Calcium: Why you don’t need dairy and how you’re getting enough calcium without it
While there is tons of info on the subject out there; here is our attempt to boil it down to the most essential points.
To start, let’s look at why dairy sucks. The Whole 9 has a great, concise, manifesto against dairy here: The Dairy Manifesto. The three points they highlight are below:
- Dairy provokes an inflammatory response in the gut, which can adversely affect how you digest and absorb not just dairy products, but all your food. (see Robb Wolf’s Paleo vs. Osteoporosis post below)
- Dairy (particularly milk) spikes insulin levels. This is bad in ways you can’t even imagine (think diabetes).
- Dairy (especially cheese) has an acidifying effect on the body.
Now that we know dairy is a crappy solution to our calcium woes, let’s look at how the Paleo diet is awesome at helping the calcium-without-dairy dilemma. Robb Wolf, Paleo extraordinaire, has a great explanation of how a Paleo diet helps reverse and prevent osteoporosis, but what he talks about pertains to everyone, so guys should read this too: Paleo vs. Osteoporosis. His summary is below, but we suggest you read the whole thing.
A Paleo diet is beneficial for osteoporosis because calcium absorption is improved by healing the gut lining + your hormonal state will improve from increased protein intake. Calcium retention is also improved by a net-alkaline diet. Perhaps most importantly, it works.
A couple more quickies about Calcium:
- Salt impairs absorption of Calcium. In case you were wondering why we’re anti-sodium, there’s always a method to our madness.
- Vitamin D is a regulating factor in calcium absorption. Without enough Vit D, you’ll have a tough time absorbing the calcium you eat. How do you get more Vitamin D? In the summertime, it’s easy. Sit in the sun for 15 minutes (skip sunscreen and bare as much skin as possible). Every day. The benefits go way beyond calcium absorption. But, since the sun is nowhere to be seen for large stretches of time in the winter, you may want to supplement with a Vitamin. We take 2000 IU a day.
Not only will veggies help you retain calcium, but you can actually get a significant amount of calcium by eating them. You can find info on how much calcium is in the veggies (and other foods like fish and nuts) you eat at www.nutritiondata.com. Here are a few examples:
- Arugula, 1 cup = 32mg
- Spinach, 1 cup (cooked) = 245mg (almost as much as a cup of milk)
- Spinach, 1 cup (raw) = 30mg
- Broccoli, 2 cups (cooked) = 188mg (about the same as 1 oz of cheese)
- Broccoli, 2 cups (raw) = 68mg
- Acorn squash, 1 cup (cooked) = 90mg
- Sweet potato, 1 medium (cooked) = 43mg
- Any leafy green veggies, like collards, kale, mustard greens, etc. will also be high in calcium
The FDA recommends 1,000mg of calcium per day (<51 years old) or 1,200mg of calcium per day (51+ years old). This is probably a little more than you need unless you are pregnant or nursing (definitely on the high side for guys). Most countries that eat less dairy than the US have less bone demineralization than we do. We would guess that the FDA’s high figure includes a large percentage of calcium excretion (loss). When eating Paleo, you will be more likely to retain the calcium you eat, so we wouldn’t get too caught up in their number. If you’re worried about it, you can have your bone density tested to see where you stand. But, eating veggies with every meal will add up. Combine Paleo with CrossFit training, and your bones will be around for thousands of years to come!