Osteoporosis and bone loss are two issues that affect many people every single year that can be both painful and problematic for overall health. Our bones support our muscles, joints, and without healthy bones, we may suffer fractures, breakages, and severe pain that affect our day to day life and abilities. As we age, we naturally lose bone mass. This is one reason why strength and resistance training are recommended for everyone, especially those 45 years of age and above. It's also why weight-bearing exercises like walking and yoga are so highly recommended; they support a strong body for life, indirectly prevent the breakdown of bones, and strengthen the muscles. The saying, "If you don't use it, you lose it" rings true for your muscles and your bones; to preserve bone mass, you have to help build your muscles and support your overall skeletal structure.
However, when it comes to bone loss, no amount of exercising can overcome the effects of a poor diet or daily habits that directly cause bone loss. Though one of the worst lifestyle choices for our bones is not exercising, there are some other choices we make that also can. These choices directly leach calcium from the bones, the very lifeblood that keeps our bones healthy. We've all been tricked into equating calcium needs with milk consumption since we were young. When someone hears the word calcium, milk and strong bones are the very two things that normally come next in a person's mind. However, this is only due to years of marketing tactics by the dairy industry, who pay for milk to be advertised to us as youth, and is why milk is recommended for strong bones--not because it's the best (or only) source of calcium. What's not promoted in schools and nutritional organizations, however, is how to prevent calcium loss to begin with. If more people focused on living a life that supported calcium preservation in the body, a fear of not getting enough calcium wouldn't even be an issue.
Here are some daily lifestyle choices that all deplete calcium from the bones and what you can do to ensure your bones stay as healthy as possible, all without the need to chug three glasses of cow's milk a day...
1. Soda Consumption
Diet or not, all types of soda have been linked to bone loss. They are high in phosphoric acid that leaches calcium from the bones and also places a strain on the kidneys. Soda is also full of chemicals that can lead to mineral loss and depletes the body of real nutrition. If the soda has caffeine, the effects are even worse; caffeine causes excess water loss in the body which can exasperate calcium loss since calcium and other minerals leave the body via excess urine output. Even caffeine-free sodas contain harmful properties to the kidneys such as chemicals and artificial sweeteners that lead to mineral loss.
2. Excess Caffeine and Salt
Caffeine is a natural diuretic which causes excess urine to leave the body. Along with water, out goes all the minerals you need too, including calcium. A cup or two of coffee a day isn't going to hurt you, but a pot a day or multiple sources of caffeine just might. You lose 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of caffeine you take in. One cup of coffee (8 ounces) has 160 milligrams of caffeine, while some energy drinks have double that amount and some sodas have more or less.
Too much salt is also a no-no for preserving calcium. Salt is only one form of sodium, a necessary mineral for good health just like calcium, however, table salt is not the best source to get your sodium from. Processed salt is highly refined and leaches calcium from the bones unlike true sodium found in plant-based foods or even ancient, unrefined sea salts (pink, black, etc.) that provide necessary nourishment to the cells.
Some foods that are good sources of natural sodium include: celery, greens like spinach, fortified almond or soy milk, hummus, cocoa, and even many fruits and vegetables.
Instead of reaching for the salt shaker to season your food, go for herbs and salt-free spices that come with other health benefits and more natural flavor. You should also avoid as many processed foods with refined salt as possible, such as cereals, chips, and other types of boxed and packaged snacks with over 250-300 milligrams per serving.
3. Too Little Protein
While we know it can be easy to get protein-obsessed, we should keep in mind that bones are made up of 50 percent protein. So, regardless if we don't need an excessive amount, we do need protein to maintain healthy bones. Protein preserves calcium in the body where it is stored and supplies the body with support. It's also easy to obtain enough protein without meat (or dairy, eggs, fish, or poultry if you choose). Eat sources such as: hemp seeds, chia seeds, legumes, broccoli, tofu, beans, greens, tempeh, teff, amaranth, oats, almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp protein powder, vegan protein powders (choose organic or not-GMO when possible), quinoa, tahini, walnuts, hazelnuts, and other nuts and seeds as the best sources.
Including a few different options from these foods at each meal (greens and nuts, seeds, beans/legumes, and or grain) is a simple and efficient way to get enough protein. Plus, most of them all have ample amounts of calcium to boot. Most people need 1/2 the amount of protein in grams per day as what they weigh in pounds, though choose to eat more.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking causes calcium loss, not to mention cancer, hormone problems, aging, heart disease, and has been linked to many other serious, life-threatening health problems and even minor health problems like low energy and poor recovery after exercise. If you need help quitting, go on a patch or look into alternative therapies to help you quit.
5. You Minimize the Important of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin for good health; don't pass this off as a simple recommendation. Vitamin D acts like a hormone in the body, optimizes calcium absorption and also can help prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, depression, and digestive problems like constipation. It can also affect how your body preserves (not just uses) calcium. Take vitamin D3 supplement, as fortifies vitamin D foods are made with vitamin D2, a harder to absorb form.
You should also be sure to do some type of exercise daily, even if it's just 15-20 minutes. Everyone has time for that! Yoga, walking, lifting weights or heavy objects around the house, jogging, and other simple exercises are all great ideas if you can't hit the gym.
What about Dairy?
As was mentioned, dairy is often equated to calcium intake, but it has not been shown to preserve bones any better over a longer period than plant-based sources have when enough are eaten. It should also be noted that a highly acidic diet can lead to calcium loss. This is because extremely acidic foods can cause mineral leaching from the body, including from the bones. Magnesium, potassium, and calcium are three of the top minerals affected by this. Acidic foods are largely animal-based, with dairy being one of the major sources (red meat, eggs, fish, and poultry are also very acidic). Plant-based, whole foods are naturally more alkaline, even some of the most acidic grains, nuts, and seeds. This is one way that a plant-based diet may support long-term bone health in comparison to one that's animal-food based. So while dairy might not directly cause calcium-loss, it's acidic nature combined with other acidic foods may cause an unnecessary weakening of the bones. Plant-based foods like vegetable, fruits, and leafy greens directly counter the effects of mineral loss even if they're not necessarily a 100 percent proof way to prevent calcium loss.
The Bottom Line:
You don't need the cow's milk to get enough calcium, but you do need to be sure to fill up on more alkaline, calcium-rich foods.
Fast Fact: There is actually more calcium in four ounces of tofu, 8 figs, and two cups of collard greens than there is in an 8 ounce glass of milk, which makes getting enough pretty simple on a plant-based diet. Teff and millet are also two "super seeds" packed with calcium that can replace grains in your meals as well.
Take care of your bones so they can keep you strong, lean, and energized for life!!