This is part II of our two part series on The Real Deal on Cow’s Dairy.
Today we’re diving into whether adults (and babies and kids) really need dairy for bone health and normal growth and development.
Dairy is just one of many sources of calcium. It’s not even the most absorbable form, but frankly, the Dairy Farmers of Canada did a stellar job in making us believe we MUST have milk or we are forever destined for osteoporosis! Salmon, dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beans, sesame seeds (tahini) and soy foods, all have varying amounts of absorbable calcium.
Here is an excerpt from WHFoods.com on foods and calcium levels. The average female 18-50 requires 1,200mg of calcium daily, according to Health Canada.
There is no evidence that drinking milk reduces the risk of fractures or osteoporosis. There are other important factors when it comes to your bone health. A 2014 study that followed participants over 22 years found that higher milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture among adults. Another prospective study on women found that there’s no evidence that higher intakes of milk reduces the incidence of fractures. In fact, one study actually showed increased fruit and vegetable consumption positively influenced bone mass density.
You might have also heard the argument that countries with the highest rate of dairy consumption have the highest rates of osteoporosis while the countries with the lowest rates have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. While these types of studies aren’t the most accurate way to draw conclusions, what this does tell us is that drinking milk doesn’t necessarily protect against osteoporosis, and there are other factors at play, like vitamin D for example.
To get and maintain strong bones, make sure you also eat enough protein, engage in regular physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercises, throughout adulthood, and keep an eye on your vitamin D levels. If you’re supplementing with calcium and your vitamin D is low, you won’t be able to absorb it properly.
Knowing everything I know about dairy, I can’t tell you how weird it was that for a while I was starting to think that Sophie would be “missing out” if she didn’t have dairy. It’s like the marketing from twenty years ago was still affecting me. Of course, I want her to be able to eat it, even if it’s not a staple in our house, but she’s got a bit of eczema the few times I’ve introduced it, so we’re going to hold off until she’s a bit older.
I took a second to review WHY cow’s milk is so highly recommended as you transition away from breastmilk or formula. By the way, I also chatted with Sophie’s doctor about this and she agreed with my decision to do some goat formula and full fat coconut & hemp milk. According to our doctor, the number one reason milk is recommended is for the fat content for their brain growth. Sophie already gets a very good amount of fat in her diet, as I’ve mentioned before, so there is definitely no concern there. If you’re looking for ideas to get your child to have more fat, cooking things in coconut oil adds fat, adding nut butters to muffins or using almond flour as the base of muffins adds fat, and avocado as a side dish is great too.
Of course, this article isn’t to say that calcium is not important; rather, it’s that cow’s dairy is not the only source of calcium for kids. We are using sesame seeds a lot (ground in muffins, added to yogurt and in smoothies), and then also offering veggies rich in calcium like broccoli and kale. I sneak tiny pieces of steamed kale into guacamole, a favourite of Sophie’s. She sometimes goes for it haha.
The controversy around dairy probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and there are both sides to the dairy argument. What we’d like to really highlight is that you don’t need dairy to be healthy and for some people, consuming dairy can have adverse health effects. With that in mind, we advise most of our clients to go dairy-free, at least for a period of time. With the right guidance, most people find that the transition off dairy isn’t as hard as they thought it would be.
If and when they reintroduce it, they can tell if dairy is an issue for them or not. Many who do reintroduce it choose to only do so in a fermented form like yogurt, which is much easier to digest, and buy only Organic and/or grass-fed.
Like many things in nutrition, there is no one size fits all, but anecdotally, we’ve found that eliminating dairy, in addition to coaching our clients towards a more anti-inflammatory diet in general, has helped improve digestive issues, reduce acne, reduce allergies and balance hormones.