Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Calcium Query

I have already tackled the question of protein on this blog, the answer being that vegans have no trouble attaining the appropriate amount of protein with a plant based diet. The second greatest concern omnivores have for vegans is how they get calcium.

The Dairy Council has done a stellar job cornering the calcium market with their sexy celebrities sporting milk mustaches, and cheerful, sassy cows frolicking in fragrant meadows. Somehow, Taylor Swift wearing a kale mustache just isn’t quite as cute. However, milk is only one way of getting calcium, and for a variety of reasons, may not be the best choice.

The US Department of Agriculture recommends that adults consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day. The standard recommendation in Western Europe is 700 mg, and the World Health Organization recommends a mere 500 mg a day for good bone health. But, what does this mean in terms of food? 1 cup of skim milk has 306 mg, so you would have to drink more than three glasses of milk to achieve the US standard, 2 glasses for the European standard, and just over 1 glass of milk to reach the WHO’s recommended 500 mg. What if you don’t drink milk? 1 cup of calcium fortified soy milk has 368 mg of calcium; 1/2 cup of tofu has 253 mg of calcium; 1 cup of collard greens has 358 mg; 1 cup of calcium enriched orange juice has 350 mg of calcium plus two servings of fruit. So, milk isn’t the only item on the calcium menu. Feel fee to branch outside of the dairy square of the food pyramid to meet your calcium needs.

But, getting enough calcium is only part of the story. The real challenge is for omnivores: keeping that calcium in your bones. Our whole lives we are told that we need to drink milk, in order to get calcium, so we’ll have strong bones. But what if drinking milk doesn’t give you strong bones? What if it is, in fact, making you more prone to fractures, breaks, and osteoporosis? According to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, “in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.” The reality is that while milk is a good source of calcium, that calcium goes hand in hand with animal protein which actually leaches the calcium from your bones and removes it as waste. Omnivores need to consume a much higher amount of calcium to compensate for this effect. Plant based forms of calcium have no such effect, making them a much smarter, and efficient choice for meeting your calcium needs.

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