Monday, March 16, 2009

The truth about calcium

grass fed cowMilk: it's been marketed to us as the holy grail for calcium. Yet for many of us, it's probably not the best place to get calcium in our diets.

"Go to the place where cows get theirs," urged Dr. Anne Marie Colbin, author of the new book A Whole Foods Approach to Bone Health at her free public talk on Thursday. Namely, leafy green vegetables. This was just one of the many useful nuggets of wisdom Dr. Colbin provided to the room full of science writers (and one blogger) in midtown Manhattan.

I was excited to attend this talk after listening to Dr. Colbin as a student at Integrative Nutrition. She's got this great no-nonsense way about her, and is passionate about cooking with vegetables and whole grains. She is the founder of The Natural Gourmet Institute, a health supportive cooking school in Manhattan. Every Friday night the school opens its door to the public, where one can enjoy a three course meal prepared by its students ($40).

On the menu at her school you will find many greens and other foods she recommends eating, namely - root vegetables, protein, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You also won't find much milk, sugar, white flour, or nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant).

Why these foods? To understand, Dr. Colbin suggests we think of our bones as a mineral savings account. They house 99% of our body's calcium store, 85% of its phosphorus, and 40-60% of its sodium and magnesium. Certain foods (like greens and whole grains) add to our mineral store, while other convenience-oriented foods (sugar, flour) and nightshade vegetables make withdrawals from our store.

An occasional withdrawal is fine, provided one makes the necessary deposits.

Her talk reminded me that we must rethink what we've been told. Namely, that milk and calcium supplements are the solution. For one, most commercially available milk is made from cows that are not grass fed (the place where the calcium is coming from), and has been tainted by growth hormones, antibiotics, and refining. If you need further evidence, look no further than a Harvard Nurses Study that found women who drink two or more glasses of milk per day have a 50% greater chance of bone fractures than those who drink more than one glass per week.

And while good intentioned calcium supplements, don't guarantee that extra calcium will go to your bones. Calcium from these supplements often flood our bloodstream, which looks for any place to deposit it (including our kidneys and other organs), which can cause other health complications.

In other words, stick with the food. And if you forget, remember the innate wisdom of the cow.

*Photo courtesy Theiz on Flickr


Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Ameet, I just wanted to let you know I've been visiting your blog for a while and really enjoy it. :) We have very similar philosophies about health and food---and we're both gluten-free these days, too.

Robin said...

Thanks so much for this article, Ameet. It's funny, I've known this about calcium and dairy for a long time and people are so brainwashed that they have a hard time believing it when I tell them. It's nice to know there's a great accessible scientific reference out there to send them to..

Ameet Maturu said...

Hi Robin,

You should definitely check out Anne Marie Colbin's book. She is great. I also have her slides from the presentation. If you are interested, send me an email - ameet [at]

Integrative Nutrition