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So where do you get your calcium? ;-) April 10, 2007 9:26 AM

Well, now that we've covered the birds and the bees (eggs and honey, anyway ), now it's the cows' (and goats') turn!

Those of us who don't eat flesh have probably been asked (repeatedly), "Where do you get your protein?" When people find out we don't eat dairy, we also get asked, "What's wrong with dairy? It doesn't hurt the cow!" and "Where do you get your calcium?" This post will attempt to answer both of those questions (though it may be covering very familiar ground for many of you.)

“There’s no reason to drink cow’s milk at any time in your life. It was designed for calves, it was not designed for humans, and we should all stop drinking it today, this afternoon.”
~Dr. Frank A. Oski, former director of pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University

Dairy Reconsidered

For people who dutifully drink milk and swallow cheese, ice cream and yogurt, believing that the magic of cow’s milk will ward off fractures in old age, be advised that there is very little evidence that dairy products prevent osteoporosis - in fact, just the opposite may be true. Surprisingly, the nations who consume the most dairy products - the United States, Israel, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries - suffer the highest incidences of osteoporosis13. If dairy products actually prevented osteoporosis, it would be rare in America and these other countries - yet, it is actually more rampant in these nations than in less developed countries.

Conversely, most humans on our planet, in Asia, South America, and Africa, virtually never consume cow's milk products - the milk, transportation, and refrigeration simply are not available. Yet, osteoporosis is not a common condition in these countries. Most of these people (barring starvation or parasitic diseases) enjoy strong bones throughout their physically active lives, deriving essentially all their calcium from green vegetables, seeds, grains, and from their drinking water.

Incidentally, seeing cow's milk and dairy products as far from essential for bone health can be advantageous for the rest of your body. Cow's milk contains proteins and other substances that are thought to play a major role in many serious diseases, like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, recurring ear infections, eczema, colitis, and various autoimmune diseases. Don't be surprised if, after a few weeks without dairy products, your body feels and functions better in many ways - less swallowed phlegm, intestinal gas, runny nasal secretions, and other common, milk-related symptoms. Fortunately, these days, going dairy free is no great hardship. It is easy to find non-dairy replacements for milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and other cow's milk-based products - just check in the refrigerator and freezer cases of your local natural food store or supermarket.

~ by Michael A. Klaper, MD
(excerpted from an article on Osteoporosis:

"But it Doesn't Hurt the Cow" by Jack Norris, RD

"When Friends Ask: Where Do You Get Your Calcium?" by John McDougall, MD

"Calcium in Plant-Based Diets" from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)

"Plant-Based Calcium: Sources & Absorbability" by Beverly Bennet

From the Portuguese magazine "QUO"

This post was modified from its original form on 10 Apr, 9:30  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Calcium April 10, 2007 9:30 AM

I am a serious fan of hummus.

Hummus has an incredible amount of calcium... from the chickpeas! Sesame seeds are good for you, too... and hummus has BOTH!

Is this stuff great, or what?

I also slip in a bit of calcium with my fortified soy milk. Oh, and dark green leafies, like Kale, Collard greens, Chard...

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 April 10, 2007 9:38 AM

I'm a major chick pea fan as well! Right out of the can, on salads, as hummus... I even make my "tuna" (NOT!) salad out of them. (It's Jo Stepaniak's "Nottuna" recipe from her nutritional yeast cookbook, but we long ago started just calling it "Chick Pea Salad" and we just hoover it up!)

I'd originally included this link to Dr. Neal Pinckney's "Healing Heart Foundation" web site in my first post, but unfortunately the site has changed its frames (or something, I'm techno-impaired!), so I can no longer link directly to the calcium page. So just click on "Healthy Heart Handbook" on the left, then on "Calcium" about halfway down the middle column, if you want more info on calcium and a plant-based diet...
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Corrected link... April 10, 2007 9:46 AM

A thousand pardons... there shouldn't be a ) at the end of the URL for the osteoporosis article by Dr. Klaper, and it renders the link useless.

Here's the corrected link...

(Now I'm going to go do something really low-tech, like read a book!
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 April 10, 2007 10:06 AM

Great information, thanks! I hope lots of people see this! *green stars*

p.s. I LOVE garbanzo beans and hummus too and spinach is yummy and a great source of calcium as well.
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typos happen ;) April 10, 2007 10:06 AM

  is what I meant  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 April 10, 2007 2:45 PM

It's gremlins, Amalthea! Gotta be!  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
More info... April 11, 2007 9:44 AM

This is a hot topic, it seeems!

