February 7, 2012 in FAQ
This is one of the biggest areas of concern when people (especially women, who are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis) switch to a paleo diet. If we aren’t eating any dairy products, how do we make sure we get enough calcium??? It is one of the many pervasive bits of misinformation that we battle against (akin to saturated fat causing heart disease): that we need to consume dairy products to protect our bones. This simply isn’t true. And it isn’t true for two reasons. First, if you are making good food choices, you don’t need as much calcium as the current Recommended Daily Amount. Second, there are many great sources of dietary calcium out there (many are even better than dairy).
The most important piece of information that you need to know related to your dietary calcium requirements is that the health and density of your bones is dependent on your acid/base balance. I explained acid/base balance in a previous post, but this is the relevant part to bone health: the way your kidneys process excessive intake of acid load foods (like salt, grains, dairy products, and omega-6 fats) is by buffering the acid with calcium salts from your bones. Yes, if you eat a lot of acid producing foods without balancing it appropriately with alkaline foods (like fruits and vegetables), you pee out calcium from your bones! So, if you eat a Standard American Diet, rich in acid producing foods, your need for dietary calcium is much higher. If you avoid grains, legumes, dairy products and excessive salt while eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, your need for dietary calcium is much lower.
It’s also important to note that dairy products are not the only good source of calcium out there. In fact, there is scientific evidence that you actually absorb more calcium from cruciferous vegetables (like kale) than you do from dairy! Cruciferous vegetables (like kale, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, turnip greens, etc.) are probably your best source of dietary calcium. Other great sources of dietary calcium include: green leafy vegetables, nuts (almonds especially), seeds (especially sesame seeds), figs, oranges, dried apricots, okra, bok choy, seafood (especially when you eat the bones like canned salmon or sardines), and to a lesser extent, all fruits and vegetables. Organ meat and bone broth are also excellent sources of not only calcium, but magnesium and phosphorous, which are also critical for bone health.
Basically, if you are following a paleo diet, keeping your salt intake on the moderate side, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (especially cruciferous vegetables), and getting some exercise, you are doing a great job of looking after your bones.