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Milk or Green Leafy Vegetables: Which is Better for Calcium Absorption?

By Expert HERWriter
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Bones & Joints related image Photo: Getty Images

This weekend I was teaching a master’s of nutrition class and one of the questions that came up was, what is the best way to absorb calcium in the diet? The discussion revolved around whether vegetables or milk was a better way to get the calcium needed for good health and strong bones.

I find this to be a complicated question that is not answered by simply choosing either vegetables or milk. Here are the considerations I think about before answering this question.

If we start by looking at the calcium absorption differences between vegetables and milk, we find that there are several green, leafy vegetables that have higher absorption rates than milk. Dr. Fuhrman and Dr. Barnard, two physicians that have written articles about calcium absorption in foods, both share the following information.

Calcium absorption from milk is about 32 percent whereas some green, leafy vegetables have a calcium absorption rate of over 50 percent. Here are a few examples of the calcium absorption for vegetables:

Broccoli - 53 percent
Brussels sprouts - 64 percent
Mustard greens - 64 percent
Turnip greens - 52 percent
Kale - 40 to 59 percent

So while milk and dairy products have high amounts of calcium, only one-third of it is being absorbed. The green, leafy vegetables with higher absorption come very close to delivering similar amounts to the body as milk.

Another point about dairy products is that they, along with other processed foods and animal products, tend to produce a slightly acidic environment in the body. This cause calcium to be drawn out of the bones and into the body, where it gets excreted through the kidneys.

Green, leafy vegetables, like most other vegetables, tend to make the blood more alkaline which tends to cause calcium to remain in the bone matrix and continue to strengthen the bones.

When I take these two ideas together with the understanding that milk products, unless organic, generally contain steroids and growth hormone that further impacts or overall health, my recommendation is to use green, leafy vegetables as a better food source for calcium than milk products.

Live Vibrantly,

Dr. Dae

Dr. Dae's website: www.healthydaes.com
Dr. Dae's book: Daelicious! Recipes for Vibrant Living can be purchased @ www.healthydaes.com

Dr. Dae's Bio:

“Dr. Dae" (pronounced Dr. Day) Daemon Jones is a Naturopathic Physician who treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.


Bertron, Patricia , RD, Neal Barnard, MD, and Milton Mills, MD. "Racial Bias in Federal Nutrition Policy, Part I: The Public Health Implications of Variations in Lactase Persistence." Journal of the National Medical Association 91.3 (1999): 151-157. Print.

"Protect Yourself Against Osteoporosis | DrFuhrman.com." Dr. Joel Fuhrman Improves Health - Lose Weight Naturally | Reverse Diabetes | Prevent Heart Disease and Cancer | Lower Cholesterol. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2011. http://www.drfuhrman.com/disease/Osteoporosis.aspx.

Reviewed November 16, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment5 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

This is the calcium debate that I was wondering about. Thank you for the information. I found it extremely helpful and I will think about this when I make my smoothies.


October 13, 2017 - 6:22am
EmpowHER Guest

Well, milk is quicker and yummy and it will always be my pick for calcium.

April 24, 2017 - 5:47am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Yep it's good stuff for a baby cow. My mother grew up on a dairy farm. As a child we had milk cows so plenty of milk. My mother has osteoporosis after a life time of drinking milk. Milk does NOT do the body good. Certainly not cow's milk in a human body anyway. Look at the research. Highest rates of osteoporosis and brittle bone disease occur in countries with the highest milk consumption. We have been lied to for years.

October 9, 2017 - 8:56pm

I was diagnosed with osteopenia and have increased my dairy but after reading this article I think I will be increasing my green leafy vegetables instead.  I believe in natural calcium not tablets unless absolutely needed.

November 18, 2011 - 4:46pm

Very well written. I've often noted that cultures where dairy consumption is low, calcium levels are not an issue as long as they are getting plenty of leafy greens.

November 18, 2011 - 3:25pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.