A different type of learning

[donotprint] I remember when I was studying for my Business Degree not so long ago, two years ago to be exact and although I enjoyed aspects of it the monumental amounts of reading that were required became a bit of a drain.

I didn’t exactly look forward to  picking up another business book packed full of theories, and the day of my final exam I promised myself that I wouldn’t return to study for quite some time, my mind was well and truly melted, my pockets empty and I was so over living the student life.

Now here I am, two years later, studying once more but this time it’s a different story altogether. Ok so I’m only a couple of weeks in, the books just arrived on my doorstep and I’m struggling a little to find the time to get through even the first few chapters…but the thing is, the bits that I have read I’ve really enjoyed! I ‘m looking forward working my way through them, I wish I had the time to just spend a day with them Smile

So I figured I’d kill to birds with one stone! There is not much point in me doing all this learning, particularly as it’s related to food and health, if I don’t share some bits of pieces that stand out to me along the way. So now I sit here on my bed cross legged, books open, laptop on my lap…I feel like I’m 17 again and writing those first few assignments…that’s pretty much were the similarities cease!

There are a few areas of nutrition that so far have particularly resonated with me, some of which are perhaps quite obvious when you think twice and other facts about food, health and nutrition that are really quite shocking!

From cancer, to heart disease to milk…the synergistic effects of vitamins and minerals and the slight inappropriateness/lack of worthiness of taking supplements, I wasn’t sure were to start. I decided to go with something that is quite close to my heart, my own health and history, osteoporosis.

Anyone remember this advert???

Them Bones Them Bones Need Calcium!

We were forever told about the importance of drinking milk if we wanted to have strong bones. Still to this day it is the conventional advice for building strong bones portrayed and disseminated by the mass media. We are bombarded continually with the calcium bonanza and solution on the whole cited as being to increase our dairy intake; of course advice which is funded by the dairy industry!

Having suffered from osteopenia, it’s not so long ago that I had a consultation with a specialist who advised I take a calcium supplement, the highest dose possible, and increase my intake of dairy to ensure I was getting sufficient calcium. That was pretty much the extent of the advice provided. Of course I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention, at the time due to my dislike of dairy and inability, quite literally, to stomach it. I then discovered that the calcium supplements were one of the main contributing factors to my stomach discomfort and constipation so I also ceased taking them.

Do you not think it’s slightly odd that the countries that consume the most amounts of dairy have populations that are plagued with osteoporosis, seeing it as somewhat of an unavoidable affliction most notably for women once they hit the menopause.

Each year in the UK, over £1.7 billion is spent on treating osteoporosis. Health professionals estimate that one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will break a bone, mainly because of osteoporosis.


Milk, Dairy & Animal Protein

Firstly let’s consider milk and the whole idea of dairy as a means to prevent osteoporosis.

Dairy is the only food group which is rich in both animal protein and calcium. This is were the conflict begins. When our animal protein intake increases the calcium from our bones is drawn upon in order to neutralise these highly acidic substances and so as our intake of animal protein, being it meat or dairy increases, so to does the amount of calcium excreted in our bowels and urine, potentially leaving us with negative stores depending on excessive our consumption!

Mark Hegsted, a Harvard professor was one of many who carried out research in this area, found that across 10 countries a higher intake of calcium, primarily from dairy foods was associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Another interesting area which he shed light upon was our bodies ability to control how much calcium it uses and when; this disrupts the whole regulatory system when it comes to absorption and excretion.

A twelve year study that involved over 120,000 women throughout the US found that women who drink two or more glasses of milk per day actually had a 45% high risk of hip fractures than women who drank less….”

Patrick Holford, Optimum Nutrition, 2004.


Milk is quite a poor source of minerals, lacking most notably in magnesium of which works alongside calcium ideally in two fold quantities. Milk’s has 10 times more calcium to magnesium, while cheese has 28 times more; it’s obvious the likely consequence is magnesium deficiency and once more the bodies inability to properly absorb the calcium consumed.

Excess Calcium

Excess calcium which usually is a result of supplementation with pills can result in the loss of other minerals from the body especially iron, zinc and manganese.