I just read these two recent articles this morning and think they are worth sharing. They are, at first blush anyway, contradictory and confusing, but I hope ultimately helpful in emphasizing good vegan nutrition and health habits. It's obviously important that our diets not just be vegan, but also be healthy. That's not HARD, but they don't automatically go hand in hand! (As anyone who has tried to live on a diet of nothing but vegan brownies can attest. Not that I have... I just thought about it once. )

So, here are two points of view from two long-time vegans regarding the recent Oxford-EPIC study on Diet, Calcium & Bone Health. I recommend reading them both. I think in the end you'll be more informed than confused! That's my hope anyway!

This from Jack Norris, ND (a long time vegan):

And this from John McDougall, MD (also a long-time vegan):

(Dr. McDougall's article discusses other studies, but the one in question is addressed first, under "Vegans Have More Fractures.")

This post was modified from its original form on 11 Apr, 9:45  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
Other side of the equation April 12, 2007 8:50 AM

It isn't just calcium, it's also vitamin D. Without sufficient Vit. D, our bodies cannot use the calcium.

The two major forms are vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) which is vegan, and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which is from animal sources. It is mostly D3  which is used to fortify dairy, multivitamins, and other foods.

The best source, really, is sunshine. It only takes a few minutes a day of sunlight, without glass, sunscreen, or clouds, to provide enough sunshine for your body to make all the D it needs. If you don't get enough sunshine, be sure to use D2 suppliments, and/or get a UV/D sunlamp (sparti lamps are recommended by some researchers. It's what I have).

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Your sunlamp April 12, 2007 9:21 AM

Rene, if memory serves, when you first mentioned your sunlamp you'd just recently gotten it. How are you liking it so far? Are you noticing a difference yet?

We haven't had sunshine since Sunday, and hadn't had any for a week before that! Argh, withdrawal!!!

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My sunlamp April 12, 2007 10:14 AM

It seems to be working fine. We did have an issue with the first bulb in it, but the company did replace that, without any real problem. (we had to send the bad bulb, and then they sent the replacement)

As far as health improvements, I can't really answer that yet. According to the information I have studied on Vitamin D, it actually takes several months to a year of steady, sustained Vit. D supplimentation or sunshine treatments, for the levels in your system to rectify the effects of deficiency. I think that I feel better.

Using the lamp is pretty easy. You put on these really dorky safety goggles (they look like swimmer's goggles, but they may actually be different from those... they come with the lamp), turn the timer on, push the switch, wait for the lamp to come on really bright, then reset the timer again to the full 5 minutes, and then stand/sit in front of it, 20" away. It gets warm, especially if you aren't quite far enough away, so that is an indication that you have to move out a bit...

The recommendation is three times a week, for 5 minutes, not on the face or hands (as they get sunshine, usually), and to change the body parts exposed each time. The literature with it said (as I remember it) that a 12" x 12" area of skin, exposed to the light for 5 minutes, can create 10,000 IU of Vit. D. However, your skin/body will never create too much vitamin D. It's self-regulating in that respect. The only concern is skin damage from using it too much, in the form of tanning (which may be damaging to the skin).

400 IU daily is the posted requirements from the National Institute of Health. They also recommend 10-15 minutes of sunshine at least twice a week, without sunscreen or clouds.

Anyway, I'm using my lamp three times a week, plus whenever the sun peeks out, I go outside for 5 or 10 minutes (I'm very very fair skinned, so I turn red rather quickly). I am looking forward to health benefits, as they come.

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 April 12, 2007 10:35 AM

for the information, Rene!
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Calcium supplements July 10, 2007 8:49 AM

Aside from drinking soymilk from time to time, and eating the regular (i.e., not 'silken') tofu that is processed with calcium, I will use a calcium supplement from Lifeline. I purchased it at Sprouts and also at Hi-Health. It is a liquid supplement which must be kept cold but it does not have any dairy and comes in a variety of flavors (strawberry, orange, blueberry). It's preacidified and is very yummy.

It was difficult at first to find a supplement that did not contain any dairy or oyster shells but not impossible!

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 July 11, 2007 10:02 PM

Caltrate is a realy great calcium supplement. It has 100% vitamin D and 80% calcium, so your body will absorb more of it than supplements which do not have vitamin D. If anyone doesn't like to swallow pills (like me), there are pill crushers which crush it up into a powder form. It is pretty much tasteless and can be added easily to almost anything.

Also, adding kale to pasta is an easy way to add a little calcium to your diet. =)

A really fabulous site for veganness is It has hundreds of recipes, and videos that contain really great tips that will make going vegan super easy and exciting.

Hope this was helpful. =)

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New Estimates for Calcium Requirements November 01, 2007 3:22 PM

Calcium Requirements Much Lower Than Previously Estimated

Calcium requirements: new estimations for men and women by cross-sectional statistical analyses of calcium balance data from metabolic studies by Curtiss D. Hunt published in the October 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded, “The findings suggest that the calcium requirement for men and women is lower than previously estimated…the new balance data also concur with the recognition that saturation of the active transport component of calcium absorption occurs at an intake of 500 mg/day. The new estimation is in line with the previous consideration that individuals with low, but nutritionally adequate, intakes of sodium and protein may have calcium requirements as low as 500 mg/day.”

