinach or turnip greens). You can also get calcium from eggs, tofu (or other soy products), sweet potatoes, broccoli, oats and beans, and several other foods (mostly veggies).
A recent review article (Pediatrics, March 2005, Lanou et al) compiled data from 58 scientific studies, and concluded that there is little if any evidence to support increased dairy intake to promote bone health and strength. There were a few studies that showed a temporary increase in bone mineral density with increased dairy intake, but after a few years, the effect disappeared.
Is it OK to drink milk? Dairy products are a good source of protein and energy, and are healthy foods when eaten in moderation. Dairy foods also supply a certain amount of calcium. Drinking skim milk is much healthier for you than drinking too much juice or other sugar-loaded drinks. You just have to make sure that you are also eating foods that will provide enough calcium to help your bones stay strong, such as green leafy veggies!