Monday, November 30, 2009

How much calcium do we really need?

Are you thinking about cutting out the dairy but worried about adequate calcium intake? Or are you a parent concerned about the adverse health effects of dairy products, but scared that your child will suffer from calcium deficiency without them? Is there an alternative to supplemental Calcium tablets?

From the get-go I was apprehensive about milk with my daughter because I am so strongly lactose-intolerant (and possible casein allergy). It was touted as the only way for your child, so I initially thought that she would need dairy. I proceeded to do an extensive amount of research on the subject, starting with why omit dairy. Here are the main reasons:

- Calcium from cow's milk poorly absorbed (30% or less)
- Harmful effects of milk protein, casein (increased risk for cancer, increases autism syptoms, similar to gluten and may cause problems for gluten-intolerant)
- Lactose, nearly everyone is intolerant but in varying degrees (some tolerate more than others)
- Animal protein increases secretion of calcium to urine, and this loss is much more significant in determining calcium utilization relative to calcium intake
- Cow's milk is optimal for calves until they are weaned, not meant for (excessive) human consumption
- Especially O blood group was most prevalent long before agriculture, may be the reason that individuals with O blood cannot digest dairy (or grains) too well. On the contrary blood type A is common in agricultural societies and therefore are better adapted to consuming dairy products

Then, after reviewing the potential risks, I started wondering could milk be replaced by alternative calcium sources? Straightforward answer: YES it can! And it is easy. Excellent sources include:

Chia seeds 820mg/100g (123 mg in one tablespoon!)
Sesame seeds, unhulled 640mg/100g (95mg in tbsp)
Sardines, 92mg/sardine
Sunflower seeds 116mg/100g
Rose hip puree (ruusunmarjasose) 334mg/100g
Almonds 276mg/100g
Dried figs 250mg/100g
Raisins 50mg/100g
Sweet potato, raw 30mg/100g
Breastmilk 27-30mg/100g

Cow's milk, 1% 120mg/100g

But how much calcium is actually required? Recommendations vary a lot in different countries, in America often an adult RDA is 1200mg, whereas in Japan this is only 600mg. RDA's are however not minimum intakes, or even necessary intakes. They are based on statistics with margins to ensure that they are suitable for everyone, it does not take individuality into account. For example, consumption of animal protein increases secretion of calcium. Therefore a diet rich in plant protein and low in animal protein means you require less calcium. This is also true for infants not consuming any dairy. Many sources including AAP say that infants need 400mg calcium, but I have not succeeded in finding a minimum calcium intake for infants. This is probably because it is too risky info, they would rather have children consume an excess than risk any child getting less than what is required. I found this chart however, that lists values specific to age categories:

Infants, 0 - 6 months
210 mg
Infants, 7 - 12 months
270 mg
Children, 1 - 3 years
500 mg
Children, 4 - 8 years
800 mg
Pre-teens and Teens, 9-18 years
1300 mg
Adults (19-50 years)
1000 mg
Adults (50+ years)
1200 mg
Pregnant and Nursing (up to age 18)
1300 mg
Pregnant and Nursing (19-50 years)
1000 mg

This seems reasonable. I try to ensure my soon 1-year-old daughter gets 300-400mg calcium daily, and that I self (nursing) get around 800-1000mg daily. Like I said, for individuals who consume less animal protein the required intake of calcium is less. Calcium from plant sources is often highly absorbed, especially in the case of chia and sprouted sesame seeds. A diet rich in vegetables is also high in boron, which further increases calcium utilization and bone strength. Chia seeds also contain plenty of boron.

Clearly a diet rich in calcium does not need to include dairy. Contradictory to common belief, it does not require soy products either.

Tips to include calcium in infant diets:
- Chia smoothies (1 tbsp chia seeds, 1-2 times a day)
- Sprouted sesame seeds in porridges and smoothies
- Rose hip puree (on its own, smoothies, porridge)
- Mash a sardine or mackerel fillet (low sodium ones) in with a veggie meal
- Nutmilks (after first year)
- Dried dates, figs and prunes and raw grated veggies as finger foods
- Soak dried fruit or raisins in water for smoothies
- Dark leafy greens in smoothies (calcium from spinach not too well absorbed due to oxalic acid, also too high in nitrates for infants)

Remember that calcium absorption hinges on adequate vitamin D intake! And please take the time to sign this important petition againts aspartame in children's antibiotics.



