Don’t I have to eat dairy?
Despite what the industry would have you believe, dairy isn’t the only source of calcium. There are plenty of plant-based options available that promote a kinder, healthier choice.  In fact, as most fat in milk, cheese and yogurt is saturated, the Heart Foundation recognises choosing ‘calcium added’ non-dairy products daily as a healthier choice [1].

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013), sufficient calcium may be found in diets that include either dairy or dairy-alternatives. So let us be perfectly clear: Nowhere do the guidelines state that dairy is essential for good nutritional health. Diets that exclude dairy, but include plant-based sources of calcium can be perfectly healthy and nutritionally adequate alternatives [2].

The Harvard University School of Public Health asks:

“Those advertisements pushing milk as the answer to strong bones are almost inescapable. But does “got milk?” really translate into “got strong bones?” [3].

One thing is certain – adequate calcium for bone health (and other bodily functions) is needed to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The results from long-term studies, including randomised controlled trials, suggest that high calcium intake doesn’t actually appear to lower a person’s risk for osteoporosis. in the large Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses, individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week [3].

In some countries, where the intake of calcium is much lower than that recommended in Western nations, the incidence of bone fractures is quite low [3].

Can I only get calcium from milk and other dairy products?
The simple answer is – no. In fact, many people cannot tolerate dairy products due to lactose intolerance or are better off without them due to the high saturated fat content (particularly people with cardiovascular disease). [3].

Here are some kinder ways to get calcium.
These are some excellent sources of plant-based calcium:

  • Calcium fortified soy and nut milks
  • Vegetables – Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Butternut pumpkin, Carrots, Cauliflower, Kale, Bok Choy
  • Legumes – White beans, Kidney beans, Lentils, Tofu, Baked beans, Black Eyed Peas
  • Whole grains – Rice milk, Wheat bread, Whole wheat flour
  • Fruit – Dried figs, Oranges, Calcium-fortified orange juice, Raisins [4]

If you like the taste of dairy products and can’t imagine life without them, don’t panic!
There are delicious alternatives to yoghurt, cheese and ice cream. There are so many options like soy and nut milks (mentioned previously) dairy-free cheeses (like cashew-cheese) and coconut yoghurt, and that’s just for starters.

It IS possible to lead a healthy life without dairy-based sources of calcium and there’s no harm to cows and calves. Isn’t it time you decided to ditch dairy?

References:

  1. Heart Foundation. Dairy (milk, cheese & yoghurt) and alternatives.
    http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/food-and-nutrition-facts/Pages/dairy.aspx
  2. Australian Dietary Guidelines. (2013). https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines_130530.pdf
  3. Harvard University. Nutrition Source.Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?
    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/#where
  4. Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. Calcium in Plant-based Diets.  http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-calcium