Milk, Calcium and Osteoporosis

“If I don’t drink milk, where will I get my calcium?” is a commonly asked question. The milk industry advertises milk as a good source of calcium. And this is stuck in our heads. However before we fall prey to their deception, once again we need to answer some questions for ourselves.

How much calcium do we really need?

Where does calcium come from?

Which foods are the best sources of calcium?

Where do all the herbivores get their calcium from?

It’s interesting that whenever a patient suffers from osteoporosis (deterioration of bone mass) or osteopenia (lack of calcium in the bones), the doctor usually advises calcium supplements, more dairy and sometimes vitamin D. Have you noticed that most of these patients never get better? Though they are advised and in all likelihood take calcium supplements for the rest of their lives their condition rarely improves and most likely worsens with time. Many post-menopausal women also get the same advice, to take calcium tablets daily.

                     Calcium content of food (per 100-gram portion)
 Human Breast Milk  33 mg
 Mustard greens (cooked)  138mg
 Almonds  234 mg
 Mustard greens (raw)  183 mg
 Amaranth  267 mg
 Parsley  203 mg
 Apricots (dried)  67 mg
 Pistachio nuts  131 mg
 Beans (pinto, black)  135 mg
 Potato chips  40 mg
 Beet greens (cooked)  99 mg
 Raisins  62 mg
 Sesame seeds  1,160 mg
 Bran  70 mg
 Chickpeas (garbanzo)  150 mg
 Moringa leaves  185 mg
 Figs (dried)  126 mg
 Tofu  128 mg
 Ragi/Nachni  344 mg
 Spinach (raw)  93 mg
 Kale (raw leaves)  249 mg
 Sunflower seeds  120 mg
 Lettuce (dark green)  68 mg
 Cow’s milk  120 mg

Here we see that the calcium content of human milk is just 33 mg per 100 gms. A human newborn has no teeth and hardly any bones. After birth, bit by bit, teeth and bone formation occurs. The calcium requirement at this time is at it’s highest.  Yet calcium in human milk is enough to provide us all the calcium we need at a time when it is most needed.

A careful look at this chart will show that the calcium content of most green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds is much more than that of human milk. Even potato chips have more calcium than human milk! Cow’s milk does contain a fair amount of calcium at 120 mg per 100 gms but then it is not that much more than many other foods. In fact sesame seeds contain a whopping 1160 mg in every 100 gms. Calcium, an integral part of every cell is found in all fruits, vegetables and grains and especially in seeds and nuts. Cows produce calcium rich milk from grass they eat!

It follows from this chart that in most cases getting enough calcium in the diet is not the problem at all. Infact, dietary calcium intake deficiency NEVER occurs. The problem is that calcium is not being utilized efficiently. Acid yielding foods like proteins result in calcium loss through the kidneys, often times resulting in kidney stones. Calcium in milk cannot be utilized due to the high protein content of milk, and osteoporosis is common among milk drinkers.

Researchers at Harvard University concluded from a study of the diets of 78,000 women over a 12-year period, that participants whose primary source of calcium was dairy actually doubled their risk of hip fractures. Societies with little or no consumption of dairy products and animal protein show a low incidence of osteoporosis. The converse is also true. Cultures with the highest dairy consumption per capita also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

Researchers at Yale University found that countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are those in which people consume the most meat, milk, and other animal foods..

Osteoporosis causes a variety of symptoms like recurring back pain, loss of height, and spinal deformities, brittle bones resulting in easy fractures. A decrease in animal protein intake may decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

One of the most important factors for getting enough calcium is vitamin D and alkaline foods.

What can you do to avoid calcium deficiency?

  1. Make sure your vitamin D levels are normal and if not, supplement.
  2. Avoid high protein foods and animal proteins in particular as they lack fibre. Strictly avoid protein supplements.
  3. Avoid acidic foods – tea, coffee, colas, sugar, salt, alcohol and other drugs as well as animal proteins since they are high in the sulphur containing methionine.
  4. Exercise and move, this keeps the calcium moving and bones regenerating.
  5. Avoid overconsumption of spinach and make sure greens are varied
  6. Eat whole and plant based.