A frequently asked question is: “As a vegan, avoiding all animal products, including dairy products, where do I get my calcium?”A second and interlinked frequently asked question is: “If I don’t eat dairy products, won’t I end up with osteoporosis?”
Or, the combined question would be: “If I don’t consume dairy products, where will I get enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis?”
What osteoporosis is, and the role of calcium in its prevention, are discussed in detail in ‘How to Live to 100+ Years free from Symptoms and Disease,’ chapter 10 ‘Dairy Products, Osteoporosis and Calcium’, pages 89-96 (see homepage).
Calcium balance is the key. This is the interplay between the intake, absorption and excretion of calcium.
If we absorb more calcium in a day (from food and/or supplements) than we excrete, we will be in ‘positive calcium balance’.
‘Negative calcium balance’ is when we excrete more than we absorb. When this happens, our bones, the major storage site for calcium within the body, will release calcium to top-up blood levels. It is not necessarily a deficient intake of calcium that causes osteoporosis, but rather being in negative calcium balance day after day, year after year.
Our bodies absorb only 20-30 percent of the calcium we ingest.
The following influence the absorption of calcium:
- With increase in age, there is a reduction in stomach acid secretion, which reduces our ability to absorb calcium.
- Drugs that neutralise or inhibit the production of stomach acid similarly reduce calcium absorption.
- Alcohol reduces calcium absorption
- Oxalic acid, found for example in coffee, chocolate and some teas, also reduces calcium absorption.
- Exposure to sunlight stimulates the body to produce vitamin D, which increases calcium absorption.
- The calcium in leafy green vegetables is absorbed twice as well as the calcium in milk and other dairy products.
- Cooking food converts the organic minerals, including calcium, into the inorganic form, which are much less well absorbed. Pasteurisation of milk is sufficient to convert all the calcium to the inorganic form.
Inorganic forms of calcium, and all minerals and trace elements, are very poorly absorbed compared to the organic form. Hence the importance of raw foods (see my April 2007 newsletter ‘Cooked Food is Poison – Why Raw is Better’).
Some of the factors that influence calcium excretion are:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High protein intake
- An acid-forming diet (especially animal products)
- Excess sodium (salt) consumption
- Caffeine consumption
- Sucrose (sugar) consumption
- Cigarette smoking
- Phosphate and phosphoric acid intake
Details of these causes of increased calcium excretion are set out in Chapter 10.
My September 2005 newsletter ‘Acid/Alkaline Balance’ recommends a diet made up of dominantly alkaline forming foods. The more acid (waste from acid-forming foods) that has to be excreted through the kidneys, the more calcium will be ‘lost’. The calcium, which has buffered or neutralised the acid is excreted via the kidneys with the acid.
Dairy Products and Calcium
One nutrient stands out as especially abundant in dairy foods: calcium.
The Dairy Industry promotes its products as being high in calcium and thus essential for good health, especially in the prevention of osteoporosis.
To encourage people, preferably everyone, to consume their products, the Dairy Industry had to create fear. Fear that, without their products, uniquely concentrated in calcium, disease would develop – in this case osteoporosis, the disease of fragile bones. The Industry’s continuing promotion, at great expense, is to spread the myth that dairy foods are not only a healthy choice but are also essential to avoid becoming sick.
The National Dairy Council (USA) says: “To meet calcium recommendations, increased consumption of calcium-rich foods such as milk and other dairy foods, often is necessary. Unfortunately, few Americans consume sufficient calcium, thereby increasing their risk for major chronic disease such as osteoporosis.”
Dr John McDougall (February 2007) indicates that their fear mongering is working: “Today, the average person (USA) consumes more than 593 pounds of dairy products annually, compared to 522 pounds in 1983”.
I, and people like Dr McDougall and Dr Joseph Mercola, recommend against any consumption of dairy (cows milk) products, especially milk and cheese.
It is a fact that no animal in the wild, in its natural, native habitat, consumes milk after it is weaned – let alone the milk of another species.
Human milk has 32 mg calcium per 100gm of the whole milk. In comparison (dependent on fat content), cows milk has some 120mg calcium per 100gm, goats milk 133mg calcium per 100gm and sheep milk 193 mg calcium per 100gm. The high levels of calcium in cow, goat and sheep milk are for the rapid growth of the calf, kid or lamb (each of which reaches adulthood within a year or so) but are inappropriate for human requirements.
“Where does the cow get the calcium that is so high in her milk?”. The answer is, of course, obvious – from the grass she feeds on!
The vegetarian animals such as cattle, sheep and elephants grow into large beasts, with strong healthy bones and do not rely on dairy products to do so.
Where does Calcium Come from? Originally?
The source of all calcium is the soils of the earth. Animals do not eat soil. Plants absorb this basic element, present in watery solutions, through their roots and incorporate it into their various tissues – roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits.
The calcium in the soil is in its inorganic form. As it becomes incorporated into the plant, it is converted into its organic form.
Animals then eat the plants and obtain the calcium and all the other minerals and trace elements. Naturally, the quality of the soil determines the availability of the inorganic minerals and trace elements to the plants. Acting as the sole conduit, plants are loaded with minerals (especially with good ‘fertile’ soil) sufficient to grow the skeletons of some of the largest animals that walk the earth, like the elephant, giraffe, cow and horse. Since these massive bones can be formed from the raw materials of plants, we can assume there is sufficient calcium in vegetable foods to grow the relatively small bones of a human being.
