The Milk Myth


Did you know that the United States has one of the highest intakes of calcium but also one of the highest rates of osteoporosis too? Considering that we are told to drink our milk to make sure we have strong bones, shouldn't this be impossible? 

A study of 78,000 nurses found that women who drank more than one glass of milk per day had a 45% greater chance of hip fractures compared with those who drank far less milk. There was also a study done in 1986 by a Harvard researcher that demonstrated an almost direct relationship between calcium intake and hip fractures (the higher the calcium intake, the greater the risk of fractures).

So what's the problem? 

It seems that we are getting enough calcium, but there are factors in our lifestyle that are causing us to lose it faster than we can take it in! It's also worth noting that many people don't actually tolerate dairy but we are so disconnected from out bodies that we don't notice it. In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, dairy intolerance can manifest as acne or even behavioral symptoms, especially in kids.

What kind of lifestyle factors are causing us to lose calcium?

  1. Vitamin D deficiency: If we don't get enough vitamin D, our bones can become thin and brittle. Adequate vitamin D is absolutely essential for proper absorption of calcium from our food, as well as getting it into our kidneys and turning it into healthy bones and teeth. So, go get some sunshine...and please, take a supplement if you need to!
  2. Not moving: Exercise is important for building muscles, but it is equally (if not more) important for building your bones, too. Weight bearing exercise causes our bones to be broken down and rebuilt n a proccess called remodeling. This helps our bones to adapt to new stressors (which is why you should start an exercise program gradually) and allows our bone to grow when we are children. 
  3. Low stomach acid: One of the risks of taking too many antacids is bone fractures. Aren't we told to take Tums as a calcium supplement? Yes, but they aren't helping! Antacids reduce our stomach acid levels. Stomach acid is crucial for absorbing minerals from your food...including calcium! If you have low levels of stomach acid, there is no amount of calcium that will help your bones. 
  4. How the foods you eat make you feel: When you experience stress, your body becomes more acidic and needs minerals to balance out this acidity. Guess what is a great (and relatively easy) source of minerals for your body to call on? Your bones. So stress essentially causes your body to eat your bones. Do you know what else makes your body acidic? Foods like refined sugar, excessive grains, and dairy.
  5. Coffee: You probably know that coffee is a diuretic (i.e. it makes you pee a lot). The problem with diuretics goes beyond the fact that they dehydrate you. All that extra pee is filled with minerals that your body really can't afford to lose...including calcium. I'm hard-pressed to give up my daily coffee...but, it's something to consider, especially if you already have osteoporosis. 

Where do I get calcium without dairy?

Getting enough calcium in your diet is important, but if you eat a variety of foods, you likely have nothing to worry about. The same concept applies your kids! The current recommendations for adults for calcium is 1000mg per day. 

The following foods are great sources of calcium:

  • Collards (1 cup cooked) – 357mg
  • Rhubarb (1 cup cooked) – 348mg
  • Black-eyed peas (1 cup cooled) – 211mg
  • Kale (1 cup cooked) – 179mg
  • Sesame seeds/ Tahini (1 tbsp) – 64mg
  • Sardines (3 oz.) – 325mg
  • Canned salmon (1/2 can) - 232mg
  • Spinach (1 cup boiled ) – 291mg
  • Turnip greens (1 cup boiled) – 249mg
  • Dried figs (8 figs) - 107mg
  • Almonds (20 nuts) - 72mg
  • Oranges (1 medium) - 65mg

So if you eat 1 cup cooked spinach, a serving of salmon or sardines, a serving of kale, some dried figs, and a handful of almonds you will get your 1000mg of calcium. This also illustrates how important a varied diet is in order to ensure that you are getting proper vitamins and minerals!