“Drink up your milk or you won’t grow taller and stronger!” – our childhood memories would be incomplete without that daily chant. While this dairy food is quick and easy to consume and loaded with nutrients that your growing body needs, how much of a role does it play in determining your height? Can milk drinking help even adults grow taller? Here’s the story behind your parents’ favorite food mantra.
If you are an adult and have already stopped growing, no amount of milk drinking will make you taller. That’s because your growth plates, the region of growing tissue found close to the end of long bones in both children and teens, seal themselves off as your bones simultaneously harden. This happens when you are between 18 and 25 years old and indicates the halting of further growth.1 However, if you are a child, a teen, or in your early 20s, nutrition including milk intake can make a difference.
Milk intake has been seen to positively influence height gain in pubertal children. A study on adolescent girls’ height linked it to parents’ height as well as milk intake. Another study on prepubertal subjects found that those consuming a lot of calcium-enriched foods had a height gain of 2.5 cm over a 3-year period than those who consumed low amounts of such foods. Your height is a result of your skeletal or bone growth. Studies suggest that daily intake of milk can help significantly increase mineral bone density, aid bone formation, and suppress the loss of bone mass.
While nutrition alone doesn’t determine your height, it is certainly a key factor. Some estimates suggest that as much as 20 to 40 percent of your height is determined by non-genetic factors, of which nutrition is a major component.4 Children who are undernourished and underweight tend to be shorter than others their age.5
It is important to build strong bone mass in your childhood to see you through your adults years and also to help with growth – including your height. Aim at a balanced nutritious diet that includes adequate protein, fat, and carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals alongside sufficient caloric intake.6
So why does milk intake matter? The answer stems from the nutritive value of this dairy food.
Here’s a quick look at the vital nutrients in a cup of whole milk, 3.25% milkfat, without added vitamins A and D and a cup of reduced fat (2% milk fat) milk fortified with vitamins A and D against the recommended daily intake for teenagers and young adults.
While taking milk can’t override genetic and other environmental factors like medications or health problems like low growth hormone levels, it can prevent your losing out on some inches due to childhood malnutrition. Specifically, for normal healthy growth to your full genetic potential, you need a proper supply of protein in your diet. In addition, vitamins A and D, and mineral calcium influence how tall you will grow.17 Vitamin A promotes bone growth while vitamin D helps with preserving bone strength.18 Milk and other dairy products are also the most readily available sources of calcium which is a major building block for your bones. So milk basically combines all the vital nutrients you need for growth
No-fat and low-fat milk contain very little of both vitamins A and D, so the fortified version is good for those targeting a higher intake.
Aim to consume a cup a day to round off a balanced diet. Ultimately, you need to be hitting the recommended level numbers every day whether it is from milk or other food sources. Adjust this amount up or down depending on what else you’re eating.
Is milk the only way to get these nutrients? No. But is it the easiest way to get the combination of nutrients you need quickly and conveniently? Yes. For instance, you’d need to have a combination of protein from legumes, tofu, poultry, eggs, and meat. And then have spinach, sweet potatoes, red peppers, carrots or beef liver, herring, and eggs for vitamin A. For vitamin D, you’d need to get lots of sunshine plus increase dietary intake of fatty fish, fortified foods, eggs, and cheese. Calcium would have to be consumed from fish, fortified cereals, vegetables like spinach or okra, bok choy, or yogurt. Most of these foods – even those that contain multiple nutrients – need cooking. Milk, on the other hand, is easy to grab and go and has no prep time at all! Of course, if you’re vegan, you will need to put in this extra effort to eat a healthy combination of foods and get these nutrients – but then, it is worth to get the nutrition you need.
Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.