The Dairy Free Guide To Calcium

Posted On Monday, 19 January 2015
The Dairy Free Guide To Calcium
Dr. Holly welcomes health coach, Sarah Corey, as a guest blogger again this week. For more from Sarah and Dr. Holly on this topic, listen to their conversation about Your Dairy-Free Guide to Calcium

Now, here's Sarah:

As children many of us were told the only way to grow up big and strong was to drink a glass of milk with every meal.  Dairy however is notoriously hard to digest and many people are finding their bodies function better without it.

There are estimates that as many as 6 out of 10 people react negatively to dairy.  

Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, meaning you lack the enzymes that digest the lactose, or milk sugar, you can still react negatively to milk.  Common digestive symptoms indicating you may have issues with dairy include gas, bloating, and loose stools.  For some it can also show up as rashes, acne, eczema, or chronic sinusitis.  

Removing dairy from your diet may be scary at first, especially as many people are concerned that this is their only source of calcium intake. The good news is that you naturally get calcium in your diet without even trying, and there are a variety of healthy choices you can make to ensure proper calcium levels in your body sans dairy. 

Another reason to consider going dairy free is that people often find they out they have better skin, are able to lose weight easier and they no longer have chronic gas and bloating.

In addition to the fact that many people cannot tolerate dairy, it has also been known to:

  • Contain many harmful synthetic contaminants like antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides
  • The synthetic hormone recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH, is often used in dairy cows to increase the production of milk.   Because of this cows are producing more milk than is nature intended, which leads to mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary glands.  The treatment of this requires antibiotics and traces of these along with the growth hormones are often found in milk and dairy products.
  • Pasteurization of dairy kills healthy bacteria and many vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Okay so, the real question here is, if people have so many issues with dairy why do we keep eating it?  The short answer is calcium (& some very good marketing by the dairy industry). 

Calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body. 99% of calcium is located in the bones and teeth, but it is also required for transmission of signals in nerve cells, muscle contractions, and healthy blood pressure. 

The importance of calcium in preventing osteoporosis is its most well known role and the one I hear most often as a concern for giving up dairy.

While having adequate amounts of calcium in the diet is key for building and maintain strong bones, The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 75,000 women for 12 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. In fact, increased intake of calcium from dairy products was associated with a higher fracture risk. 

So, if we aren’t going to get our calcium from milk where does it come from and how can you ensure strong healthy bones?

5 Key health tips for healthy calcium levels:

1.Instead of using calcium in the form of a supplement or a glass of milk, aim to increase calcium rich foods in your diet.  The RDA for adults 18-50 years is 1000mg and 1200mg for those over 51. Some foods that are high in calcium:
  • Sardines – 3 ounces canned 324 mg calcium (this is more than 8 ounces of milk – 296)
  • Sesame seeds 280mg 1 ounce or 3 tablespoons
  • Almonds – 1 ounce or (23) 80 mg calcium
  • Dark leafy green like Kale 1 cup 94 mg

2.Cut back on soda, alcohol and coffee as they can actually leech calcium from the bones. 
  • It’s important we keep all the calcium we work so hard to take in.  If you’re currently consuming a lot of these in your daily diet try just reduce your intake a little bit each day until these beverages become a treat rather than a norm.

3.Check your vitamin D status.
  • One study showed that people who were deficient in Vitamin D only absorbed 14% of the calcium from their food where as those with adequate Vitamin D levels absorbed 58% of the calcium from their food.
  • Calcium requires Vitamin D for absorption.  If you are vitamin D deficient you will not be able to properly absorb it.  Have you vitamin D levels checked and if they are low add in a vitamin D3 supplement.

4. Try raw full-fat dairy.
  • For those who still aren’t ready to give up dairy completely that is okay!  If you still want to include dairy in your diet go for whole fat raw milk products.  Calcium requires fats for absorption so eating reduce fat or fat free dairy products will not give you this benefit.  
  • Raw milk also contains beneficial bacteria and the enzyme lipase, which aids in digestion of dairy meaning raw milk products may be better tolerated for those who are lactose intolerant.  In addition it contains all the original vitamins and minerals normally lost in conventionally processed milk products.

5.Movement & exercise.
  • Exercise is key for maintaining bone density and strength and for reducing bone loss.  Weight bearing activities help to strengthen bones at any age, even in the elderly.  Exercise also lead to increased muscle strength and balance in turn helping to reduce falls and fractures.
  • Aim for 30-45 minutes of exercise including walking, jumping rope, running mixed with weight training.
  • For elderly patients who may be limited in mobility, Tai Chi as exercise has been proven in studies to reduce the number of falls in the elderly and is therefore strongly recommended.

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