Where do you get your calcium from?

Zoe Mak
Zoe Mak |

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Hongkongers know that cow's milk is full of nutrients and helps strenghten bones and teeth among other benefits, but drinking it is another matter, writes Zoe Mak

A recent survey has shown that 60 per cent of Hongkongers do not drink milk regularly and that most teenagers stop drinking milk when they get older.

The survey was conducted by Chinese University's Telephone Survey Research Laboratory between March and April, which interviewed 1,001 residents aged 18 to 64.

Eighty-nine per cent of respondents recognised milk as one of the most important items in the nutrition pyramid, and as a source of calcium.

About 27 per cent of those who do not drink milk currently said they had when they were younger but had stopped during their teenage years. Taste was the main reason people cited for quitting milk and opting for other foods to get their calcium. Twenty-two per cent thought there was no need to drink milk.

Two readers talk to Young Post about their views on milk.

Salma Sheung Man-yam, 20, has quit milk since she started schooling, and says she has never liked it.

'Maybe that's why I'm so dark,' she says, adding that her family and friends believe drinking milk results in brighter, paler skin.

'I just don't like the taste - it's awful, it's sticky and makes me thirsty afterwards,' she says. 'But I've tried milk in Japan and in the US. The milk there tastes better.'

Sheung says she tried to drink more milk to stay healthy, including homogenised and skim milk. She says the worst was skim milk, and if she has to drink milk again, she will drink chocolate milk.

Matthew Ho, 13, also does not like milk much, but says he will drink it when he gets older.

'I quit milk long ago - I'm not a baby any more, I don't need milk,' he says. 'I'll drink it again when I get old and need calcium.'

He says his mother makes Chinese pork-bone soup (which is rich in calcium) for him almost every other day, and it tastes much better.

Young Post also conducted a Web poll of 171 readers recently on their milk habits. The result is almost opposite of what Chinese University found.

Forty-three per cent of respondents said they drank milk and knew it was good for them, and 36 per cent said they loved milk. Only 8 per cent said they did not like the taste of milk, and 7 per cent said they did not make a habit of drinking milk.

Registered Dietitian Spencer Tong says there is no proof that drinking milk can brighten the skin. He says calcium offers benefits other than making bones healthy. He says milk offers other nutrients and vitamins as well.

According to Tong, each person is recommended to have 1,000mg of calcium a day. Calcium strengthens bones and teeth. It also helps transmit nerve signals, regulate muscle activity and control blood pressure.

Milk also contains zinc, which promotes cell regeneration and growth; protein, which builds and repairs body tissues; vitamin B12, which maintains healthy nerve cells and red blood cells; and vitamin B2, which plays a key role in energy metabolism. Tong claims eating too much meat, protein, salt, preserved and processed foods, and having too much coffee can affect calcium absorption.

Food servings that contain 300mg of calcium

1 cup milk

1 piece firm tofu with calcium carbonate

1 cup high-calcium fortified soya bean milk

33 bowls Chinese bone soup

High-calcium day - with 1,275mg total


1 cup low-fat milk (300mg)

1 wholewheat sandwich with tomato and egg (30mg)


1 apple (10mg)


1 bowl vermicelli in soup with lean barbecued pork (23mg)

1 plate vegetable (kale without oil or sauce) (213mg)


1 cup high-calcium fortified soy milk (300mg)


1 bowl tofu, seaweed soup with lean meat (75mg)

3 taels steamed grass carp (43mg)

1 bowl fried Chinese white cabbage (213mg)

1 bowl rice (16mg)

1 orange (52mg)

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