Yaelian said...

A good posting! I haven't thought about this from a child's viewpoint,but the arguments are very strong. I stopped using animal milk about 2½ years ago (and I am not lactose intolerant) and my always congested nose has been much clearer since that...

anna said...

Mitä mieltä olet kalsiumtablettien syömisestä? Minkäköhänlainen on imeytyvyys jne.

cassandra said...

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Aletheia said...

Yaelian, I'm glad you mentioned that congested nose issue. So many people insist that they can tolerate lactose, just be cause they don't get indigestion. There are plenty of other adverse effects milk can cause. I think everyone should consume dairy in strict moderation, because it makes so much sense that daily excessive consumption is certainly not what we are built for.

Anna, kalsiumtableteista tiedän sen verran, että kalsiumsitraatti imeytyy muita kalsiumyhdisteitä paremmin. Verrattuna kalsiumkarbonaattiin sitraatin imeytyminen on 2.5 kertaa tehokkaampaa. Kalsiumsitraatista varsinaista kalsiumia on 21%, ja sen hyödyntäminen tabletista on ymmärtääkseni samaa luokkaa kuin sekaravinnosta eli jotain 10-30%. Parhaiten kalsium imeytyy, kun tabletti otetaan ruoan kanssa. Kalsiumsitraatti imeytyy parhaiten happamuutensa ansioista, toisin kuin emäksinen kalsiumkarbonaatti. Imeytymiseen vaikuttaa niin moni tekijä, että on vaikea sanoa absoluuttisia imetymismääriä. Mielestäni kasviksista ja kalasta saadaan helposti tarvittava määrä kalsiumia, joka imeytyy paremmin kuin tabletit. Tällöin vältytään myös turhilta ja mahdollisesti haitallisiltakin täyteaineilta, mitä tableteissa monesti on.

Cassandra, Thank you for your comment and honor.

Yaelian said...

I checked out your dehydrator as I had never heard of a Stockli dehydrator before. What I liked about it is that it has deep trays.My Ezidri dehydrator is very good,but the trays are not deep enough.

Aletheia said...

I had never heard of them either, but it seemed like the best option in the price range. The choices in Finland are SO limited, nearly none of the models have adjustable temperatures. And what good is a dehydrator if it only functions at like 80C? The excalibur would be amazing, but way too pricey. I'm anxious to see how this Stockli one turns out.

Anonymous said...

Im an O blood type person, and I never had any dairy consumption problems, I kn ow that not everyone may have dairy allergies, but I know cases where the person is allergic to generic viagra amd some related products.

SmarterThanDoctors said...

Awesome article, it is true, we do not need dairy in our diets at all. Neither to infants or young children. Breastfeeding a child for a year is the most milk they will ever need. Once at a year, they can pretty much eat the same food we can.

But that chart is very wrong. America is a calcium obsessed society. We are told by the media that we NEED lots of calcium when in reality, we don't. Did you know that other countries consume far less calcium than we do yet they have less people getting bone diseases?
You might want to check out the book Whitewash.

Dave said...

I don't drink milk very often, and my diet isn't that great. I exercise often and intensely. I take a multivitamin/mineral everyday, and if I measure it out I'm probably only getting 300mg of calcium in my diet, yet my calcium levels are more than adequate my doctor says. Go figure!

Alissa said...

Thanks so much for this article! We do not use cow's milk, and I often get a lot of grief about my sons not getting enough calcium. I know the only "dairy" they ever needed was breast milk! I just make sure they have a well-rounded diet, and I don't worry too much about calcium. I think the RDVs are much too high.

Basker said...

I presume you stated cow milk is not meant for human consumption simply because humans are not cows. But have you ever heard of a wild cow? We have been using cows since pre-history. I believe every part of the cow was 'meant' for some human use by God. But people misuse a lot of things, mainly by doctoring it up fancy, processing it and eating way too much of it. But there are animal products we cannot be healthy without.