How Much Calcium is in Milk?

You know you need calcium for strong, healthy bones, right? And if you’re like a lot of Americans, you rely on milk for the bulk of your dietary calcium.

But how much calcium is actually in milk?

There are about 300 milligrams of calcium in each cup of milk, regardless of its fat content. But you, savvy shopper and consumer, may also be wondering if plant-based milk alternatives contain as much calcium as animal milk. Keep scrolling to find out.

Now, you may have heard rumors that cow’s milk can cause osteoporosis. Turns out that’s not true. Our resident bone health expert Lara Pizzorno, MDIV, LMT, MA, debunked that myth in this article.

Even so, cow’s milk isn’t your only option nowadays. There are many milk options from a variety of different sources to suit every dietary need. But how do these options stack up in the calcium department? Let’s find out!


Comparing Milk and Milk Alternatives:

Almond | Rice | Oat | Soy | Coconut | Goat and Lactose-Free Milk

NUTRITION COMPARISON PER 1 CUP

Calcium (mg) Protein (g) Total Fat (g) Sugar (g) Total Carbs (g) Calories (kcal)

300

7.99

9.0

11

11

161

300

8.0

5.0

12

12

123

300

8.0

2.5

12

12

102

300

8.0

0

13

12

86

300

8

8

12

12

160

Almond Milk (unsweetened)

0*

1.01

3.49

0

1.99

45

10

3

1.5

6

17

90

283

0.67

2.33

12.7

22

113

300

6.34

3.59

1.99

8.91

105

130

0.0

4.1

0.0

1.99

45.6

300

7.99

2.50

10.99

10.99

101

*You may have noticed the value of calcium in almond milk is 0. We thought that was strange too, but it turns out virtually all the calcium in almond milk is added by the manufacturer. You can read more about these “fortified milks” toward the bottom of this page.

Calcium in Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk has been the go-to source of calcium for decades. And despite the surge in popularity of milk alternatives, cow’s milk still dominates milk sales in the United States. Whole, 2%, 1%, and skim milk all provide similar amounts of calcium per cup — about 300 mg.

For reference, according to the National Institutes of Health1, the recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 mg for women under 51 and men under 71. For women over 51 and men over 71, it’s 1,200 mg.

Cow’s milk is high in calcium and contains 18 of 22 essential nutrients in one cup. That said, many people are allergic to two proteins found in cow’s milk: casein and whey. And even more people either can’t or have difficulty digesting the sugar in milk, called lactose.

Pros of Cow’s Milk Cons of Cow’s Milk

High in calcium

Lots of people are allergic to cow’s milk. Most commonly it’s because of two specific proteins– casein and whey

It contains 18 of 22 essential nutrients in one convenient glass

Not suitable for a lot of people with dietary restrictions or choices

Very versatile ingredient

Questionable practices. There are concerns over how some dairy farms produce cow’s milk

Calcium in Lactose-Free Milk

Lactose intolerance afflicts more than 3 million Americans and causes them to suffer from stomach cramps, bloating, and diarrhea when they consume lactose. It’s usually caused by a deficiency in lactase, an enzyme that breaks down the lactose (sugar) found in milk.

For those who are allergic or sensitive to the sugar in milk, lactose-free milk is a godsend. Food manufacturers add lactase to regular cow’s milk to make lactose-free milk. It smells, pours, looks, and even tastes like “real” cow’s milk, and contains the same amount of calcium (300 mg per cup) and nearly identical amounts of protein, fat, sugar, and calories compared to a cup of whole cow’s milk.

Pros of Lactose-Free Milk Cons of Lactose-Free Milk

Same nutritional profile, taste, consistency of cow’s milk

Slightly sweeter taste than cow’s milk

Easier to tolerate for those with lactose intolerance

Not suitable for those with dairy allergy

Calcium in Almond Milk

Some with sensitivities to dairy or opposition to consuming animal products turn to plant-based milk alternatives. Almond milk reigns supreme as the go-to milk alternative in the United States.

