Drinking Milk Makes You Taller: Truth Or White Lie?

A few cups of milk can’t make you taller if you’re in your 30s. But diet can impact as much as 20 to 40 percent of adult height in growing children, teens, and young adults. The protein, calcium, vitamins A, and D in milk ensure the daily recommended nutrient intake needed for bone growth. It acts as a convenient, one-shot source of all these vital nutrients.

“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.

Milk Can Help You Grow Tall Only Until Your Early 20s

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. 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.

Childhood Nutrition May Determine 20 To 40% Of Your Height

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. Children who are undernourished and underweight tend to be shorter than others their age.

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.

So why does milk intake matter? The answer stems from the nutritive value of this dairy food.

Milk Contains Nutrients Vital For Bone Growth

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.

Nutrient Food Source Amount In 1 Cup Recommended Daily Intake Daily Value (%)
Calcium Whole milk (3.25% milk fat), no added vitamins A and D    276 mg
  • 1,300 mg for 9–18 yrs
  • 1,000 mg for 19–30 years old
  • 21.2% for 9–18 yrs
  • 27.6% for 19–30 yrs
Calcium Reduced-fat (2% milk fat) milk, fortified with vitamins A and D 293 mg
  •  1,300 mg for 9–18 yrs
  • 1,000 mg for 19–30 years old
  •  22.5% for 9–18 yrs
  • 29.3 for 19–30 yrs
Vitamin A Whole milk (3.25% milk fat) no added Vitamin A and D 112 RAE
  • 600 mcg RAE for 9–13 yrs
  • 900 mcg RAE for 14–18 yrs(male)
  • 700 mcg RAE for 14–18 yrs(female)
  • 18.6% for 9–13 yrs
  • 12.4% for 14–18 yrs(male)
  • 16% for 14–18 yrs(female)
Vitamin A Reduced-fat (2% milk fat) milk fortified with vitamins A and D) 134 RAE
  • 600 mcg RAE for 9–13 yrs
  • 900 mcg RAE for 14–18 yrs(male)
  • 700 mcg RAE for 14–18 yrs(female)
  •  22.3% for 9–13 yrs
  • 14.8% for 14–18 yrs(male)
  • 19.1% for 14–18 yrs(female)
Vitamin D Whole milk (3.25% milk fat), no added Vitamin A and D 5 IU
  • 600 IU for 9– 30-year-olds
  •  0.83% for 9–30 yrs
Vitamin D Reduced-fat (2% milk fat) milk, fortified with vitamins A and D) 120 IU
  • 600 IU for 9– 30-year-olds
  • 20% for 9–30 yrs
Protein Whole milk (3.25% milk fat), no added vitamins A and D 7.69 gm
  • 0.5 gm protein per pound of body weight age, 11–14 years (slight reduction thereafter till adulthood)
  •  15.38% for 11–14 years
Protein Reduced-fat (2% milk fat) milk, fortified with vitamins A and D 8.05 gm
  • 0.5 gm protein per pound of body weight age 11–14 years (slight reduction thereafter till adulthood)
  •  16.1% for 11–14 yrs

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. Vitamin A promotes bone growth while vitamin D helps with preserving bone strength. 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.

Milk Works As A One-Shot Source Of These Nutrients

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.

Milk Is Better Than Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes For Your Height

Not all milk is created equal. What one study has found is that swapping out your plain old-fashioned milk for a dairy substitute may adversely impact your height. Researchers found that consuming cow’s milk may add more height than if soy milk or almond milk were consumed. For instance, in a toddler of about 3 to 4, having three cups of non-dairy milk would make them about half an inch shorter than a peer who drank an equivalent amount of cow’s milk daily. Why the difference? Because these alternatives to cow’s milk or traditional dairy milk contain less protein and fat cup for cup. Which means there are fewer nutrients going in that can support height.

Remember, 60 To 80% Of Your Height Is Still Connected To Genetics

While nutrition has a role to play, remember it is but one piece of the puzzle and not the most significant. Your genes are the major factor in determining skeletal growth, and not, as you may imagine, nutrition. In fact, according to some researchers, 60 to 80 percent of your height is attributable to genetics. Others have suggested a number of 70 to 90 percent.

Of the multitude of genetic inputs possible, the ones linked to the growth plate are of greatest importance. Scientists have found that of 60,000 genetic variants that are connected to height, around 900 of them impact your bone development and height.

Genes, Hormones, Health, And Medications Also Impact Height

In addition to genetics and nutrition, some other factors play a role in determining your height as an adult.24

For a growing child, hormonal imbalances like insufficient growth hormone or low thyroid levels can also cause stunted growth.

Having chronic illnesses like celiac disease in childhood that go untreated, severe arthritis, and cancer can cause a child to be shorter than they should be.

Certain syndromes can also cause a variation in height. For instance, Marfan syndrome can mean you grow taller than normal and Turner syndrome or Down syndrome can mean you are generally shorter.

Taking medications like corticosteroids for a prolonged period can also slow growth.

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