Whenever I enjoy a meal in a new company, I get asked some questions about my diet. One of the most frequent one is: “If you don’t eat dairy at all, how do you get enough calcium?” It seemed to me, that many of you are interested in this topic, so I decided to collect the most interesting facts and thoughts on this matter in my new post.
Is dairy really good for our bones?
You can hear more and more voices taking a stand against dairy. Some refer to evolutional reasons: humans have been evolving for millions of years, while we only started eating dairy about 10.000 years ago. We are the only species on the planet that consumes dairy in adulthood. It’s even more strange and unique to me that we consume milk and dairy products from other species. And really isn’t cow’s milk made for calves and goat’s milk made for goatlings?
Others warn about the huge difference in quality between raw and pasteurized milk: composition of milk might undergo subtle changed due to heat treatment, which may result in milk proteins and minerals becoming less available.
Milk has been advertised as the foundation of strong bones for a long time and this still generally considered as such. Luckily, between the pro and con sites, some randomized trials were carried out to investigate the relation between increased dairy consumption and bone health.
The answer of these studies is a very clear yes: increased dairy intake improved bone health in children (1,2,3), adults (4,5,6) and the elderly (7,8,9) without affecting blood fat levels or body weight in an undesirable way.
Is dairy the only solution?
What if someone can’t or won’t consume dairy products?
Many avoid dairy products for different reasons: for vegan people this is a matter of principle, and there more and more people living with lactose- or casein-intolerance. You can be sure that as resourceful and versatile nature can be, there have to be several ways available to obtain optimal bone health.
The simple solution would be to take some calcium supplements. However, I always think that it might be more fortunate to ensure our body’s needs from natural sources. Some studies warn about the possible link between taking calcium supplements – especially without vitamin D – and an increased risk of myocardial infarction (10,11).
On the bright side, a lot of our everyday food items contain more or less calcium. In the table below I made a list of foods highest in calcium: their calcium content /100g and their quantities equivalent to 1 cup of milk.
|mg Ca/100g||1 cup milk =|
|milk||100 mg||1 cup|
|kale||135 mg||178 g|
|sorrel*||113 mg||212 g|
|spinach*||99 mg||242 g|
|broccoli||47 mg||511 g|
|brussels sprouts||42 mg||571 g|
|kohlrabi||24 mg||1 000 g|
|beans||143 mg||168 g|
|lentils||56 mg||429 g|
|green beans||37 mg||649 g|
|green peas||25 mg||960 g|
|egg||53 mg||453 g|
|sardines**||382 mg||63 g|
|herring**||77 mg||312 g|
|nuts and seeds|
|poppy seeds***||1 438 mg||17 g|
|sesame seeds****||975 mg||25 g|
|chia seeds||631 mg||38 g|
|almonds||265 mg||91 g|
|flaxseed||255 mg||94 g|
|hazelnuts||114 mg||211 g|
|walnuts||98 mg||245 g|
1 cup of milk contains an average of 240 mg calcium. Recommended daily intake of calcium for adults is 1000 mg, which equals to 4 cups of milk a day. Daily needs for adolescents and elderly might be higher, 1300 mg (12).
* Spinach and sorrel are leafy greens of high oxalic acid content. Oxalic acid and calcium together for a compound that is unsoluble in water: this results in poor calcium absorption and the overconsumption of oxalic acid may lead to kidney stones. The oxalic acid content of these greens can be lowered to the half of the original amount by boiling the leaves for a short time (a couple of minutes).
** Calcium content of sea fish refers to fish canned with bones, and drained.
*** Poppy seed is a unique Hungarian story, as poppy is produced and consumed in only a couple of other countries in such quantitites. The cultivation of poppy is considered illegal in most parts of the world, as this plant is also the raw material of morphine and morphine-derived drugs. Many foreigners ask, while visiting Hungary and facing one of our traditional dishes with lots of poppy seed, if they are going to feel “funny” after eating this? But of course not. 🙂 Permitted poppy cultivars have a very low content of morphine-like substances, and the seeds themselves would not be the richest parts of the plant, anyway.
As poppy has a reputation like this, it is important that before travelling abroad you check the destination country’s (e.g. india, Arabic countries) rules on drug screening: a good amount of poppy seeds in your favorite dish may result in a urine test positive for opiates, and some uncomfortable legal consequences.
**** Sesame seeds may be difficult to digest whole: it is adviseable to consume them ground or choose tahini (ground sesame cream) instead.
I hope I managed to show you that although dairy may play an important role in human bone health, due to nature’s resourcefulness, it is possible to maintain optimal calcium intake with a concious, dairy free, or even vegan diet.
I’ll be back with my actually favorite calcium-rich recipe. If you’d like to make sure that you don’t miss it, sign up for email notifications on my new posts!
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