It’s made by blending almonds with water. The mixture then goes through a strainer to remove the pulp, which leaves the “milk” behind. Some almond milk manufacturers add thickening agents like carrageenan (a seaweed derivative). Watch out for sweetened versions of almond milk though. They have a lot of added sugar!

As for calcium content, there’s actually quite a lot of calcium in almonds, but it’s almost all lost during the manufacturing process. So many brands offer calcium-fortified almond milk, meaning they add extra calcium after the fact. Keep in mind that almond milk contains very little protein and, of course, is unsuitable for people with almond allergies.

Pros of Almond Milk Cons of Almond Milk

Very low in sugar and fat

Very little natural calcium and protein content

100% vegan

Not suitable for people with nut allergies

Contains no lactose. And lactose could be bad for your bones.

Often contains a lot of unnatural sweeteners (look out for unsweetened varieties)

Calcium in Rice Milk

Rice milk is a naturally sweet alternative to cow’s milk. It’s made by blending partially milled rice with water. And during this process, the carbohydrates in the rice break down into sugars — that’s where the sweetness comes from.

Rice milk contains about 283 mg of calcium per cup. Not far off the 300 mg of calcium per cup cow’s milk provides, but one cup of cow’s milk contains about 7 grams more protein than one cup of rice milk.

On a less sweet note, rice milk can contain traces of arsenic. You see, arsenic is present in the environment, and rice absorbs more of it than other cereal crops.

According to a report2 published in 2016 by the Food & Drug Administration, adults who limit their consumption of inorganic rice and rice products to 75 parts per billion would decrease the risk of developing lung or bladder cancer to between 17–79% (the exact percentage depends on what was consumed). Keep in mind the FDA estimates that only 39 cases of lung or bladder cancer per million people may be attributable to lifetime exposure to rice products.

In short, the risk of developing cancer from consuming rice products is quite small but more research on large populations should be conducted.

Pros of Rice Milk Cons of Rice Milk

One of the least allergenic milk alternatives

Provides very little protein

Naturally sweet flavor

Not suitable for infants

Low in fat

Contains a lot of carbohydrates, so may not be suitable for diabetics

Calcium in Oat Milk

Oat milk is made by mixing oats and water, milling the mixture into a fine consistency, then straining the liquid. Unfortunately, this process filters out many good-for-you nutrients, making pure oat milk a low-calcium, high-carbohydrate drink.

That’s why many oat milks are fortified to have as much as 350g of calcium per serving. But, as you’ll discover in the “fortified milks” section below, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Pros of Oat Milk Cons of Oat Milk

Suitable for those with nut or soy allergies

Only oat milk made with certified gluten-free oats is gluten-free

More fiber than cow, almond, soy milks

More calories and carbs and less protein than soy and cow’s milk

Vegan and lactose-free

Calcium in Soy Milk

As the name suggests, soy milk is made from soybeans. The milk is produced by soaking, grinding, and boiling the beans, then filtering the liquid.

Research shows that soy milk delivers the most balanced nutritional value3 of all cow milk alternatives. Plus, soy milk is naturally lactose-free.

However, unsweetened soy milk can be an acquired taste. Plus, soybean is the most genetically modified crop in the world. In fact, 94% of soy acreage in the United States is genetically modified4. And genetically modified organisms (GMO) are linked with health and environmental issues. So if you opt for soy milk, look for one that’s non-GMO Project Certified.

Pros of Soy Milk Cons of Soy Milk

Lactose-free

Soy is a common allergen

The most balanced nutritional value of all cow milk alternatives

An acquired taste

Contains lots of isoflavones, which improve blood pressure

Most soybean crops in the United States are genetically modified

Calcium in Coconut Milk

Coconut milk contains very little calcium and protein naturally. Used widely by keto and other low-carb dieters and those with nut allergies (fun fact: coconut isn’t actually a nut!), coconut milk that people drink can be fortified with vitamins and minerals.  

