Through very effective marketing strategies over the years and the advice of many health care practitioners, we are led to associate calcium mostly with milk and other dairy products. There is rarely any mention of other beneficial sources of the bone building mineral calcium. We think that if we are not eating dairy products every day then we are setting ourselves up for osteoporosis or other bone related conditions. While calcium is indisputably excellent for our bones, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and blood clotting, dairy products made from cow’s milk are not the only food source and consuming plenty of dairy products can prove to be more harmful in the long run than beneficial.
What is it about dairy that can make it difficult to digest?
First, let’s keep in mind that cow’s milk is exactly that– a creamy substance that is perfectly balanced (like human mother’s milk for infants) with the exact proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and hormones needed for the rapid growth of an 80-100lb calf. Many cultures don’t even consume cow’s milk. In fact, those that focus on a dairy free, whole food diet are the same groups who have the lowest rates of osteoporosis. On the contrary, North Americans are the highest consumers of cow’s milk and have the highest rates of osteoporosis.
Many of us are or know someone who is lactose intolerant, meaning that they lack the enzyme called lactase which is needed to digest the milk sugar, lactose. However, there has been a big focus over the last several years over another ingredient in milk called casein. Casein is a protein that our bodies simply have a hard time digesting and can cause problems down the road. If we are not digesting it properly then we are not absorbing the calcium adequately either. Unfortunately, the self digesting food enzymes that are necessary in helping us digest casein are killed in the pasteuriza-tion process and sadly, it is easier to go downtown and buy crack than it is raw milk.
Beneficial however, due to the natural probiotics in them, are fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir. They are much easier to absorb and are very good sources of calcium.
What are some allergic reactions to dairy?
Some examples of the reactions to dairy sensitivities/allergies that I come across time and time again in my practice are joint pain, rosy cheeks, headaches, fatigue, inflammation, congestion, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, migraines, mood swings, eczema, insomnia, irritability, behavioural issues, asthma, and countless digestive disorders. Infants with their premature digestive systems can be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of cow’s milk and should really not be consuming it until they are at least 18 month old, then watch for any potential changes, rashes, digestive ailments etc.
However, if you really enjoy cheese or a glass of milk, like anything else, do it moderation. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms above (or any not listed) try 14 days dairy free and see how you do. It’s always good to alternate your foods as well. Try an unsweetened, organic non-GMO soy, rice or almond milk as an alternative or even sheep or goat’s milk if that works for you.
In the meantime, here are some terrific green sources like salads, hummus, and kale chips where you can get some serious high quality calcium from.
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
Tahini (ground sesame seeds—often added in dips and smoothies)
Sardines (1 can)
Tofu (4 oz)
Fortified organic soy milk