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