Q. Will I get sufficient calcium in my diet on a dairy-free diet? Both my Mum and my Grandma have osteoporosis. I follow a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free diet (I do include goats and sheep's milk cheese and yogurt). Can you advise?
A. Protecting our bone health becomes increasingly important to us as we approach the menopause and want to avoid the risks of developing osteoporosis.
But it's easy to focus just on calcium, which of course is very important for bone health, but calcium has to be accompanied by all the other bone-supportive nutrients such as Vitamins D, K, A, C, boron and magnesium in order for bones to be strengthened and maintained. In fact, calcium cannot be properly absorbed and used without the presence of vitamin D.
So yes, we need to ensure we have adequate calcium in our diet but equally we need the other nutrients too as they all work together to strengthen our bones.
Contrary to popular belief dairy milk is by no means the only source of calcium or necessarily the best source. Many other foods contain calcium, in fact a recent study found that the calcium in kale is actually more readily absorbed than the calcium from dairy milk (1) meaning that the body can absorb and make use of more of it.
As far as calcium is concerned, an adult is recommended to eat between 1000 - 1500mg per day depending on age and stage of life so here is an example from www.whfoods.com on how to achieve 1100mg of calcium without dairy products:
4 ounces of tofu, 2 TBS of sesame seeds, 1.5 cups of steamed collard greens, and 4 ounces of scallops provide you with 1,100 milligrams of calcium, or 110% DV.
So that's calcium sorted, now what about the other nutrients?
Foods that contain calcium and/or all the supporting nutrients include:
Bone broth (slow cooking bones and vegetables produces a mineral packed broth that is the chief source of calcium in East Asian countries). Bone broth nourishes your bones like few other foods do.
Kefir, yoghurt, cheese (goat's or sheep)
Wild fish such as salmon and sardines (source of vitamin D plus the fish oils help the absorption of vitamin D)
Canned fish eaten with their bones i.e. salmon, sardines (the bones are a great source of calcium)
Green leafy vegetables (full of calcium, magnesium and vitamin K)
80% of your diet should be plant based as this provides an alkaline diet that protects bones
Sea vegetables i.e. nori, wakame, agar and kombu (good sources of calcium and the supportive minerals)
Healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts & seeds, coconut (these fats aid the absorption of the minerals you eat)
Get plenty of sun exposure on the skin whenever possible i.e. 20 minutes on unprotected skin for vitamin D. During winter supplementation can be considered.
Resistance training is great for strengthening bones and essentially this includes anything that puts pressure on your bones i.e. lifting, pushing, pulling.
Foods to avoid that can negatively affect your bones include:
Soft fizzy drinks (high in phosphorus which affects calcium balance)
High intake of animal protein (has an acidic effect that can lead to calcium being leached from bones)
Caffeine (has an acidic effect that can leach calcium from bones)
High salt foods i.e. processed foods, ready meals etc (increases calcium loss through urine)
Sugar (increases inflammation that can lead to more calcium being leached from bones)
Tannin in tea (binds to minerals such as calcium & magnesium which can stop them being available for the body to use - drinking tea away from meals lessens this problem)
Alcohol (increases inflammation that can lead to more calcium being leached from bones)
Manage stress levels effectively because excessive cortisol production interferes with how calcium is used in the body.