Myth : Milk Is The Only Source Of Calcium
We face a stream of conflicting opinions and advice on the effectiveness of milk in making our bones stronger. Milk, and dairy in general, is so much a part of the average everyday Indian diet, that it is important to address the confusion.
There are advertisements coaxing us to drink at least three glasses of milk everyday which should help prevent osteoporosis, the erosion of bone mass and the consequent weakening of bones. There are millions of fractures and hundreds of thousands of broken hips. On the other side, there are contrasting views that claim consuming milk invites heart trouble and even prostate cancer, both of which are problems to stay away from. Which then is the “right” way to go? There is a continuously ongoing research and new discoveries keep getting made, but we do have a summary of what is currently known.
What Is Calcium?
It is common knowledge that calcium is the white thing that is our bones and teeth. But this vital element does some important functions other than being the strength of our bones and teeth: calcium helps in blood-clotting, in transmission of nerve signals, and keeps the heart beating in a rhythm.
Why Do Bones Lose Calcium?
99% of calcium resides in bones and teeth, the rest in blood and other tissues. If the blood is deprived of calcium in its food intake, then the shortfall is covered by “borrowing” calcium ions from the bones. If the body gets adequate calcium via food, or supplements, then this “loan is repaid” to the bones.
Where Do We Get It From?
Established sources of calcium are, of course dairy, you knew that, but also dark leafy greens and dried beans. Calcium coming from dairy is highly absorbable, especially if unaccompanied by sugar. Calcium from different veggies and beans varies in absorbability. Vitamin K in leafy greens is helpful in calcium absorption. Similarly, vitamin D – whether from diet, supplements or sunshine improves the usable calcium out of the total intake. Exercise is another must-do factor to get the bones to absorb and retain more calcium.
But I am a vegan/ I do not like diary?
Milk is a convenient source that comes with protein and fortified with vitamin D and A. But dairy may also drop out as a choice due to lactose intolerance or recommended to be avoided for high saturated fat content. It is useful to know that calcium is also available via dark green leafy vegetables as well as dried beans and legumes. Calcium may be ingested as a supplement, but it must be taken with vitamin D. Overall research points that “only supplements” route to calcium brings risks of possible prostate cancer.
One important point to note, for vegans/vegetarians: food of animal origin is rich in vitamin B12 and consumption of foods exclusively from plant origin can lead to vitamin B12 deficiencies. Milk brings the necessary dose of vitamin B12, so in the Indian context therefore, this may be a tipping point in favour of consuming milk/dairy. Mushrooms however are known to contain just about adequate levels of vitamin B12, and can be a go-to food for committed vegans.
Author: Ashutosh Pradhan
17th October, 2017
Image credit: Science Activism
[Disclaimer & Publisher’s Note: This article is a part of an ongoing series clarifying common food-myths. Organic Annadata is a citizen-driven expert-led safe food movement. Links and references are provided wherever appropriate and possible. This movement is vendor-neutral, brand-neutral, ideology-neutral pursuit of a scientific model of modern nutrition. We believe in the concept of food-miles and some of the content may be modelled for certain target audiences, more particularly in the geographic influence zone of Organic Annadata. Like with every advice on food, health and nutrition, we recommend you to take the content as a broad guideline and refer back to us if you believe any of it is inaccurate. Your feedback will be appreciated, referred to the experts on-board and a decision taken regarding contentious content.]