Data was used from a series of tightly controlled metabolic in-house feeding studies conducted between 1976 and 1995 by the US Department of Agriculture to estimate the amount of dietary calcium needed to maintain a neutral calcium balance. The diets consumed by subjects were composed of ordinary Western foods. Diets lower in protein, acid, sodium, and caffeine (like the McDougall diet) would reduce human calcium requirements even further.

Comment: Commonly recommended requirements for calcium are 1000 to 1200 mg a day. However, this study found that neutral calcium balance (when the calcium consumed equals the calcium lost in the urine and feces) was on average an intake of 741 mg/day. However, when calcium intakes were varied in the studies from 415 mg to 1740 mg per day the subjects still remained in a neutral balance. In other words, when fed a relatively low calcium diet (415 mg/day) the body would adjust; the intestines would more efficiently absorb calcium, the kidneys would conserve calcium, and the person’s needs were met (always). When overfed with calcium (1740 mg/day) the body also adjusts; the intestines block calcium absorption, the kidneys eliminate more calcium, and injuries (such as soft tissue calcification) from excess calcium are avoided. The body is so smart.

Because of the innate intelligence of our intestines the most basic diets of starches, vegetables and fruits (without a speck of dairy foods) have sufficient calcium in them to meet our needs—and this is why “disease of calcium deficiency” from any natural diet is non-existent. Many people think osteoporosis is due to calcium deficiency; but this bone loss is primarily due to excess animal protein with its associated dietary acids. On the opposite end of intake, when we overdose with calcium by consuming glassfuls of milk or handfuls of calcium pills our gut saves us by blocking the absorption of this potentially toxic element. As mentioned above, “…saturation of the active transport component of calcium absorption occurs at an intake of {approx} 500 mg/day.”

This review of the basic research should put to rest the message that large intakes of calcium are necessary for healthy bones—but it won’t, because of the money to be made by the dairy and calcium supplement industries. In addition to large quantities of calcium being unnecessary, dairy consumption brings these added risks: the fat and cholesterol cause heart disease, the sugar causes intestinal distress from lactose intolerance, and the contamination with environmental chemicals and microbes, including leukemia and AIDS viruses, is a very real threat.

For more on dairy foods and calcium see my Hot Topics.

Hunt CD, Johnson LK. Calcium requirements: new estimations for men and women by cross-sectional statistical analyses of calcium balance data from metabolic studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Oct;86(4):1054-63.

By John McDougall, MD from the Oct 2007 McDougall Newsletter

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Podcasts About Dairy Issues March 26, 2008 9:05 AM

cow faceSome interesting, informative, important "Food For Thought" podcasts about dairy and related issues...

Milk is a Natural Food & Cows Naturally Give Milk, So What's Wrong with Drinking It?
Cow's milk is indeed a natural food - for calves! - just as human milk is made for humans, rat's milk is made for rats, and dog's milk is made for dogs. Our consumption of cow's milk is even more absurd when you consider that calves stop drinking cow's milk when they're weaned, and humans stop drinking human milk when they're weaned, but somehow we've all been convinced that humans should continue drinking cow's milk - and never wean.

Where Do I Get My Calcium if I Don't Drink Cow's Milk?
Cow's milk contains calcium because cows eat grass. Calcium is a mineral that comes from the ground, which means, like grass, all green leafy vegetables are teeming with this nutrient. Let's explore the rationale behind human adults drinking another animal's milk when we don't even drink our own species' milk into adulthood. Perhaps all the calves are laughing at us, for even they stop drinking their own mothers' milk when they become adults. In other words, I think we have a lot to learn from the cows.

Favorite Foods: Non-Dairy Milks
Despite the crazy notion that non-dairy milks are alternatives to cow's milk, it's really the other way around when you consider the fact that the milk from nuts and soybeans has been used for thousands of years. Join me as I explore the many commercial (and homemade) milks available to those of us who've weaned ourselves from the milk of cows.

Life After Cheese
If you have ever said or thought that you could "never give up cheese," this episode is for you. In it, I explore our irrational attachment to this stuff and suggest that it is a combination of factors that foster our addiction to cheese. I suggest that our desire for it is really a desire for something familiar. I suggest that it acts as a trigger for a nostalgic memory. I suggest that we use it to bring us comfort. I also suggest that it may be as simple as craving fat or salt. And I suggest that all of these things can be satisfied without cheese. I also recommend some good non-dairy cheeses as well as ways to make some of your favorite dishes without any cheese at all - dairy or non-dairy. The bottom line is: NEVER SAY NEVER. Just be willing to be open. You'll find that there is indeed life without cheese. First, we have to stop giving it so much power.

