When I grew up I learned that milk and dairy products are some of the most important foods to eat because they are supposed to provide our bones with calcium. I also learned that a lot of women had osteoporosis because they did not listen to their mothers and didn’t drink enough milk when they were young. A couple of years ago, I decided, against all recommendations that I grew up with, to give up dairy. The reason I did that was primarily because I suffered from cramps and an upset belly whenever eating yogurts and cheese (yes, you can imagine my French grandmother’s reaction…). It was one of the best decisions I ever made and I also learned the truth about calcium.
Calcium is a micro nutrient, which means that our body needs relatively small amounts of it in order to function correctly. This mineral helps us build strong and dense bones and prevent them from breaking easily. Contrary to general belief, calcium is not only found in dairy. Calcium is actually abundant in the plant world: nuts, beans, figs and seaweed contain high amounts. So do dark leafy greens and veggies such as collard greens, kale and broccoli. There are also many foods that are fortified with calcium such as soy milk and orange juice. I personally avoid fortified foods because I prefer to get my nutrients from unprocessed plants that contain everything I need.
It’s important to make sure that while you eat these veggies and plants that are high in calcium, you also get enough Vitamin D in order to absorb the mineral. People who live in the Northern hemisphere often suffer from a lack of Vitamin D because we mainly get it through the sun and it’s just not sunny enough around here all year long. If you are light skinned about 10 minutes of sun exposure a day are enough and if your skin is darker up to 30 minutes can be necessary. It’s important though to always wear sun screen to protect your skin from cancer. If you want to avoid the sun, you can take Vitamin D supplements. I am not a huge supplement fan, especially because we don’t know how supplements are actually absorbed by our bodies, but it’s important to cover your needs.
Now when it comes to osteoporosis, there are actually some interesting studies out there. Some have shown that there are higher amounts of bone fractures in Western countries, where the dairy intake is relatively high, compared to Asian countries, where people traditionally don’t consume much of it. The reason for that is because osteoporosis is not due to a lack of calcium in our diets but due to calcium loss from the bones. Animal protein has proven to cause people to urinate large amounts of calcium out of their system which explains this fact.
So eat your beans, nuts and leafy greens to stay healthy and get enough sun or some Vitamin D supplements!