Is Dairy Required – for Proper Bone Health?

Do you have to consume dairy to have adequate bone health? Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium are all important for proper bone health and maintenance or prevention of osteoporosis (brittle bones). 

Everyone says ‘Milk does a body good’ and its conventionally thought you must consume diary to have adequate bone health. Well there are a few reasons that you may want to rethink your diary consumption for bone health. For some of us its literally we do not do well consuming dairy on a daily basis – gastrointestinal distress, bloating, sinus problems, food intolerances, acne to name a few. With all the non dairy options out there we have so many ways to replace the traditional milk, yoghurt, cheese with replacements…….but should you or rather do you really need to consume dairy to get adequate calcium and proper bone health? 

Well as Chris Kresser noted in a blog on bone health (click here) some of the top sources of calcium are actually not even dairy related: 

  • Sesame Seeds per 0.25 cup have 351 mg
  • Collard Greens or Spinach 1 cup have 250mg 
  • Small can of Sardines with bones have 351 mg
  • Almonds – 2 oz contain 140mg
  • Sockeye Salmon with bones 188mg
  • Mustard or Beet Greens 1 cup 165mg each
  • Bok Choy 1 cup 158mg
  • Swiss Chard 1 Cup 102mg
  • Oranges – 1 medium 50mg

The traditional sources from dairy like yoghurt (296mg), cheese (204mg) or milk (138mg) are not even the highest – now dont get me wrong they are still a fabulous source of calcium and if you tolerate them and eat quality organic, hormone free dairy from grass fed cows then by all means…..but it does not meat you must consume dairy. Why not eat your greens in abundance which offer so many other nutrients, vitamins and minerals for overall health along with some salmon, sardines and sesame seeds with a cheeky tablespoon or two of blackstrap molasses (fabulous for baking). Its also good to be aware of bioavailability of calcium from different sources as it varies widely. Generally the bioavailability of calcium from dairy is 32%, broccoli and other brassica family (kale, collards, boy choy) is 60% and spinach only 5% due to the oxalates. So if your trying to get your sources from vegetables then try to consume more from the brassica family.

The other issue of concern is weather you actually need as much calcium that is traditionally recommended as current guidelines are 1200mg for adults per day and less for children and 

Weight Bearing Exercise is another intervention often overlooked with numerous other benefits other than bone health to the human frame. As essentially hunter-gatherers (our DNA is essentially unchanged from 10,000 years ago when we were hunter-gatherers) we moved abundantly more than we do in our modern desk sitting sedentary society. All that weight bearing exercise we performed on a daily basis allowed us to grow strong bones. So yes we need the right nutrients – calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, to be not inflamed and the right mechanical stimulus – weight bearing exercise to have healthy strong bones. Exercise that is weight bearing doesn’t have to be hard either walking daily can be enough but also the current recommendations are 2 x 30 min strength training sessions per week for maintenance of not only bone health, but skeletal health and overall muscle strength and metabolism. 

So if you are a person that doesn’t tolerate dairy or has chosen to stop consuming it for other reasons then checkout the ways to improve your bone health – diet (see above foods), ensuring you are not carrying any low grade inflammation, getting sunshine to make vitamin D and weight bearing exercise to stimulate the bone growth. 

Always remember to talk to your doctor before undertaking any significant dietary changes or adding in any supplements or nutrients. 


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