As Canadians, we have been educated for years that you need calcium to build strong bones and that milk and other dairy products are your best sources. This is not the full story.
Calcium is an absolute necessity is your diet and a crucial player in bone metabolism. However, there are more important players than just calcium when it comes to building better bones. We also need vitamin D, protein, and exercise.
When we are born, our bones are not yet fully formed and fused. They are softer than adult bones. As we age, we build and strengthen our bones until their peak in our mid-late twenties. After this it is about maintaining our good bone strength not building it.
Calcium, phosphate, and several other minerals are the building blocks of our bones. This is one of the many reasons proper nutrition is so important during growth and development. The misconception is that dairy is the only good source of calcium. Calcium is actually in several other foods and vegetables and these foods arguably contain better sources of calcium. Focusing on vegetables specifically, these give you so many other nutrients and their calcium content is better absorbed.
Another good reason to ditch milk as your main calcium source is that long-term milk drinking may be linked to higher rates of heart disease & some types of cancer. Milk also promotes constipation and triggers acne and eczema in some people.
In addition to your calcium intake, you need to be focusing on vitamin D. Vitamin D is a power nutrient. The list of things it does for you is endless and many of us in the Northern Hemisphere are chronically deficient. Vitamin D tells your body when to absorb calcium and when to lay it down in your bones.
Protein is also a necessity when it comes to bone health. It is important to note that milk and dairy products fall under the protein category. This could explain why so many studies show those that eat dairy have stronger bones. It’s likely more related to the fact they are consuming enough protein. Protein stimulates the release of IGF-1, which is a signal molecule that tells your body to build & repair. This causes bone cells to start building and repairing ultimately leading to stronger, most resistant bones.
The absolute best thing you can be doing for your bones is exercising. Even better is weight-bearing exercise. Exercise is the best metabolic booster. It also triggers repair and strengthening in your body, including your bones.
So when it comes to your bone health, ditch the daily glass of milk. Instead incorporate fish & green leafy vegetable sources of calcium, get your sunlight or supplement your vitamin D, and most importantly make exercise a part of your daily routine!