15 November 2010

Looking to improve bone health? Kick the milk habit

My first ‘cleanse’ experience occurred when I was living in Dallas, TX. The trainer at my gym led me through a 30 day ‘Get Lean’ program. It involved cutting out all refined sugar, alcohol, white flour ....and (gasp!!) dairy. But where would I get my calcium? Don’t we need milk and dairy products for strong bones? I figured it would be ok since I was only doing this for 30 days... and once the month was up I would really have to drink my milk. After all, it does a body good, right?

Ahhh, if only I had known then what I know now. I had no idea that I was getting all the calcium I needed from the large amounts of broccoli and leafy greens I was eating. I also didn’t understand that although milk has calcium in it, milk is very acidic. Our bodies can only handle so much acidity, as they need to maintain a pH of about 7.3. To compensate for an over-acidic environment, our blood turns to the most alkaline mineral it can find for a little help... calcium. Calcium ends up being leached from our bones in order to buffer the acidity cause by drinking milk. Maybe that’s why the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis (United States being one of them) are the countries with the highest consumption of milk and dairy products. Conversely, the countries with the lowest intake of milk tout the lowest rates of this bone softening disease.

So, then how do we keep our bones strong and healthy? The simple answer would be to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and to avoid acidic foods like animal products and sugar. I stress ‘variety’ because it’s not all about the calcium. All the current research points to the fact that calcium is not a solo player in bone health. Other key players are vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K.

Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D deficiency is very common today, in both carnivores and herbivores alike. You can get a daily dose through sunlight, but if you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough, a supplement may be indicated. You can also get vitamin D from a plant source.... sun-dried shiitake mushrooms... yum!

About two thirds of all the magnesium in our body is found in our bones. The magnesium in our bones, along with calcium and phosphorous, helps give them their physical structure. Magnesium rich foods include pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, as well as leafy greens.

Vitamin K helps promote strong bones by binding calcium and other minerals to the bone. Foods rich in vitamin K are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and the ever-mighty kale!

The moral of the story is to understand that by cutting dairy out of your diet, you are improving your bone health, not degrading it. Cheese and dairy products are often the last stragglers to be cut out of one’s diet when transitioning to vegan. If this is the case, rest assured that your concerns for lack of calcium are unfounded. We have been brain-washed to believe to that "milk does a body good." But take a moment to realize where in the world we got this idea... I think it’s because the dairy industry told us so!

For a simple way to incorporate shiitake mushrooms in your diet, try some miso soup!

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/sweetbeetandgreenbean