You must have heard it a thousand times – "you’re vegan, be careful to get enough calcium!". Well we’re going to turn this on its head and look at some of the problems with calcium from dairy. All calcium is not created equal, and bone health is about more than just calcium!
Problem Number 1 - Magnesium
Cow’s milk contains an impressive 125g calcium per 100g. It’s there for the development of the young animals’ bones. For humans, 99% of our body’s calcium is located in our bones, but we don’t need a huge amount of it in adulthood, as our bones are fully developed. That said, once it’s eaten, calcium needs to be incorporated into our bones to be of use.
Just as important for building bones is magnesium, and we need approximately the same amount as we do calcium. Without enough magnesium, our body simply can’t use calcium properly. Dairy products contain very little magnesium – just 11mg/100g in the case of cow’s milk.
Eating large amounts of calcium is not necessarily better, as if it isn’t used for bone building it often ends up deposited in various places around the body. Common areas where this ‘calcium dumping’ occurs are the joints, leading to arthritis, or in the arteries, causing plaques.
Problem Number 2 - Casein
Milk contains a protein called casein and this has been found to cause inflammation in the intestines. Once the delicate gut lining becomes damaged and inflamed, we have a harder time absorbing the vitamins and minerals in our food – including calcium and magnesium.
Problem Number 3 - Protein
100ml of cow milk contains 3g protein, as opposed to oat milk which has 1g protein, or almond milk which contains 0.4g in the same quantity. Some studies have found that high protein diets can weaken bones and in one study in particular, people eating more than 95g protein per day were 20% more likely to suffer broken a wrist over a 12-year period, compared to eating less than 68g per day.
Problem Number 4 – Vitamin A
Dairy contains what’s known as preformed Vitamin A, otherwise known as retinol. Guess what? Research suggests that excess Vitamin A can weaken bones, because it triggers an increase in the cells that break down bones. Plant milks contain beta-carotene which is converted to Vitamin A only when needed and doesn’t have this negative effect.
Problem Number 4 – Vitamin K
Cow’s milk contains very little Vitamin K. This vitamin is vital to keep calcium in the bones and away from the arteries. Happily for vegans, green leafy veg are high in Vitamin K.
Healthy bones are not simply a function of how much calcium is in your diet. Many other factors influence how our body builds bones. Eating a plant-based diet containing great sources of calcium (sesame seeds, tahini, leafy green veggies, chia seeds, blackcurrants and figs) offers significant advantages over dairy when it comes to overall bone health.