Dancer Health

Should Dancers Avoid Cow’s Milk?


Adequate calcium is needed throughout one’s lifespan. We all know it is critical for strong bones, but it also plays important roles in soft tissues and muscle contraction. Adequate calcium has been shown to be associated with increased weight loss in people who are dieting. Vitamin D, also well known for its role in strong bones, is very important in immune function and disease prevention. The body prefers to get both from food sources and mega-dosing on supplements isn’t recommended for most people, although sometimes vitamin D supplements are needed for some people1. Dancers have been shown to be deficient in both.

There are plenty of great ways to get calcium and vitamin D without cow’s milk which can be highly reactive for some people with allergies or sensitivities. Cow’s milk can potentially increase risk for acne and eczema. Some research has linked casein (one of the protein’s in milk) to behavior problems in children and greater risk for autoimmune conditions2. The dairy industry has been cited for animal welfare abuses and it isn’t necessary to have dairy to get enough of these important nutrients. All of the meal and snack suggestions below are health promoting, tasty, easy, and budget friendly not to mention great for your bones.

Breakfast: Overnight oats

447 mg Calcium and 180 IU Vitamin D

In a small mason jar add ¼ cup dried rolled oats (not instant), 6 oz coconut or soy yogurt, ¼ cup fresh or frozen berries, 1 tsp chia seeds, and 1 tsp hemp hearts. Mix and let sit overnight in the refrigerator for a quick grab and go breakfast in the morning.  

Nutrition Note: You might want to add the chia seeds in the morning. They absorb liquid and change consistency overtime.

Snack: Bone (and brain) Building Smoothie

518 mg Calcium and 103 IU Vitamin D
1 cup berries
3-4 leaves kale (or any greens)
1 cup almond or soy milk
1 Tbs chia seeds
1 Tbs hemp seeds

Nutrition Note: There is a lot of mis-information on the web about soy products. The most recent quality studies indicate that soy products are breast and prostate cancer protective. Young women who eat soy starting in childhood have lower rates of breast cancer.   Soy does not act as a hormone in the body nor is in estrogenic. Stick with organic and non GMO soy and it’s always better to choose less processed foods.

Lunch: Spinach, Mushroom and Tempeh Wrap

318 Mg Calcium and 325 IU Vitamin D

Sauté mushrooms and sliced tempeh in 2 tsp coconut oil, when the mushrooms begin to cook down into their juices, add ½ tsp chili powder, ¼ tsp cumin, and ¼ tsp salt.   Add the spinach for the last minute of cooking and let it wilt.   Wrap everything in a flour or spinach tortilla for a quick lunch.

Nutrition Note: Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light have a tremendous amount more Vitamin D than those that don’t. Check package labels.

Tempeh is an ancient Indonesian food made from soybeans, it is frequently used in Asian cooking and is a beautiful source of calcium, phosphorus, and protein. It absorbs the flavors of whatever you are cooking so it is very versatile.

Snack:  ¼ cup Almonds and ½ cup Dried Fruit:

92 mg Calcium No Vitamin D

Nutrition Note: Add 8 oz of almond milk to this snack. Almonds are good sources of calcium and almond milk can be fortified with vitamin D. Check labels for vitamin D content. Eat your snack in the sunshine for vitamin D. 15 minutes of sunshine per day can really boost Vitamin D status. It’s not necessary to sit in the sun for a long time. There has to be middle ground between getting Vitamin D from sunlight and increasing risk for skin cancer.

Dinner: Black Bean burger on a bun with lettuce and tomato and avocado served with 1 cup garlic roasted broccoli.

134 mg calcium no vitamin D

Nutrition Note: many beans and peas are sources of calcium. Try garlicky black eyed peas with sautéed Swiss Chard as a topping for pasta as another calcium rich dinner idea.

Total Calcium for this sample day: 1509 mg (Most people need about 1300 mg/ day).

Total Vitamin D for this sample day: 608 IU (most people need 600-800 IU/ day, but some people can have needs as high as 1000-2000 IU. Check with you doctor before taking mega-supplements of vitamin D because excessive amounts can be dangerous).

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD Nutrition for Great Performances.

Emily Harrison
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at


  1. Campbell CT, Jacobson H. Whole: Rethinking the science of nutrition. BenBella Books 2013.
  2. Campbell CT, Campbell TM. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health. BenBella Books. 2006
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