Ask anyone what they think the benefit of milk is and they will most likely say calcium or strong bones. That is not surprising based on how much the whole “Got Milk?” campaign has been drilled into our heads. It is true, milk is a good source of calcium. But is it the best source of calcium for our health? Where did we get our calcium before milk? Elephants have good sized bones. I have never seen an elephant with one of those milk mustaches. Where do they get their calcium?
We are the only species that drinks milk from another species. To me, that is kinda creepy. Cow’s milk is designed to turn a baby calf into a cow. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to look like a cow. In general, I do have concerns with growth hormones and antibiotics in our dairy products, but that is a topic for another day!
It amazes me how little we really know about our foods. For example, did you know a cup skim milk has about 306mg of calcium and a cup of collard greens has 357mg of calcium? Other great non-dairy sources of calcium are broccoli, beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, tofu and almonds.
Here is an interesting article on the whole calcium issue called Calcium and Milk from the Harvard School of Public Health. It is a worthwhile read. Here are some of the highlights:
“….It’s not clear, though, that we need as much calcium as is generally recommended, and it’s also not clear that dairy products are really the best source of calcium for most people.
While calcium and dairy can lower the risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, high intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.
Plus, dairy products can be high in saturated fat as well as retinol (vitamin A), which at high levels can paradoxically weaken bones.”
Oops, so it can actually do the opposite of what we want (to build strong bones) and we still get the added benefit of increasing our risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. That does not sound good.
So what are some other alternatives?
“For individuals who are unable to digest—or who dislike—dairy products and for those who simply prefer not to consume large amounts of such foods, other options are available. Calcium can also be found in dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale and collard greens, as well as in dried beans and legumes.”
Here are their 5 quick tips on how to build strong bones:
“1. Look beyond the dairy aisle. Limit milk and dairy foods to no more than one to two servings per day. More won’t necessarily do your bones any good—and less is fine, as long as you get enough calcium from other sources. Calcium-rich non-dairy foods include leafy green vegetables and broccoli, both of which are also great sources of vitamin K, another key nutrient for bone health. Beans and tofu can also supply calcium.
2. Get your vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a key role along with calcium in boosting bone health. Look for a multivitamin that supplies 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day. If your multi only has 400 IU of vitamin D, consider taking an extra supplement to get you up to 1,000 IU or 2,000 IU per day. Some people may need 3,000 or 4,000 IU per day for adequate blood levels, particularly if they have darker skin, spend winters in the northern U.S., or have little exposure to direct sunlight. If you fall into these groups, ask your physician to order a blood test for vitamin D. Read more about vitamin D in the vitamins section of The Nutrition Source.
3. Get active. Regular exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging, is an essential part of building and maintaining strong bones.
4. Be careful about getting too much retinol (vitamin A). Don’t go overboard on fortified milk, energy bars, and breakfast cereals, all of which can be high in bone-weakening vitamin A. Many multivitamin makers have removed much or all retinol and replaced it with beta-carotene, which does not harm bones.
5. Help your kids build strong bones. Youth and young adulthood is the period when bones build up to their peak strength. Helping youth lead a bone-healthy lifestyle—with exercise, adequate calcium, and adequate vitamin D—can help them keep strong bones through all their adult years.”
So get out of the dairy aisle and explore the leafy greens of the produce isle! Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise and take your newly toned body out in the sun a little :)