So, let’s unfold the dairy and calcium connection.
Today I want to talk about how you can up the calcium levels in your bones without depending only on milk. But before that let us understand the role of calcium in our bodies. Calcium, one of the most abundant minerals in the body, plays an important role in bone health, blood clotting, muscle function, and nerve communication, as well as supporting a healthy heart rhythm. Adults need about 700 mg of calcium daily. Only a small proportion of calcium circulates in our blood whereas the rest of it is stored in our bones for bone function. Calcium is alkaline and is used to maintain homeostasis of our blood pH. If our blood becomes too acidic our body can go into shock, acidosis and coma. So, a protective mechanism, if the diet contains a lot of acid-forming foods (meat, dairy, sugar and processed carbohydrates), then the body, in its wisdom, withdraws calcium from the bones and uses this alkaline mineral to balance the pH of the blood. Meat, eggs, fish, dairy and high protein are the most acid-forming of foods, and hence the ones that cause calcium to be drawn from the bones to restore the pH balance. So, a glass of milk will contain calcium for sure but the overall acidic effect of that milk will be to release calcium stores from your bones. The net effect is calcium loss not gain.
Unfortunately, the loss of calcium and other minerals from the bones is a gradual process which goes on steadily for a long time before it becomes evident. There is no flashing red light to warn us that our bodies are losing calcium. And it is usually not apparent until loose teeth, receding gums, or a fractured hip show how brittle and chalky the bones have become that after a point even a mere sneeze may crack a rib.
Studies have shown that countries with the highest milk consumption have the highest risk for fractures proving that dairy is not the only source of calcium intake. There are many plant-based sources for calcium such as green, leafy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and okra. Spinach does contain high levels of calcium but the body cannot digest it all. Other rich sources are tofu, sesame seeds and tahini, pulses, nuts, dried fruit such as raisins, prunes, and dried apricots.
To protect your bones, you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones. And if you want to ensure great calcium storage in your bones, we need to keep certain things in mind:
- Reduce animal protein: studies have found that with as little as 75 grams of daily animal protein (including dairy) more calcium is lost in the urine than is absorbed by the body from the diet – resulting in a negative calcium balance. This is true even if the dietary calcium intake is as high as 1400 milligrams per day. So, include more Plant protein—beans, grains, and vegetables—because they have an alkaline effect on the body and do not leach calcium.
- Remove inhibitors: eating too many raw nuts and seeds and whole grains can interfere with calcium absorption as they contain phytates and oxalates. To get around this, soaking and activating these foods will eliminate these pesky substances, improving digestion and absorption.
- Exercise, so calcium can get into your bones.: Exercise helps keep bones strong especially resistance exercises as it helps in better calcium uptake by the bones and ensures better bone regeneration and strength.
- Get vitamin D from the sun, or supplements if you need them: Vitamin D controls your body’s use of calcium. About 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin each day normally produces all the vitamin D you need. If you get little or no sun exposure, you can get vitamin D from a supplement but make sure to have sufficient vitamin D levels without which our calcium absorption from the small intestine will suffer.
Remember, a well-balanced whole-food diet that includes a variety of these plant-based foods can provide your body with plenty of calcium to meet all recommendations, plus a hit of nutritional goodness minus the ill effects.