When Vitamin D and Calcium are both consumed excessively, calcium deposits most notably in the kidneys are likely to ensue.

The latest research also shows that calcium supplements provide minimal benefits while actually increasing our risk of heart attack. One study has found that those people that take calcium supplements really are 86% more likely to suffer a heart attack when compared to those that don’t. It is thought to be related to our bodies absorption and utilisation of the mineral which is much better controlled when ingested directly from food sources.

Women largely have come to depend upon calcium supplements as a means to increase their intake while avoiding the additional animal fat that eating larger quantities of dairy will inevitably bring to their diet. Think twice before popping the pill or chewing on the disc!

I find it quite distressing that even the leading charity for Osteoporosis in Ireland are either still quite misinformed or have fallen behind in updating their website with content beyond what we might have expected to see 20 years ago… it’s quite laughable that being vegetarian or vegan are cited as a risk factors! (You either laugh or you cry out of sheer frustration!)

Ironically, osteoporosis tends to occur in countries where calcium intake is highest and most of it comes from protein-rich dairy products. The Chinese data indicate that people need less calcium than we think and can get adequate amounts from vegetables”.

Dr. T.Colin Campbell, The China Study, 2006.

On the whole we are still teaching the children of today, the same one sided unscientifically supported fundamentals of bone health which are nothing other than messages funded by large multi-nationals of the food industry who see our high consumption of dairy as a fantastic way to support their income despite the likely negative and detrimental affects on the worlds health.

Eating a whole food plant based diet is much more likely to support you in developing and maintaining strong bones in the long term, balanced with weight bearing exercise, the natural rhythm of your body won’t be disrupted and you can avoid the seemingly “inevitable” ill faith of broken bones that the dairy industry continues to foster.

Here are some plant foods that are particularly high in calcium…

  • Almonds, Hazelnuts, Brazil Nuts
  • Amaranth Grain
  • Legumes
  • Sesame Seeds & Sesame Seed Paste (Tahini)
  • Most sea vegetables such as wakame, kelp and kombu.
  • Kale and Collard Greens

Vegetarians have been found to more often than not have greater bone mass than meat eaters. Plant sources of calcium unlike supplements, fortified cereals and dairy products, contain the cofactors of calcium absorption. Magnesium at the centre of the chlorophyll molecule, which along with Vitamins A, C and D, combine to form the ideal conditions for calcium absorption.

On a final note..

Don’t believe the hype, don’t be afraid to question assumptions and remember…milk is designed for young calves, not humans!

Thoughts people???

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  1. Wow, I did not know all these facts about calcium. But it does make sense the way you explain it….. So many people just assume that a certain mineral or vitamin can only be found in one specific food item and ignore all the other possibilities.

  2. Great post. This makes me think twice about my calcium supplement. I just worry about falling short through my diet!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing! I love learning new things about nutrition. I’ve considered becoming vegan lately just haven’t been too sure about the nutritional part of it. Keep sharing 😀

  4. Great post! I know when I first became vegetarian I also discovered that I had a lactose intolerance and typically stay away from dairy (the only thing I eat is yogurt) so it’s always been a concern from my Mom if I was getting enough calcium… but looks like I’m doing well 🙂 I love learning new things 🙂

  5. I’ve really enjoyed your last few posts Michelle, as they are coming from a standpoint that I believe in. It always makes me laugh when people say they need to have more dairy to increase calcium, No! This is a viewpoint based upon lies spread by the huge corporations and industry’s to sell their products. It’s actually disgusting that misinformation like this continues to be spread, as governments are in the pockets of big business. I have always said that supplementation is yet another bullshit industry, it’s all about making money, these supplements that people are taking and relying upon can easily be found in plant based whole foods and a well planned diet. I wish it was easier for people to be more informed about these kind of things, but unless you search for the information and do some research it’s just easier to believe what your are told and not question it.

  6. Thank you for increasing the awareness about the fallacies related to commonly reported “nutritional research” and dietary calcium intake and supplemental needs. As a practicing ND, I am frequently discussing how animal protein affects calcium metabolism and once my patients understand this and realize they will have less of a need to choke down so many calcium supplements when the increase their plant sources of protein and calcium into their diet, they are more willing to do so.