Here it is, the post you’ve been dreading, the one that will make you re-evaluate everything you’ve ever been told about nutrition. Don’t worry, I was in your boat not so long ago. This wasn’t information I was brought up knowing, it is information that I have taught myself over the years. So here it is: you don’t need milk or yoghurt to benefit from highly bioavailable sources of calcium. In fact, contrary to popular belief, most dairy products do not possess any type of calcium that is easily absorbed in the body. Can you believe it? Read on to understand why…
The pasteurisation process involved in the manufacture of most dairy products creates calcium carbonate which has absolutely no way of entering the cells without a chelating agent. When we drink milk, the body pulls the calcium from the bones and other tissues in order to buffer the calcium carbonate in the blood. This process gradually weakens bones, so all that rubbish we were told growing up about milk making our bones stronger, is completely false. Milk also has little to no nutrient density because pasteurisation destroys enzymes, diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6 and kills beneficial bacteria. (Nutrient density is the ratio of nutrient content to the total energy content. Thus, nutrient-dense foods are those foods that provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories.) It’s the main reason pasteurised milk promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer. In its raw form, cow’s milk does contain lots of nutrients, but too much bacteria is carried in raw milk for us to consume it safely.
One of the main reasons we should stay away from dairy is because of its effect on the immune system. Dairy kills good bacteria in the gut, making way for lots of bad bacteria to flourish and creating the perfect environment for parasites to nest. If you are bloated, get tummy aches, flatulence and cramps, it is likely to be caused by either gluten or dairy, or a combination of the two. So what does this have to do with the immune system? Well, believe it or not, the immune system is predominately housed in the gut, so if your gut is weak with too much bad bacteria, your immune system will also be weak and will subsequently lead to susceptibility to common colds and viruses, as well as leaving us open to autoimmune issues. I never used to realise that one part of the body could so drastically affect another. What, I would have asked, does my immune system have to do with my stomach? But our bodies are one big vehicle needing all parts to be in good shape in order to work fully. The stronger your gut is, the stronger your immune system will be. By cutting out dairy and taking a good probiotic or drinking Kombucha and / or Kefir, you are aiding the growth of the good bacteria and the demise of the bad, making way for a healthy gut and strong immune system. (You can get infant and child probiotics also.)
To summarise, (and to destroy everything we’ve ever been taught about milk!) the calcium in cow’s milk is NOT bioavailable to humans. Think of it logically; we are the only species on Earth who not only still drink milk after infancy, but who drink the milk of another species. It was never meant to be, it was just what was done in days when people were poor and lived off the only resources they had available to them (EG: in Russia people lived predominately off fish as this was available, in Morocco people cooked with fruits and sweet herbs such as cinnamon and dates as this is what was available, in England they drank milk as they had an abundance of cows so they utilised all of their produce), the Inuit live predominantly off whale blubber… You get my point; these eating habits became just that – habit – and we forgot to question them, we just assumed it was the best way to eat. Today, everything is available to us, so we really don’t need to resort to drinking the lactation of another species to sustain ourselves. Which leads me to the question of why people think it is totally abhorrent to try breast milk- the milk of our own species- but absolutely fine to drink the milk squeezed from the nipples of a totally different species. Because we’ve been told to? Because we know no different? Surely in this age of information it is about time we start thinking for ourselves and stop following blindly the things we’ve always been told, things that benefit industry but not our health.
Cow’s milk is for baby cows. Human babies are much smaller than calves, therefore our bodies find it very difficult to break down (along with all the other reasons listed above). If you ever wonder why so many babies suffer from colic and allergies these days, you may just have found your answer. Our bodies and our babies’ bodies are rejecting this milk. Mother’s milk is best for human babies. If you can’t breastfeed, there are alternatives, but cow’s milk should not be one of them. Cow’s milk is healthy only for baby cows (who, by the way, often don’t get to feed off their mother’s milk because they are taken away early so that dairy and meat farmers can mass-farm their produce to sell). As well as the health issues it causes, the fact it has no nutritional value to us and that the babies are taken away from their mummas, another reason to stay away is because the mass-farming of dairy means that these poor cows are kept lactating all year round so that their nipples swell to inhumane, unnatural sizes and they are in pain and uncomfortable. (and as a breastfeeding mother, I know how painful mastitis and nipple pain can be!) For this reason, the nipples create pus and this is filtered into the milk we end up drinking, as are the steroids, antibiotics and hormones that are injected into the cows to keep them ‘strong’.
You’re probably wondering then what you can substitute milk with, and where you can get your calcium from… Substitutes come in the form of nut milks that we can make ourselves for minimal cost and in minimal time. Check out Raine’s Almond Milk. We also use nut milks in most of our breakfast recipes (check out the breakfast page) and we even make our own yoghurt with cashews or coconuts. Have a look at my cashew yoghurt and the to-die-for cashew butter. If you have nut allergies you can opt for rice milk or oat milk – still highly nutritious and much better for the gut than cow’s milk.
Can’t breastfeed and not sure what you should do as all formulas are cow’s milk-based? Try this Nannycare goat’s milk-based formula. Much gentler on the gut than cow’s milk and all the ingredients are high-grade.
Many natural food sources have high bioavailable calcium meaning they are absorbed and become available for the body to utilise physiologically after consumption.
Eating a combination of these foods will give you all the calcium and nutrient density you’ll ever need.
In order of highest calcium:
- Dried herbs (dried basil, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, dill). 2113mg per 100g
- Sesame seeds (dried). 975mg per 100g
- Chia seeds (dried). 631mg per 100g
- Fireweed leaves. 429mg per 100g
- Sardines 382mg per 100g
- Grape leaves. 289mg per 100g
- Chilli powder. 278mg per 100g
- 264mg per 100g
- 255mg per 100g
- Collards raw. 232mg per 100g
- 217mg per 100g
- Amaranth greens. 215mg per 100g
- 181mg per 100g
- Kelp (seaweed). 168mg per 100g
- Lotus seeds. 163mg per 100g
- Brazil nuts. 160mg per 100g
- 138mg per 100g
- Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, kale). 99mg per 100g
- 86mg per 100g
To make sure Braxton gets enough calcium I make sure his diet has heaps of leafy green veg and nuts and I make a bowl of tahini (if using this recipe for babies just omit the salts) once a week from a tub of raw tahini paste, and I dollop it over pretty much everything he eats. The sesame seeds give him all the bioavailable calcium he needs.
I really hope this post gives you something to think about. We are all on a journey of learning and all we can do is try to pass on information that we are learning ourselves, in the hope that we can help people become healthier. The way I see it is, just because you have been brought up being told something, it doesn’t make it right. We were all brought up in a time when milk was delivered in cute little glass bottles to our doors and we drank it endlessly and were contributors to the clever consumerist advertising campaigns all around us telling us that we need milk for calcium. We don’t! Imagine how many other things we got wrong… there is so much for us to learn, the possibilities are endless!
Health and happiness,