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Here’s an email I received the other day from one of our customers.  

Dear Chef V,

What’s with you constantly dissing dairy? How’s a proud cheese-head, Wisconsin-born-and-raised, cow-worshipping lady supposed to get her bone-building calcium? My doctor said it’s very important for me to get enough calcium in the diet and dairy is one of the best sources. Am I missing something? If not dairy, then how do I keep my bones strong? 

–Margie W., Appleton, WI

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Thanks for the great question, Margie. You probably stumbled upon my post about Dairy Free Recipes. Look, I don’t want you or anybody else to think that I’m a fanatic anti-dairy crusader. I have no problem with eating a little ice cream here and there, a little piece of cake made with cream here and there, a slice of pizza here and there, and making eggs with butter here and there, etc.

The problem with the typical American diet is that there are a lot of here’s and a lot of there’s. If you can indeed keep dairy to an occasional indulgence, dairy, is probably just fine, assuming you’re not lactose-intolerant (which I believe if you are, will get you kicked out of Wisconsin; just kidding.)

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Why Dairy Isn’t Good For Your Bones

But what you definitely don’t want to do is eat lots of dairy every day. Back in the 1980s, the American Dairy Association launched one of the most successful marketing campaigns that still resonates today. “Milk … it does a body good!” Remember that ad? Thanks to celebrities sporting milk mustaches, it made drinking milk look fun. Just 4  glasses of milk a day is all it takes to get your daily dose of bone-building calcium, or so we were told.

And many people still believe the hype that dairy products from cows are essential for strong, healthy bones.

But how then do you explain this nutritional paradox (as I touched on in my post about dairy free recipes): the countries that consume the most calcium, including the USA  (“We’re #1, we’re #1” … in calcium consumption) have the highest rates of osteoporosis, the disease marked by greatly reduced bone density and fractures.

Think about that for a second. Countries that consume the most cow’s milk experience the most hip fractures. If dairy is so good for our bones, why are more and more seniors experiencing hip fractures? It would be easy to say that people are just living longer and that’s the reason for higher rates of bone breaks.

But as the author of a study published in the Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry explains, when you drink cow’s milk, the calcium from your bones leaches out.

“Consumed in large quantities, the high phosphorus content of cow milk intended for calves along with calcium’s poor bioavailability in humans has the potential to upset the serum calcium–phosphorus balance in humans, triggering parathyroid hormone to release calcium from bone.”

So, does milk really do a body good after all? Not according to that study….

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More Reasons Not To Drink Milk And Limit Dairy

As the author of the research study alluded to, milk doesn’t really get absorbed well by the human body. As a result, dairy can cause systemic inflammation in the body. How do you know if you have inflammation in the body? Here’s what large dairy consumption can do to your body:

  • Chronic runny nose
  • Indigestion
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Coughing up phlegm

Still think milk does a body good?

It’s hard to pinpoint the root cause of a chronic disease. But as a certified nutritional therapist, I strongly believe that limiting dairy and added sugars is a good strategy to reduce your risk.

Of course, the quality of the dairy you consume (should you choose to eat and drink dairy) matters. For brevity’s sake, I won’t get too much into that, but what I’ll briefly say about it is that occasional raw, unpasteurized dairy as well as cultured dairy (plain yogurt, kefir) may actually benefit your health because of the probiotics and improve your gut health. Also, dairy from animals other than cows (goats, sheep, camel, bison) may be easier to absorb and digest.

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Best Sources of Calcium That Don’t Come From A Cow

Oh my, listen to me … I’ve droned on and on. My apologies. Let’s circle back to Margie’s question from the beginning: where should I get my calcium from if not dairy?

My preferred number one source of calcium are green leafy veggies. Although the amount of calcium in green leafy veggies aren’t mind-blowing, ounce for ounce, green leafy veggies such as the 7 in my recipe for Chef V Organic Green Drink.

I’m not convinced that you really need a ton of calcium. In fact, the inverse of the calcium paradox I mentioned above is true: the countries with the lowest rate of hip fractures and osteoporosis consume the least amount of calcium. While there is no doubt that calcium is a building block of bone matrix, there are other minerals that don’t get the attention they deserve when it comes to bone health. Silica is one that immediately comes to mind.

So if you’re looking for a bone health supplement, take silica, don’t take calcium supplements. Actually, if you consume too much calcium, it can lead to heart disease. 

In addition to green leafy veggies (Chef V Green Drink is the easiest way to get your daily dose of disease-fighting antioxidants and belly-slimming nutrients), here are some non-dairy, vegan-friendly foods that are good sources of calcium: chia seeds; almonds; broccoli; sunflower and sesame seeds; edamame.

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Dairy and Calcium: Conclusion

The takeaway here is that calcium is not the only nutrient that’s important for bone health. Too much calcium, despite what the most influential minds on Madison Avenue tell us, is actually very bad for your health. Several minerals play an important part in bone health. If you eat a well-rounded, mostly plant-based diet, you’re probably getting all the calcium you need.

That being said, Margie, go ahead and root for your Packers with pride. Just keep the cheese on top of your head more than inside your belly. Moo!

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