I’ve been dairy-free for well over a decade. Dairy is one of the first foods I eliminated when I began my path to healing from Crohn’s disease, as it’s highly aggravating to the digestive tract and to those with autoimmune conditions. And my bones haven’t crumbled. Calcium is synonymous with good bone health and, yes, calcium is important for our bones. But the truth is, there are many other vitamins and minerals that are left out of the conversation.
We can eat a ton of dairy and if we don’t consume the supporting nutrients, we may still deplete our bone health. We don't need milk or cheese or yogurt to be healthy. It's actually quite the opposite: dairy consumption is becoming dangerous to our health. I’m glad to see that our government here in Canada has removed dairy products as ‘essentials’ in its updated food guide, and yet the notion that dairy is important for good health is still entrenched in our culture.
Let’s get into a few more details about calcium and bone health, what you need for strong bones, and how you can achieve this without dairy products.
But don't we need milk to build strong bones?
If only it were that simple.
Yes, our bones are made mostly of calcium. And yes, milk contains a lot of calcium. But does that mean that drinking milk makes our bones stronger? Nope.
Here's the thing: In westernized countries, we consume the most calcium, but we have the highest rates of osteoporosis. A study of 78,000 nurses found that women who drank more than one glass of milk per day had a 45 percent greater chance of hip fractures compared to those who drank far less.
This isn't new news, either – scientists have known this for some time. In 1986, a Harvard researcher produced a graph that demonstrated a nearly direct relationship between calcium intake and hip fractures. The higher the calcium intake, the greater risk of fractures.
So what's the problem here?
We're getting enough calcium in our diets, but our lifestyles are causing us to lose calcium faster than we can possibly take it in.
Lifestyle Factors that Affect Bone Health
These lifestyle factors include:
Vitamin D Deficiency
If we don't get enough Vitamin D, our bones can become thin and brittle. Adequate Vitamin D levels are absolutely essential for absorbing calcium from our food, getting it into our kidneys, and turning that calcium into healthy bones and teeth. So get some sunshine or take a supplement, if needed.
A Lack of Exercise
Exercise is important for building muscles, but it actually builds your bones, too. When you exercise, it creates pressure up against your bones, stimulating your body to build them back up stronger than ever. Unfortunately, most of us are spending far too much time sitting (often in front of a computer screen). Simple resistance exercises like biking, walking and swimming are a good place to start.
Low Stomach Acid
One of the risks of taking too many antacids is bone fractures. Those antacids reduce our stomach acid levels, which are essential for absorbing minerals – including calcium.
If you have low stomach acid levels, all the calcium in the world isn't going to help your bones. If you suspect you might have low stomach acid, these are some fantastic ways to address it.
Both physical and mental stress have been shown to influence bone mass and function through the hormones we release when under stress. Stress can increase our risk of bone fractures and developing osteoporosis.
When you're stressed out, your body becomes more acidic. It needs minerals to balance out this acidity to become more alkaline once again. You know what's a great source of minerals in your body? Your bones. So your body eats them up. You know what else makes your body acidic? Foods like refined sugars, excessive grains and, you guessed it, dairy.
Your morning (and afternoon, and evening) latte is compromising your bone health. You may have heard that coffee is a diuretic (meaning it makes you pee a lot). This is true, but the problem with diuretics goes beyond the fact that they dehydrate you. All that extra pee is filled with minerals your body can't afford to lose, including calcium. Swapping your usual java with this coffee-free, dairy-free, calcium-rich latte is a delicious solution to this issue.
Do Babies and children Need Milk?
Breastfeeding or baby formula is recommended as the exclusive source of food up until 4 to 6 months when parents can begin food introductions. Cow's milk allergies are one of the most common allergies in children, and dairy is linked to children's dermatitis and lactose intolerance. Once babies, toddlers and children are eating food and have a varied diet, they will be getting the calcium they need for good bone health. If your child can eat food, they don’t need milk or dairy products.
Want To Learn More?
Check out these resources:
- Listen: Is Dairy Healthful or Harmful – Exploring Truths and Myths
- Read: The Great Lie About Dairy
- Website: Godairyfree.org
How do I get more calcium and improve bone health without milk?
Don't get me wrong – getting calcium in your diet is important. If you're consuming a varied plantiful diet and are digesting it properly, you really don't have a lot to worry about. The same goes for your kids! Check out these calcium-rich powerhouse foods:
- Collards (1 cup boiled) – 357 mg of calcium
- Rhubarb (1 cup cooked) – 348 mg of calcium
- Black-eyed peas (1 cup cooled) – 211 mg of calcium
- Kale (1 cup boiled) – 179 mg of calcium
- Sesame seeds/ Tahini (1 tbsp) – 64 mg of calcium
- Sardines (3 oz.) – 325 mg of calcium
- Spinach (1 cup boiled ) – 291 mg of calcium
- Turnip greens (1 cup boiled) – 249mg of calcium
A few awesome recipes using these calcium-packed ingredients:
- 8 Kale Chip Recipes and How to Make the Best Kale Chips
- Simple Kale Salad
- Strawberry Rhubarb Butter
- Green Mojito Smoothie
- Homemade Hummus
- Gluten-Free Baked Salmon Cakes
- Curried Caper Tahini Dressing
Dairy products aren't a health food, and can be aggravating for those dealing with health challenges. When you start to see food industries gripping too tightly to questionable habits, it's always important to look at what is behind it, who is funding the studies and what the real motivation is. Most often, and sadly, it's rarely about our health.