Calcium is a mineral stored primarily in our skeleton and, along with fiber, magnesium, and potassium, found lacking in most American diets. Dairy is the number-one calcium source in the United States, but it’s also the number-one source of saturated fat and a top food allergen. Getting calcium from dairy (but not nondairy sources) also appears able to stimulate prostate cancer cell growth and increase total prostate cancer risk.
Don’t we need dairy for strong bones? A meta-analysis of cow’s milk intake and hip fracture studies showed no significant protection, and a recent set of studies involving one hundred thousand men and women followed for up to two decades even suggested milk may sometimes increase bone and hip fracture rates. Researchers also investigated milk intake and mortality, as well as fracture risk in large populations of milk drinkers. In addition to significantly more bone and hip fractures, they found higher rates of premature death, more heart disease, and significantly more cancer for each daily glass of milk women drank. Men with higher milk consumption also had a higher rate of death, although they didn’t have higher fracture rates. The lack of association with fermented milk products suggested the milk sugar galactose may be to blame.
What about kidney stones? Most are composed of calcium oxalate, which forms like rock candy when urine becomes supersaturated with calcium and oxalates. For many years, doctors assumed that because stones are made of calcium, they should counsel their patients to simply reduce calcium intake, but this changed with a landmark study that pitted the traditional, low-calcium diet against a diet low in animal protein and sodium. After five years, the study found that eating less meat and salt was about twice as effective as the conventionally prescribed low-calcium diet, cutting kidney-stone risk by half.
What about calcium supplements? Calcium from supplements, but not from whole food sources, appears to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death.
Are there calcium sources available without health-related risks? Dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, broccoli, and bok choy, are relatively rich in calcium that is absorbed about twice as well as the calcium in milk. What’s more, they also contain fiber, folate, iron, and antioxidants, some of the very nutrients lacking in dairy. I recommend getting at least 600mg of calcium daily via calcium-rich plant foods—preferably low-oxalate dark green leafies, which includes all greens except spinach, chard, and beet greens (all very healthy, but not good calcium sources due to their oxalate content).
Image Credit: fdecomite / Flickr. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Calcium
All Videos for Calcium
What Are the Best Foods?
A review of reviews on the health effects of animal foods versus plant foods.
What Are the Best Beverages?
A review of reviews on the health effects of tea, coffee, milk, wine, and soda.
Are Fortified Kids’ Breakfast Cereals Healthy or Just Candy?
The industry’s response to the charge that breakfast cereals are too sugary.
Kidney Stones and Spinach, Chard, and Beet Greens: Don’t Eat Too Much
Given their oxalate content, how much is too much spinach, chard, beet greens, chaga mushroom powder, almonds, cashews, star fruit, and instant tea?
The Worst Food for Tooth Decay
One of the worst breakfast cereals will surprise you.
Dairy & Cancer
How do we explain the increased risk of prostate cancer but the decreased risk of colon cancer associated with dairy consumption?
How to Lower Heavy Metal Levels with Diet
What dietary change can simultaneously help detoxify mercury, lead, and cadmium from the body?
Should Women with Fibroids Avoid Soy?
When it comes to uterine fibroids, is soy harmful, harmless, or helpful?
How Much Lead Is in Organic Chicken Soup (Bone Broth)?
Let’s review lead from occupational exposures, shooting ranges, eggs, and bone broth.
Lead in Calcium Supplements
Do calcium citrate and calcium carbonate have as much lead as calcium supplements derived from dolomite and animal bone?
Should Pregnant Women Take Calcium Supplements to Lower Lead Levels?
What are the effects of sodium and calcium intake on blood lead levels in pregnant and breastfeeding women?
The Rise in Blood Lead Levels at Pregnancy & Menopause
The lead trapped in our skeleton can leach back into our bloodstream when we temporarily or permanently lose bone due to pregnancy, weight loss, menopause, or osteoporosis.