Calcium is Essential
Calcium is essential for all living organisms. The average adult human body contains about 1 kilogram of calcium, 99 percent of it being in the skeleton in the form of calcium-phosphate salts. Calcium plays a crucial role in processes ranging from the formation of the skeleton to the regulation of nervous tissue and blood vessel function.
The three organs, the gastrointestinal tract, bone and kidney, are precise and efficient in regulating the amount of calcium in our bodies. The importance of correct calcium, and the factors that influence it, have been detailed above.
It is important to note that, if our diet is relatively low in calcium, then the cells of the intestinal tract will act more vigorously and absorb a higher percentage of calcium from food. At the same time, the kidneys will act to conserve the body’s calcium.
In Western countries, the usual calcium intake is 800-1000 mg/day. Promotion of the Dairy Industry would have us believe our intake should be 1000-1500 mg/day.
In many so-called developing countries, figures of 300-500 mg/day are found. Page 91 of ‘How to Live to 100+ Years free from Symptoms and Disease,’ sets out the fact that the lowest ranges of osteoporosis are found in certain African people, such as the Bantu. They consume 200-300mg of calcium per day. Similarly the Japanese, who consume 300-500mg/day, have very low rates of osteoporosis.
It is of interest that when these people, with the low intake of calcium and the lowest rates of osteoporosis, migrate to Western countries and adopt the dietary patterns of their new homes, their rates of osteoporosis rise to equal those of their new neighbours.
What the Dairy Industry has done is to put the spotlight on the nutrient calcium. As we will see, this mineral is easily obtained in sufficient amounts from a plant based, mainly raw, diet. By focussing on calcium, the Dairy Industry has effectively left the fat, cholesterol and protein – the life-threatening components of dairy foods – in the dark.
Whole plant foods easily meet our needs for calcium after infancy. Human milk is the necessary food during infancy, up to 2-3 years of age.
So, be reassured, you and your children (after infancy) cannot fail to consume sufficient calcium for all your needs, including pregnancy and lactation, from a natural plant-based diet such as set out in the Dietary Guidelines of ‘How to Live to 100+ Years free from Symptoms and Disease’.
A recent meta-analysis, published in the British Medical Journal (14th October 2006, page 736-743) found “The small effect of calcium supplementation on bone mineral density in the upper limb is unlikely to reduce the risk of fracture, either in childhood or later life, to a degree of major health importance”. The authors also state “Our results do not support the premise that any type of supplementation is more effective than another”. Their findings mean dairy products have no real-life bone-strengthening benefits. Even studies that used intakes of 1400mg of calcium per day showed no benefit.
An editorial accompanying this meta-analysis clearly pointed out that “Populations that consume the most cows milk and other dairy products have among the highest rates of osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life.”.
Another relatively recent review article, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (September 2000, page 681-689), looked at research on the effects of dairy products on bone health. The authors found 57 studies. Only 21 studies were considered to be of adequate quality to be worthy of inclusion in the review. Of these 21 studies, 12 (57 percent) showed NO significant benefit from dairy, 6 (29 percent) were favourable and 3 (14 percent) were unfavourable. Most of the 57 studies were funded by the Dairy Industry! Yet, with all their influence on the research, the Dairy Industry can not make a solid case to substantiate their claim that dairy products benefit, and are essential for, bone health and necessary to prevent osteoporosis.
Sources of Calcium
“As a vegan, avoiding all animal products, including dairy products, where do I get my calcium?”
“A plant based, preferably organic, and dominantly raw diet.”
It is true that there are different levels of calcium in the various non-animal foods.
The USDA Nutrient Database (see web reference nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data) has a comprehensive list of foods and their calcium content. The data also includes the fat, cholesterol, protein, magnesium, iron, fibre and energy characteristics of the foods.
The following is a sampling from this data, specifying the mg calcium per 100 grams serving of the whole food.
|975||Milk, goat||133||Macadamia nuts||85|
|Soybeans, raw||277||Mung beans||132||Lima beans||81|
|Almond nuts||248||Black beans||123||Pecan nuts||70|
|Milk, sheep||193||Milk, cows, non-fat||123||Lettuce, raw||68|
|Turnip greens||190||Pinto beans||121||Egg, whole||55|
|French beans||186||Sunflower seeds||116||Lentils||51|
|Kelp||168||Tomatoes, sun-dried||110||Chickpeas, cooked||49|
|Tofu||162||Peanuts, raw||106||Cashew nuts||45|
|Yellow (butter) beans||166||Chickpeas, raw||105||Peas, raw||43|
|Navy beans||155||Walnuts||104||Pumpkin seeds||43|
|Wakame seaweed||150||Broad beans (fava)||103||Mulberries||39|
|Figs, dried||144||Spinach, raw||99||Lettuce, cos||36|
|Kidney beans||143||Currants||86||Figs, raw||35|
|Parsley, raw||138||Rhubarb||86||Human milk||32|
Other foods, especially fruits and vegetables, have lesser amounts, and most have some calcium.
In addition to fruit and vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds (particularly sesame seeds), all beans, whole grains and legumes are all excellent sources of calcium.
A diet based on such foods also contains other minerals and vitamins essential to bone health, in the correct ratios required.
* Copyright 2007: The Huntly Centre.Back to the list Print friendly version