Building Strong Bones Takes More Than Just Calcium
One of the most common concerns I hear from people when they would benefit from avoiding dairy products is the fear of missing calcium. Calcium is an important mineral, but to build strong bones and healthy teeth it takes more than just calcium to achieve it. Also, dairy products, like cow's milk, are not the only source or even the best source of calcium.
Foods with Calcium
Food sources: Tahini or sesame seed butter, almonds (powerhouse of calcium), salmon and sardines (with bones), soy, navy beans, blackstrap molasses, amaranth, broccoli, and kale.
Almost all leafy greens are high in calcium. Nuts and seeds, deliver more calcium than milk (and usually more absorbable because they’re often raw). Sesame seeds offer 2200 mg calcium per cup vs 228 mg of calcium per cup of milk. One tenth of a cup or 1 ½ tablespoons of sesame seeds, would be the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk. Another note on milk, it loses 50% of available calcium through pasteurization. Low fat and skim milk offer even less because the milk fat is used for transportation and absorption of calcium.
Making Healthy Bones
Main minerals needed for bone building: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, boron, and manganese, as well as vitamins A, D, C and B12.
The hard part of bones store calcium and phosphorus, the bone marrow in the middle makes red blood cells (RBCs) and immune cells, which are made of fat that is stored for energy. The bones are made of a matrix, which is 25% water, 25 % fiber, and 50% mineral salts. The mineral salts of calcium, magnesium, fluoride, and sulfate are deposited between the protein fibers of collagen, and crystalized into salts, making the bone hard. If bones are too mineralized they will become brittle and easily break.
In order to make good strong bones, we need all of these things in our diet as well as a good amount of physical activity. The stress of muscles and tendons placed on bones from movement is integral to the balance of building bones. The matrix is in a constant state of building and breaking down, and this process is only performed properly when ALL the building blocks and the right conditions are in place.
Foods to Avoid
Just as there are good food sources for calcium, there are also foods to avoid. The following foods either decrease absorption of calcium or increase the excretion of calcium:
o High caffeine coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate
o Sugar is similar to caffeine and decreases the amount of phosphorus in the blood
o High phosphorus intake from meat, grains, and soft drinks can take calcium from bones. Phosphorus and calcium need to be in a certain balance to have a positive effect on bone mineralization.
o Salt also has similar effects to sugar and caffeine
o Low Vitamin D can lead to low levels of calcium
o A high fiber diet (with most fiber coming from wheat) can lead to lowered calcium absorption as fiber binds calcium and is excreted from the body
o Protein in excess depletes calcium substantially. Too much creates an acidic environment requiring alkaline minerals like calcium to re-establish balance. Junk foods, refined foods, and most cooked foods also have this acid forming effect on the body. Protein also acts as a diuretic in the body, causing the kidneys to send calcium and other minerals out in the urine.
A Note about Infants and Children:
To help decrease some of your fears for baby, they start off with a calcium store of about 30 g that they get from you mostly during the 3rd trimester (approximately 200-350 mg a day). You can recover most of this loss within a few months following the finishing of nursing by following a calcium-rich diet. Whether you're breastfeeding or formula feeding getting enough calcium is important for you and baby, and dairy is not the only place to find it.
General guidelines for protein: There is approximately 0.9 g of protein per 100 mL of breast milk and as breast milk intake decreases, protein content increases. It can be difficult to tell how much the baby is drinking in a day, but generally they get what they need. For formula fed babies, look at the label on the formula.
If you're concerned about calcium or the state of your bone health then talk to your Naturopathic Doctor today about putting together a plan that addresses your individual needs.
Phillipson-Webb, L. 2010. Sprout Right: Nutrition from Tummy to Toddler. Penguin Canada.
Romm, A. 2003. Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health. Celestial Arts.
Skowron, JM. 2009. Fundamentals of Naturopathic Pediatrics. CCNM Press. Print.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and Doula providing care in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I have a passion for helping people with their health issues and improving the birth experience for Moms, and their babies. I also have a life long love affair with soccer, curling, and the alto saxophone.