Journey to Wellness: The Dairy Debate
As someone who subscribes to a plant-based diet (vegan), last month I answered the question about where I get protein in my diet. This month I thought I would answer the second most common question I receive: Where do you get your calcium?
Calcium is extremely important for bone health, particularly with all the concern surrounding osteoporosis. Calcium and magnesium are essential to strong bones. However, why do countries that consume more calcium than others also have higher fracture rates and osteoporosis? A 12-year study conducted by Harvard University of 78,000 women showed that those who drank milk three times per day actually had more fractures than women who rarely drank milk. How can that be?
The answer is somewhat complex. We have all been educated that we need to drink or eat dairy in order to get enough calcium in our diets. That answer is incorrect.
The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 mg per day. However, calcium is found in many foods. The most healthful sources of calcium are green, leafy vegetables and legumes. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale and other greens are filled with calcium. Beans, such as baked beans, chick peas, tofu or other beans, have a tremendous amount of calcium. Also, legumes contain magnesium which is also important for bone growth and stability. So one of the reasons the women that rarely consumed dairy had less fractures is because they obtained their calcium from other sources.
This still doesn’t answer the entire question. Protein consumption also plays a role. Proteins are essentially acids and an overconsumption of protein in the traditional American diet drives osteoporosis. The acid we consume is neutralized by calcium carbonate (bone). So the more acid we consume, the more bone we need to breakdown (increased osteoporosis). Plant proteins don’t cause this same effect; nor do we consume the same amount of plant protein as we do animal protein.
Lastly, a lack of vitamin D is always a concern if you aren’t consuming dairy products. That is also incorrect. Almost all the vitamin D found in dairy products is added, so dairy is not a natural source for our bodies. All of the vitamin D our bodies require can be naturally made in our skin upon exposure to sunlight. Exposing 50 percent of our bodies to natural sunlight for a mere 15 minutes three to four times per week will provide you with enough vitamin D. In fact, with optimal exposure, most people can make up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day. The recommended daily requirement is 800 IU per day. Plus sunlight reduces stress and improves symptoms of depression.
So if you have followed the discussion over the last two months, you can see that consuming a plant-based diet provides all the protein and calcium the human body requires. Next month we will begin discussing some of the more common health issues that plant-based diets help prevent.