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Is Milk Good for Elderly? A Dietitian’s Expert Recommendations (2024)
Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Fact Checked And Reviewed By Adrian White, Certified Herbalist

By Michelle Saari MSc, RD, Registered Dietitian

Published On June 4, 2024

Geriatric Nutrition

Is Milk Good for Elderly? A Dietitian’s Expert Recommendations (2024)

There are many questions: Is milk healthy for seniors? This is a common dietary question that many caregivers and seniors themselves often ask.   Many grew up drinking it thinking that it was the right option, but is it? 

This article aims to provide expert insights from dietitians on the benefits and potential concerns of milk consumption for the elderly. By exploring both sides, we can better understand how milk can fit into a balanced diet for seniors.

Well, the good news is that yes!  Milk is a great option for elderly people to meet their calorie, protein, Vitamin D, and Calcium needs!  Elderly calcium intake can be greatly beneficial for their health.  Milk is a versatile drink that can promote good health and longevity as we age.

Here you’ll find out what benefits you can get from drinking milk!

Nutritional Content of Milk

Nutritional Content of Milk
Source: Unite Food Maven

In one glass of 2% milk there is 130 calories, 5 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 9 grams of protein, as well as a healthy amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Calcium and Potassium.

Milk is a rich source of several key nutrients that are essential for maintaining health in elderly individuals:

  • Calcium: Crucial for bone health, calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones weak and brittle. Adequate calcium intake is vital for maintaining bone density and strength.
  • Vitamin D: Works in conjunction with calcium to promote bone health. Vitamin D is also important for immune function and muscle strength. Many elderly individuals have low levels of vitamin D, making fortified milk a valuable source.
  • Protein: Essential for muscle repair and maintenance. As people age, maintaining muscle mass becomes increasingly important to prevent frailty and falls.
  • Potassium: Helps maintain proper function of cells and organs, particularly the heart. Potassium also aids in reducing blood pressure, which is a common concern in older adults.

Current dietary research supports the inclusion of these nutrients in the diet of elderly individuals to help maintain overall health and physiological balance. Studies have shown that adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D can significantly reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis in the elderly​ (The Geriatric Dietitian)​​​. Protein intake is also linked to improved muscle mass and strength, which is crucial for maintaining mobility and independence​ (eatright)​.

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Maintaining healthy bones is essential as we age in order to reduce our risk of falls and fractures.  A fall and fracture can lead to a loss of independence and increased risk of hospitalisation.

By having a good supply of protein, calcium and vitamin D, these help to build, repair and maintain healthy bones.  They can also support healthy muscle repair and growth in elderly individuals.

Different Types Of Milk

Type of MilkCalories (per 8 oz)Protein (g)Calcium (% DV)Vitamin D (% DV)Fat (g)Potential BenefitsPotential Concerns
Whole Cow’s Milk150830158High in protein, calcium, and vitamin DHigh in saturated fat
Low-Fat Cow’s Milk100830152.5Lower in fat, still high in essential nutrientsMay still contain some lactose
Skim Milk80830150Lowest in fat, high in protein and calciumMay still contain some lactose
Lactose-Free Milk120830155Suitable for lactose-intolerant individualsSimilar concerns as cow’s milk regarding fat
Soy Milk100730154High in protein, often fortified with calcium and vitamin DPotential allergens, some brands high in added sugars
Almond Milk60130152.5Low in calories, often fortified with calcium and vitamin DLow in protein, potential allergens
Oat Milk120325205Good source of fiber, often fortified with calcium and vitamin DHigher in carbohydrates, may contain added sugars
Rice Milk120125152.5Hypoallergenic, often fortifiedVery low in protein, higher in carbohydrates
Coconut Milk45010104Low in calories, often fortifiedVery low in protein, high in saturated fat
Hemp Milk80220155Contains omega-3 fatty acids, often fortifiedLow in protein, potential allergens

Notes:

  1. Calories, Protein, Calcium, Vitamin D, and Fat Content: The values are approximate and can vary slightly by brand and fortification levels.
  2. Potential Benefits:
    • Whole Cow’s Milk: Provides a good balance of macronutrients and micronutrients essential for elderly health.
    • Low-Fat and Skim Milk: Lower fat options that still provide essential nutrients.
    • Lactose-Free Milk: Suitable for those with lactose intolerance.
    • Plant-Based Milks: Suitable for those with lactose intolerance, allergies, or dietary preferences; often fortified to provide similar nutritional benefits as cow’s milk.
  3. Potential Concerns:
    • Whole Cow’s Milk: Higher saturated fat content may be a concern for those with cardiovascular issues.
    • Lactose-Free and Low-Fat/Skim Milk: May still cause issues for those with severe lactose intolerance or dairy allergies.
    • Plant-Based Milks: Often lower in protein compared to cow’s milk; potential allergens (soy, nuts); added sugars in some brands.
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Benefits of Milk for the Elderly