The type of coconut milk made for drinking is often referred to as “coconut milk beverage.” It’s different from the canned coconut milk you might use to make a coconut chia pudding or Thai curry.

Both canned coconut milk and coconut milk beverage are made from the white, fleshy part of a mature, brown coconut. The flesh of the coconut is shredded, simmered in water, and strained. The mix then separates into a rich, creamy layer and a liquid layer beneath. These two layers together are what you’ll find in canned coconut milk for cooking. But for “coconut milk beverage,” the creamy layer is skimmed off.

Coconut milk contains a lot of unsaturated fat compared to other types of milk, but it’s not all bad. That’s because coconut milk contains a type of fat called medium-chain triglyceride; one small study showed this type of fat may stimulate weight loss6. That said, consider using this type of milk in moderation.

Pros of Coconut Milk Beverage Cons of Coconut Milk Beverage

Contains healthy fats that can promote weight loss

The high-fat content can be an issue if consumed in large quantities

Fortified options often contain high amounts of vitamins A and D

Provides very little calcium and protein naturally

Coconut isn’t actually a nut, so allergies aren’t a common issue

Some of the thickening agents in coconut milk can cause digestive issues for some people

Calcium in Goat Milk

You might not think of goats when it comes to milk sources, but goat’s milk is widely consumed in many areas of the world. It has a distinct smell and taste, and can be a bit hard to find — its scarcity can mean a higher price tag.

And as far as nutritional value, goat’s and cow’s milk are very similar. In fact, the calcium values are almost identical (300 mg per cup). Goat’s milk tends to be easier to digest than cow’s milk because it has smaller protein particles and contains less lactose.

Pros of Goat’s Milk Cons of Goat’s Milk

Easier to digest than cow’s milk

Very distinct smell and taste

High in calcium

Harder to come by in supermarkets and is often expensive as a result

Less allergenic than cow’s milk


Fortified Milks

“Fortified” means the manufacturer has added an essential nutrient to a product.

Cow’s milk is typically fortified with vitamins A and D. Vitamin A is naturally present in cow’s milk, but it’s lost during the production of skim milk. Because vitamin A is such an important nutrient, manufacturers are actually legally required to add it back in. Vitamin D is not naturally present in milk, but it’s added in because it helps our bodies absorb the calcium in the milk.

It’s not just cow’s milk that can be fortified, though. The milk alternatives we’ve discussed on this page are often fortified too. These fortified milks contain added calcium to make their nutritional value similar to that of cow’s milk. But is it too good to be true? Check out the video below to find out.

The Takeaway

When it comes to the calcium content of milk, cow’s and goat’s milk provide the most. For people that can’t drink dairy because of allergies or dietary restrictions, milk alternatives like soy and almond milk are available.

These milk alternatives do offer certain benefits, but they contain less calcium. And calcium-fortified milk alternatives aren’t as promising as they may seem (see the video above).

That’s why you’re far better off getting your calcium from leafy greens like kale or bok choy. Or better yet, a plant-based calcium supplement like AlgaeCal Plus. This supplement provides all 16 nutrients your bones need to stay healthy and strong, including 720 mg of calcium per serving — more than double the amount in one cup of cow’s milk!

To discover other foods high in calcium (including many non-dairy options), check out our article, The Top Calcium-Rich Foods.

Sources

1

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

2

https://www.fda.gov/files/food/published/Arsenic-in-Rice-and-Rice-Products-Risk-Assessment-Report-PDF.pdf

3

Vanga, S.K., Raghavan, V. How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow’s milk?. J Food Sci Technol 55, 10–20 (2018)

4

https://www.nongmoproject.org/gmo-facts/high-risk/

5

Ramdath, D Dan et al. “Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein: A Review of the Effects of Dietary Soy and Its Constituents on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease.” Nutrients vol. 9,4 324. 24 Mar. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9040324

6

St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD, Jones PJ. Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obes Res. 2003 Mar;11(3):395-402. doi: 10.1038/oby.2003.53. PMID: 12634436