Nutrition, food science and all that jazz, Vegan
Comments 10

Need milk? Maybe not

Bottle of milk with glass

Calcium, right? We need milk for calcium. Or do we?

In her article, Getting Clarity About Calcium, Rosane Oliveira, Director of the UC Davis Integrative Medicine program, tells us we can get plenty of calcium from a plant-based, vegan diet. No dairy required. Heresy!

To prove it, she answers six questions, and backs her assertions with links to peer-reviewed research. Her article, well worth the read, answers each of these questions in easy-to-understand terms for a lay-woman like me. I need science I can understand, don’t you?

If milk and calcium are on your mind, I urge you to click through and get the full dose of Oliveira’s expertise. Here is the quick, short version, with each of her questions and a summary of her answers.

  1. How much calcium do I need?
    According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we need only about half the recommended daily allowance if we get our calcium from a plant-based diet. There’s a second if involved: We also have to avoid “excess” (undefined) caffeine and sodium (salt).
  2. Can I get enough calcium eating just plants?
    You'll find lots of calcium-rich foods in the green and leafy section of your grocer's produce aisles

    You’ll find lots of calcium-rich foods in the green and leafy section of your grocer’s produce aisles

    Absolutely. A diet featuring plenty of calcium-rich plants, such as kale, spinach, mustard greens, Bok choy and chard, provides all we need.

  3. What is calcium absorption and why is it important?
    Calcium absorption is the rate at which our bodies absorb the calcium we take in. We tend to absorb more plant-based calcium than we do animal-based, which means that, when we get our calcium from plants, our kidneys and other organs don’t have to work as hard.
  4. What factors (or foods) make me lose calcium?
    Several factors, including the following, cause our bodies to lose calcium.

    • Sodium–Too much salt is the biggie of the bunch, says Oliveira
    • Caffeine–Another major contributor, possibly because it acts as a diuretic
    • Dietary protein–The more protein we eat, and apparently meat protein is the bigger culprit, the more calcium our bodies excrete, again putting an extra load on our kidneys and liver
    • Aging–Getting older affects our ability to retain calcium
    • Low Vitamin D3–We need a good balance of D3, which our skin makes when exposed to the sun, and calcium, or we can’t use the calcium we ingest
  5. Can’t I just fix everything by taking supplements?
    Yes–and no. Taking supplements reduces the risk of some bone fractures. Here’s the catch, or rather two catches, with calcium supplements: Supplements don’t help prevent hip fractures, according to Oliveira. Equally concerning, taking supplements increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other life-threatening illnesses.

    Kale, like so many cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, feeds our bodies plenty of minerals, such as calcium and iron, plus the trace minerals and vitamins that help us absorb them

    Kale, like so many cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, feeds our bodies plenty of minerals, such as calcium and iron, plus the trace minerals and vitamins that help us absorb them

    Why bother with those risks if we can get what we need from plants?

  6. What happens to our bones if we don’t drink milk or take supplements?
    The short answer? Nothing. Citing a study that compared bone-density in long-term vegans and omnivores, Oliveira says,

    The results were astounding; even though the vegans have vastly lower dietary calcium and protein intakes, they enjoyed the exact same bone density as their meat-eating counterparts.

So in the words of famed foodie author and scientist Michael Pollan, even when we’re talking about something as important as calcium for our bones, we’re probably best off if we “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

♥  ♥  ♥

Shared on: Plant Based Party Linkup #85


  1. Sharon L. Grace says

    One of the responses I usually get when I tell people I’m trying to go vegan as a way to help manage diabetes, is “But you need milk and cheese for calcium”. This is an excellent, short and to the point post to share with them next time it comes up. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Pollan was probably the first person who really made me think about going plant-based. I like his, “mostly plants” approach. It is encouraging without being all-or-nothing. It helps me to keep trying without the guilt of being a big fat vegan failure.

    Thanks for this post. I look forward to a multitude of recipes featuring those dark, green leaves! When kale is growing in the garden, we adopt the Frank’s Red Hot Sauce motto, “I put that sh!t in everything.” There are days, however, when I just don’t want a kale cookie, and need a bit of inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

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