Building Bones Without Dairy

One of the most common questions I field from students beginning the Elimination Phase of the TQI Diet is how they will get enough calcium if they are not eating dairy. A partial answer comes from a small but interesting study from Korea showing that Korean women are able to maintain bone health without dairy.

Korean women do not drink much milk but they do eat a significant amount of dark green vegetables – on average 11 ounces/day. Osteoporosis is prevalent in Korea today and raises the concern that their non-dairy diet is unable to prevent osteoporosis. In part, this concern grows out of the questionable premise that green vegetables provide calcium but of a much less bioavailable type than dairy does. (A misconception I will address in a future blog.)  

In order to see how the virtually dairy-free Korean diet impacted bone health, the researchers studied 72 older women (50-70 years old) who had just been diagnosed with osteoporosis at 10 different Korean hospitals and compared them with a similar group of 72 women without bone problems. The study showed three things:

First, calcium intake and especially calcium from plant sources reduced the likelihood of osteoporosis.

Second, the more vegetables a woman ate (calcium rich or not), the less likely she was to suffer osteoporosis.

Third, although reasonable amounts of dietary calcium significantly reduced the risk of osteoporosis and improved bone mineral density, eating animal sources of calcium (dairy products) did not reduce the risk of osteoporosis. They did not provide the benefits that dark green vegetables did.

Vegetables are a rich source of magnesium and potassium, both important minerals. One 4-year study found that each serving of vegetables increased bone density by 1%. Other antioxidants in plant foods (such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene) help prevent hip fractures. The researchers in this study noted that it was small and observational but in the end they were convinced that vegetables in the Korean diet provide calcium, vitamins, and minerals with a protective effect on bone that dairy did not show.

Take home lesson: Your bones can thrive without dairy as long as you eat enough dark green vegetables. Your bones do not grow stronger when you eat dairy. Your bone strength is enhanced by other nutrients in vegetables such as magnesium, potassium, and beta-carotenes.

Photo “Kale”, creative commons, some rights reserved by Mecks

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About kathyabascal

Herbalist with a background in neurobiology, biochemistry, and law. Teacher of the TQIDiet, how to quiet inflammation with food.
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14 Responses to Building Bones Without Dairy

  1. Kathy, thank you so much for creating this blog. I deeply appreciate your insights and research. ! Lauren

  2. Marie G. says:

    Kathy, what about products like, Mineral Matrix from St. Francis Herbal Farm? They have a good rep, as far as I know. They also now have something called CanPro. It is also make from goats, like a goat whey. Do you, or any one, know if they really are, a good calcium source?

    PS Thanks so much for this blog, I love it.

    • kathyabascal says:

      I am much more about food than about supplements. The marketing of this product is about making sure that you get large doses of calcium through your diet and supplements. Of course, the blog is about building bones without animal products, including goat dairy. It also references some studies putting in question how much calcium we need for bone health. So my recommendation is to go for nice dark green vegetables…

    • marie g. says:

      Hello Kathy, another thing I learned is that calcium supplements for aging adults actually makes our bones brittle, leading to easy breaks. I don’t know if this is true? What of if because supplements are sinthetic? What about the 2 Magnesium to, 1 cal. is this the other way around?

      Really on the calcium info search

      • kathyabascal says:

        Calcium metabolism is incredibly complex. It needs to be in balance with things such as magnesium. So, no, I do not think it is the fact that our supplements are synthetic. I think it relates more to not eating a balanced diet and trying to use isolated supplements to concentrate.
        As for winter: Frozen vegetables are one way to go. Increasingly, stores like Costco and Trader Joe etc. offer baby spinach year round at reasonable prices but you also have broccoli, etc. Add those greens to the seasonal onions, winter squashes, etc. and you’ll be fine.

  3. Hi Kathy – Good news, and I have read other reports to the effect that dairy is not the good source of calcium that it is reputed to be. I was puzzled by this sentence:
    “One 4-year study found that each serving of vegetables increased bone density by 1%.”
    If I go out to the kitchen and eat a serving of vegetables, I might benefit (maybe in a few days) with a 1% increase in bone density? That would be awesome…
    But I thought probably it meant that if I add an average of one extra serving of vegetables *per day*, my bones might eventually be 1% more dense than otherwise. That’s not so exciting 😉 since I’d be increasing my vegetable intake by a lot more than 1%…

    • kathyabascal says:

      As you may have noticed, life is not quite that easy… Eating an extra serving of vegetables will increase your bone density. Yes, you have to increase the amount by more than 1%. Otherwise, those relying on fast food french fries as their vegetable source could add a tomato and be ahead of someone eating chard by the bucket adding a tomato.

      Personally, I do find this exciting. It means that people losing bone density (= most people) can likely stop that process by eating more vegetables, something we should be doing anyway.

  4. marie g. says:

    How do I get more leafy vegies in long winter, when they come from california, mexico, hot houses, & GMO ed? and often very expensive and little variety?

  5. kathyabascal says:

    Winter is usually the beest time to get leafy veggies; they grow well in cool climates and bolt in the heat. In fact, in Sweden kale is part of the Christmas table because it is a vegetable that can even stay green in the snow.

  6. Ceu says:

    I get a body full of hives if i eat KALE and have to get an anti-histamine shot at the hospital. Right now there are lots variety still here in Pemberton BC. There is collard greens, cabage, some sad looking chard, not too bad looking spinach,
    bussel sprouts, and they are leafy, no?

  7. kathyabascal says:

    Yes, those vegetables would be good substitutes for kale.

  8. Juli says:

    Is baby kale just as healthy of an alternative at regular kale?

  9. Jacqueline Koledin says:

    Really grateful for this info. Kathy!!! What a rich resource.

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