How Humane Are "Humane" Meat, Dairy and Eggs?
I have yet to meet a non-vegetarian who didn't care about the treatment of animals raised and killed for human consumption, and I have yet to meet a non-vegetarian who didn't declare that they're eating "humanely raised" meat, dairy, and eggs. When you factor in the breeding, transporting, and slaughter, is it possible to have "humane" animal products?

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 March 26, 2008 1:42 PM

Oh I LOOOOVE this thread!!!!!!!  

I get my C & D from the sun, OJ, broccoli, and hummus. 

(And prolly from plenty more stuff since I tend to eat everything in site that doesn't come from animals.)  

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Greens March 27, 2008 2:33 PM

I recently read an article about a long-time (like, 10 years) raw foodist, that discovered that if they didn't eat enough greens, then ended up with mineral deficiencies... like calcium, and others.
Eat your dark, leafy greens! I love kale, chard, spinach (not so great for calcium, but good for other things), beet greens, dark lettuces, herbs, etc. I'm not a raw foodist (yet), but I'm trying to eat more raw, especially greens

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More on Vitamin D April 03, 2008 8:48 AM

Since Vitamin D (which is actually a hormone) goes hand in hand with the topics of calcium, osteoporosis, and dairy and non-dairy milks (which, along with other foods, are often fortified with Vitamin D derived from either animals or plants!), here is more important info on this key component of a healthy body and vegan diet; what it is and how it works, its best source and why, and how to tell the vegan from the non-vegan Vit D in fortified foods:

Our "Vitamin D Reminder" thread

"Low Vitamin D: One Sign of Sunlight Deficiency" by John McDougall, MD

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 April 27, 2008 9:14 AM

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anonymous  April 29, 2008 7:38 AM

That is SUCH a good video, Foxy - and great music too!

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 April 29, 2008 8:13 PM

Thanks River. It really worth it to pass it around.

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 April 30, 2008 3:55 PM

You cannot currently send a star to vegan fox because you have done so within the last week.
Oh, reeeaaalllly. Well, to that!


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 May 01, 2008 10:16 AM

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Not that we need one... May 03, 2008 8:05 AM

.... but here's yet another reason to give up dairy!

Mad Cow Proteins Detected in Dairy Products

Prion protein in milk by Nicola Franscini published in the December 2006 issue of PLoS ONE (Public Library of Science) found prion proteins in Swiss off-the-shelf milk and fresh milk.1 Prions are the cause of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and humans, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. About the same concentration of prion protein was measured for organic farm milk and non-organic farm milk as well as for pasteurized (heating for 30 seconds to 72°C) and ultra-high temperature (UHT) treated (heating for 1–4 seconds to 135°C) milk. (1) Prions were also found in the milk of humans, sheep, and goats.

Dr. McDougall's Comment:

Prion protein is the agent that causes mad cow disease in cattle, people, deer, sheep, and many other animals. These infectious proteins accumulate for years before illness appears. Transmission from food to people is of great concern. Prior to the use of the latest technology, this infectious agent was hard to detect in milk. However, that changed with the use by these investigators of new methods employing the Alicon PrioTrap®. This technology is so effective that prion proteins can even be found in human milk.

A similar story can be told about bovine leukemia viruses found in cow’s milk. This virus was discovered in cattle in 1969, but studies using older technology (agar gel immunodiffusion and complement fixation assays) failed to find antibodies to bovine leukemia viruses in people. As a result, the prevailing opinion was exposure of humans to bovine leukemia viruses by eating beef and drinking cow’s milk was not important; therefore, the presence of this virus in our food supply was not a public health hazard. (2) However, in 2003 researchers reported finding evidence of infection with bovine leukemia viruses in 74% of people tested by using more modern technology (immunoblotting). (2) Still, almost no one has heard that 9 out of 10 cattle herds in the US are infected with bovine leukemia viruses and that three-fourths of people show immunologic signs suggesting infection. (2)

You should assume cow’s milk off-the-shelf contains infectious agents (prions, viruses, and microbes), which can impose a health risk to you and your family. Cow’s milk is also high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein; factors known to cause serious human disease. There is no risk in avoiding cow’s milk—it provides no nutrients, specifically calcium and protein, which could not be better obtained from plant sources. (See these recent newsletters for further information: February 2007: When Friends Ask: "Where Do You Get Your Calcium?"; March 2007: When Friends Ask: "Why Don't You Drink Milk?")

1) Franscini N, El Gedaily A, Matthey U, Franitza S, Sy MS, Bürkle A, Groschup M, Braun U, Zahn R. Prion protein in milk. PLoS ONE. 2006 Dec 20;1:e71.

2) Buehring GC, Philpott SM, Choi KY. Humans have antibodies reactive with Bovine leukemia virus. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2003 Dec;19(12):1105-13.

Source: March 2008 McDougall Newsletter

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