Benefits of Milk for the Elderly
Source: Considra Care

Milk is a wonderful addition to any elderly individual’s diet because it can be used in recipes, as a drink, blended in a smoothie, or with cereal.  Its versatility allows it to be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

Osteoporosis is a condition largely affecting elderly women, it means that they have porous bones which can put them at a very high risk of fracturing them.  The components in milk can help to prevent these pores from forming in your youth.  

In elderly people it can help to maintain good muscle strength in the legs to help maintain balance, and reduce these fractures from happening!

The best milk for seniors will vary based on their health conditions, but as a Registered Dietitian, I recommend that if people are able to drink cow’s milk, in general, a glass of 2% cow’s milk daily can be a great choice.

Potential Concerns with Milk Consumption

Potential Concerns with Milk Consumption
Source: Alliance America

While milk is a great drink option it’s not meant for everyone to consume.  Lactose intolerance in the elderly does occur, and it needs to be taken into account.  If you suffer from a lactose intolerance or a lactose allergy it’s best to steer clear of regular milk.  

But there are still good options for you even if you have one of those conditions.  Today they have lactose-free milk options in grocery stores, this can help to avoid the uncomfortable symptoms associated with lactose issues!

If you need help selecting the best milk option for you considering both lactose issues as well as if you’re trying to keep your fat intake down, it’s best to talk to a Registered Dietitian.  They can help guide you to the right options for your specific health needs.

Dietitian’s Recommendations

Dietitian’s Recommendations
Source: National Today

Incorporating Milk Safely and Effectively: Dietitians recommend that elderly individuals incorporate milk into their diet in a way that maximizes its nutritional benefits while accommodating any specific health concerns or dietary restrictions. Here are some specific guidelines:

  1. Daily Intake: Aim for 1-2 servings of milk or dairy products per day to ensure an adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. This can be in the form of a glass of milk, a serving of yogurt, or a piece of cheese.
  2. Timing and Pairing: Incorporate milk into meals and snacks. For example, add milk to oatmeal or cereal at breakfast, have a yogurt-based smoothie as a snack, or enjoy a cheese slice with whole-grain crackers.
  3. Low-Fat Options: For those concerned about fat intake, choose low-fat or skim milk to reduce saturated fat consumption while still obtaining essential nutrients.
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Alternatives to Cow’s Milk: For elderly individuals with lactose intolerance, allergies, or dietary preferences, several alternatives to cow’s milk are available. Here are some common options along with their nutritional profiles:

  1. Almond Milk: Often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, almond milk is low in calories but provides similar nutritional benefits to cow’s milk when fortified. It is a good option for those who prefer a plant-based diet.
Almond Milk
Source: Almond Milk

2. Soy Milk: Rich in protein and often fortified with vitamins and minerals, soy milk is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk and is an excellent alternative for those who need a higher protein intake.

Soy Milk
Source: Healthline

3. Oat Milk: Naturally creamy and often fortified, oat milk provides a good source of fiber and can be a nutritious alternative for those with multiple dietary restrictions.

Oat Milk
Source: Food and Wine

4. Lactose-Free Milk: For those who are lactose intolerant but prefer the taste and nutritional profile of cow’s milk, lactose-free milk offers all the benefits without the digestive discomfort.

Lactose-Free Milk
Source: Active Moo Farms

Nutritional Equivalence: When choosing plant-based alternatives, it’s important to look for those fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other essential nutrients to ensure they provide similar benefits to cow’s milk. Consulting with a dietitian can help determine the best choices based on individual dietary needs and health goals.

Conclusion

Milk can be a valuable component of elderly nutrition, providing essential nutrients that support bone density, muscle health, and overall physiological balance. While milk offers numerous benefits, potential concerns such as lactose intolerance and high-fat content should be considered.

Dietitians recommend incorporating milk safely into the diet and exploring alternatives like almond, soy, or oat milk for those with specific dietary needs. Personalized nutrition advice is crucial for optimizing health in elderly individuals. Therefore, consulting healthcare providers to tailor dietary choices based on individual health requirements is highly encouraged. Tailored advice ensures that nutritional strategies are both effective and appropriate, enhancing the overall well-being of elderly individuals.

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Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Written By

Michelle Saari MSc, RD

Registered Dietitian

Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full-time blogger with two elderly nutrition-focused health blogs.

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